“It would be terrible if my mom died just because she lost her teeth,” I told my husband. On Saturday, when we visited Nana, we learned that her dentures broke after over 20 years of good service. What we didn’t realize was that the nursing home did not put her on a liquid and pureed diet, and she became dehydrated and was unable to swallow. I was focused on getting a dentist to help us make a new set of teeth asap, but this crisis broadsided us. Unfortunately, when you are approaching 100 years old, everything is very fragile, and once the spiral begins to spin down, it goes very quickly.
Suddenly, out of the blue, I was faced with making a scary choice about whether or not they should operate on my mom since there was a good chance that she might not make it through if they gave her anesthesia. Over twenty years ago, when my dad was dying, I was the one who had to make the decision to turn off the respirator to end his suffering. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and even though I believe I made the right choice, it still haunts me. Now, I held my other parent’s life in my hands. If the operation were a success, my mom would most likely be fine. If there were no operation, the outcome was more suffering and oceans of uncertainty.
I’m not a religious person, but I have a very strong faith in God. When I find myself facing these life and death crossroads, I take a deep breath and go, “Okay, God, you drive.” So, that’s what I did, only in this case, I was the one who was literally driving. It was an hour and a half from our house to the hospital. I told the doctor to start the surgery, and I leaped into the car and took off.
The night before, as I drove home from the hospital, wrestling with a whole line-up of tough emotions, I witnessed a strange thing. On the scenic green country road, a deer ran across and hit the car in front of me. The poor thing flipped up on the roof and slid across on its back, flying off on the other side. Miraculously, it landed on its feet and leaped off into the bushes like a circus acrobat. It was a message of resilience to me. Now, as I drove up the same route, I was startled to see another deer lying at the edge of the pavement just the way my dog lies down and watches the world go by. A car approached from the opposite direction, and the deer casually stood, shook itself off and wandered back into the woods.
What was that all about? I wondered as my cell phone rang. I recognized the phone number was the surgeon calling me. I pulled over and stopped the car. He was either going to tell me that my mom was okay or she was dead. It flashed through my mind that I wished my husband or daughter was with me, but I realized that this was a moment that I was meant to face alone. The doctor cheerfully announced that my mom had pulled through the operation like a champ. “She’s a strong warrior,” I told him.
As I spoon-fed my mother some chicken broth a couple of hours later, I thought about how fortunate she is to have me and so many other people in the world who love her. In the hospital and the nursing home, there are folks who are completely alone, with no one to notice the little problems that so easily mushroom into big ones and advocate for them. We dodged a bullet, and my mom will return to her cozy room and her safe routine later today. She is one of the lucky ones.
Now, while I drank my coffee and felt blessed by this calm and uneventful morning, I looked up what it means when a deer comes into your life. I learned that a deer’s senses are very acute. It sees and hears extremely well and is able to detect very subtle movement. When a deer shows up, it’s a warning to be gentle with yourself and others, to be less critical and forceful, to express gentle love that will open new doors to adventure for you. (“Animal-Speak” by Ted Andrews)
I thought about a quote that I saw while I was in the hospital yesterday: “Faith is the bird that sings when the dawn is still dark”(Tagore). I am a risk-taker. My mother raised me to be one. This time, I took another big leap while holding her hand, and thankfully, we both landed on our feet.