While I’ve been busy picking out which festival to attend, school committee to join, and lining up tennis and lunch dates, the real world comes crashing in. This time, it’s my mother who is getting a heart valve replaced today. As I write this, she’s undergoing surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, in the able hands of a South Korean surgeon and a French cardiologist. Yesterday, when my mother asked her surgeon what he liked most about Minnesota, he had a quick reply: “The weather.” Somehow I feel even better knowing he has a sense of humor.
Yet, these are the moments that I always miss because I’m the one who’s always far away. Twenty years ago, I left Indiana to live in Washington, DC. then New Mexico, California, North Carolina, and now here in Germany. My sisters, Kate and Fran, and my brother Mike, chose to stay in the Midwest and kindly pick up my slack. Last night, I thanked my sister Fran, who has been shepherding our Mom the last few days. It’s an exhausting process for a patient (and attendant) to get prepared for this type of surgery. Two full days of tests, poking, and racing from one appointment to the next. No easy task when you have a heart valve that wants to quit. Then, on day 3, you wait for hours to be called in for the actual surgery. I don’t feel very useful at this point and I joked to Fran that “Karma was probably waiting around the corner for me, in a Lamborghini, revving the engine.” That’s always the flip side of being the one who is far away. I don’t ever have the physical presence of my family to help with illnesses, to babysit in a pinch, or to commiserate on a rough day. Months ago, when my mom and I were discussing my move to Germany, she observed that it seemed to be my “fortune to be away.” It seems so. But, I always go back. In fact, I’m taking Nora and Jack back to Indiana in a few weeks for a visit. If all goes as planned, mom will have just returned from her ordeal and I’ll have a chance to be a dutiful daughter.