Finally, treatment day is here! I’m at the infusion center, hooked up to an IV that has delivered Benadryl, steroids, and now Ocrevus.
But I’m not alone.
I haven’t been through any of this alone because it’s not just happening to me; it’s happening to everyone who loves me, too. My greatest support has come from my parents, who have accompanied me to most appointments, their presence doing more for me than they understand. “You can just drop me off and pick me up later,” I said to my mom about today’s six-hour infusion, knowing that she would stay. Of course she would stay.
So today, let me tell you about Rosemary.
“I’m not your friend; I’m your mother,” she often said as I was growing up. Don’t worry, I thought bitterly—often while being forced to clean my room—no one is going to mistake you for my friend. The friendship part came later, when I was grown up and ready for it.
I’m an acquired taste, but people love my mom immediately. She is bright and warm and compassionate. For years, we couldn’t go to lunch or a movie without being stopped by at least one person who knew her from her work at the local credit union. They would greet her like an old friend and want to have a long conversation. Sometimes it was annoying, but more often it was a touching testament to how much regard people had for her. This continued long into her retirement. At work, she was often mistaken for the manager because she was so well-dressed and polished. Have I mentioned that she’s beautiful? So beautiful that once an admirer sent her steaks, which were addressed to “Rosemary Fox.”
I’ve always admired her generosity and grace, which seem to be effortless. Much of what she does seems effortless, though it takes a lot of work. Her house, for example—with the exception of my room when I lived there—is always clean and put together. Meals are served at a beautifully set table. Holidays are storybook perfection. In 2009, when my parents’ house caught on fire, one of the first things my mom said to me was how relieved she was that she had made the bed that morning, even as we stood in the charred, water-damaged shambles. She makes her bed every day, mind you, but here at long last was the payoff.
My mom is fully present for the people she cares for, the most comforting presence I have ever known. In retirement, she shares her time as a hospice volunteer, consoling the dying and their families. She has done this in her own family, too, seeing her mother and her sister on their ways out of this world, a final act of devotion.
When I moved out on my own, my mom helped me set up my first home in Ames, where I went to attend Iowa State. I had purchased furniture and some basic items before going, but she used bonus money she’d been saving from work to help me buy all the little things I hadn’t thought about. I remember merrily flinging items into the cart as we cruised around Target, including a stainless steel trash can for the kitchen and a sunflower-decorated olive oil dispenser and matching large plate because what home is complete without such things? Not mine, where they are still put to good use.
She also helped me pack up a few years later when that adventure came to an end and I moved back to Omaha for a new one. The day before I was supposed to leave, my car broke down, and I had to pull over at a gas station, the radiator smoking. I called my mom, who met me there with my niece Kelly, staying with us to help. I was in a foul mood, moaning about how much still needed to be done before the movers came in the morning, how I was going to get my car fixed to drive it back to Omaha. Although it was probably really for a reprieve from my pity party, my mom said she was going to wait on the sidewalk to flag down the tow truck. She paced back and forth, looking for it. And then the honking started, a car of young men hooting as they passed. My mom waved cheerfully back at them. More honking followed, and I suddenly realized that it was because she was pacing under the large sign for the porn shop next door called Peep Land. The idea of my mother as a woman of the night working in the afternoon in a small college town brought us all to tears with laughter, and just like that, the broken-down car, the boxes needing to be packed—they didn’t matter anymore. She was there to save me again, as she always had.
She rescues me more than she knows. One moment especially stands out. We weren’t close at the time, in the way that mothers and teens often aren’t, but for my 13th birthday, after the worst year of my life, my mother made me a birthday cake. It was magnificent, gleaming white and pink frosting, a tree branch rising from the middle. Hanging on the tree from small pink ribbons were thirteen Susan B. Anthony silver dollars, minted in 1979, the year I was born. Although I was tempted to spend them, their value was so much more than their currency.
I held on to those coins for more than twenty years, looking at them when I needed to be reminded of a mother’s love, of my strength, of the importance of loving myself. I might have held them this morning, but someone who couldn’t have understood what they meant to me took them from the wooden box where they were kept a few years ago. I’ve since gotten over their loss; they were just symbols of what was really important, and what is important remains. My mother’s love is constant, reliable, unrelenting: it’s here now, in the infusion center, next to me, in her reassuring smile. It’s in the afghan she crocheted that I’m snuggled under. It’s in my heart always.
Thank you, Mama, for everything. But especially for being with me today.