On being let down by a strong, black woman
The last time I wrote a post was more than a month ago. I was in the throes of exams and trying to keep up with the mountain of exam marking. When I could finally breathe and the holiday began, my mother had a stroke a few days after my long-awaited holiday began.
A stroke isn't something that can be planned. But it feels like my mother chose the perfect time to have her stroke. My sisters and I had planned to take some time off and be home during July so when the stroke happened, we had all been preparing ourselves to come home anyway. I always have to prepare myself for going home: mentally and emotionally. Over the years, home has become an emotional desert.
The stroke happened on Wednesday morning. Mama called me and she didn't sound like herself. My initial thought was that she had been crying. But seeing as I can count the number of times I’ve seen her cry, I immediately dismissed that thought. She told me she wasn’t well, but assured me she had everything under control. She said she would go and see a doctor. My mother never single-handedly chooses to see a doctor. She has to be coerced or in a diabetic coma for four days before she concedes that something is wrong with her. So when she said she was going to the doctor, I thought: maybe this is serious. But being my mother’s daughter, I also knew that my mother also cried wolf before so I decided to disengage and allow her to take care of herself. My 9 year old nephew was visiting her and she assured me she would be fine with the nephew around. So after I spoke to her I rolled over in my bed and carried on sleeping, enjoying the fact that I had nothing planned for the day except for a few errands that weren’t really urgent.
Later I got a message from my cousin saying she had seen my mom and something was amiss. Still, nothing moved me. My mother is a strong, black woman. Capable. This couldn’t be too serious. She called me later telling me she’d been to the doctor, got “i-treatment” (medication) and the doctor assured her that the stroke had passed her by, leaving a little damage; she was a bit wobbly but she assured me she would be fine.
Thursday morning and I get a call from my aunt who never calls me. She tells me mama had fallen over during the night and had lost feeling in the left side of her body. She asked me the dreaded question: ubuya nini? (when are you coming home?) I had planned to visit mama during the last week of my holiday. The first two weeks would be mine to do the things I wanted to do. But my aunt demanded an answer: when are you coming home? I think I lied to her and said I would make a plan. My sisters and I began to make plans via whatsapp and it was decided that the eldest would find a flight on Thursday; but later we discovered flights were full so she would be home Friday morning. By the end of the day on Thursday I had been convinced by other people that I too should abandon my plans and go home. I didn’t want to go home.
Memories of giving up time, emotions and money in order for mama to be happy came flooding back to me. A few years ago mama showed symptoms of having diabetes. My sisters and I noticed in October but mama refused to acknowledge this. I came home for the December vac and she was emaciated and drinking lots of water. Within a few days she had lost her appetite and she no longer had energy to get out of bed. She began vomiting and before long she was dragged out of the house, almost unconscious, taken to the hospital and into a coma for four days.
The diabetic coma was a culmination of the dysfunction in my family, especially when it came to my mother. The dysfunctional nature of our family life has a long history of subtle signs throughout my childhood and adolescence. Ours has never been a normal family By the time I left for varsity, I had decided my mother has bipolar and she existed on a different reality than the one I lived within. But because she didn’t believe in doctors, that was just my conjecture based on some reading and efforts of putting together the pieces of the stories she told me. The pieces never came together.
I didn’t want to go home because I didn’t want to deal with my mother’s drama. The stroke could have been avoided but my mother didn’t look after herself even though she understood she had diabetes which needed prolonged treatment. But I conceded and went home in spite of my plans of having a peaceful holiday. When my sisters and I arrived in East London Friday evening my mother was in a pitiful state. The next day my sisters admitted her into the hospital and her road to recovery began.
As I write this, she’s been in hospital for more than a week receiving care and physio to help her along. Because she’s my mother, she’s also been drinking concoctions from a famous medicine man who makes a herbal concoction to drive away the effects of a stroke. A miracle man. I decided against visiting her in hospital today. I didn’t take any of her calls as I usually do because I am tired. Physically and emotionally spent by yet another episode of drama.
My sisters and I have been packing up her house as she can no longer live alone. I have been sorting through boxes and shelves of clothing discovering pictures and letters from my mother’s former life as a teacher and devout church lady. In the past twenty years, I have watched my mother disintegrate into a shadow of herself, relying on pictures and stories about my mother before she checked out of life.
I’m hoping I will weep at some point or whatever the appropriate response is when one has an ailing mother. I have not wept. I am only tired. I wake up in the middle of the night wondering how this happened and what will life look like now that my life and my sisters’ lives have been changed by one single person who was supposed to keep it together? Instead she has three daughters keeping it together because we are her pension plan, her retirement annuity. The strong, black woman has let us down.