When I was five years old, I got very sick. It was only when I as an adult that I realized that I almost died.
If you had asked me at the time, I would have told you I was in hospital for a year. Time passes very slowly when you are five. I now know it was only a month, but that month seemed like forever.
I don’t remember too much about that time. I remember nighttime snack was a glass of milk and Arrowroot cookies. Comfort food. I still like to end my evenings that way.
I remember a roomful of beds with children in them. I don’t remember much about the treatment. And I remember my mother.
She came to visit every afternoon. I never thought of what sacrifices she made to do that. It never occurred to me to ask what she had done with my two-year-old brother. Must have left him with the neighbours – back then almost all mothers stayed at home with the children instead of entering the paid work force.
And I remember saying goodbye every day.
I was bored in hospital. I didn’t feel sick. My mother’s visit was the highlight of the day. She was there for about two hours every afternoon, rain or shine. I don’t remember exactly what we did on those visits, but she must have read a lot to me. Last month as we reminisced, she said, not for the first time, that she should have taught me to read during that hospital stay.
When the visiting hours were over, she went home. It was at least three buses and took a couple of hours – each way. Yet she was there faithfully every day. I took her love and sacrifice for granted. I was only five years old.
I remember climbing onto the bed and looking out the hospital room window to watch her go. She would stand outside the building and wave to me, sometimes for a long time, before heading to the bus stop to start the journey home.
As an adult I understand that she was teaching me about priorities. Visiting a sick child was an added burden to her already busy day. For a month it was basically a full-time job. But she never complained. Never let on the fears she had for my future, that I might not leave that hospital alive.
This year the roles were reversed. For six weeks I took the bus daily to the hospital, sitting with my mother as she transitioned from this life to her heavenly home.
We knew this was a final journey. That one of the days the goodbye was going to be the last one, at least for this life. Leaving that bedside every day was hard. I was emotionally drained, even if all we had done was tell jokes and looked at cat videos on YouTube.
I dislike visiting hospitals. Probably because they are full of sick people. There’s a lot of sorrow there as a result. Yet I went. And stayed for hours each day.
As a child you don’t always realize just how much your parents love you, how much they sacrifice for you. My mother made that long trip to the hospital all those long years ago because she loved me. The trip was inconvenient, but she made it anyway. That was just part of being a mother. It was something she had to do.
Almost 60 years later, I understand how she felt. I had to be at her bedside in those last weeks, days and hours. Even when she could no longer communicate, I had to be there. It was a way to show my love, even when she could no longer acknowledge it. It was a way to say “thank you” for her visits to my hospital room so long ago.