Its hard to believe that it has really been 20 years since that dark morning in February, 1991 when my mother had her heart attack.
I was just a kid and I woke up early that morning to get ready for my scout meeting. I was trying to tame my frizzy hair when I heard my Dad call my name and say, "Your mother's had a heart attack."
Dad's got a weird sense of humor, so I thought he was kidding...even though honestly I didn't get the joke. "What?" I replied. I thought Dad was going to follow up with a sarcastic comment about how Mom was upset because I had left food on a plate accidentally when I did the dishes the night before or something like that.
I walked out into the living room where he sat on the couch putting on his steel-toed work boots.
"I took your Mom to the hospital last night while you were sleeping," he said calmly.
He wasn't kidding.
"Why didn't you wake me up?" I asked.
"You would have taken too long getting ready," Dad answered matter-of-factly. "Mom could have been dying and I had to hurry her to the ER."
"How is she doing?" I asked awkwardly.
"She was stable when I came home last night. I didn't stay because I had to come home -- even at your age, you shouldn't be home alone all night."
"Can we go see her?"
"No," Dad said. "She's in the ICU and she isn't ready for visitors."
"When will we be able to see her?"
"I don't know."
"You're putting on your work boots." Now I was matter-of-fact. I had not been raised to cry in these situations...I just felt a little spacey...like in a dream. I watched as dad tied a tight Russian knot in the leather laces of one of his boots.
Dad nodded again. "I have to go to work today. I'll be leaving in just a few minutes. I'm going to take you to stay with your grandparents tonight, so go into your room and pack an over night bag -- just enough stuff for a night or two. If you're still staying with Grandma and Grandpa after that, we'll get you some more clothes. Hurry up, I need to get to the factory." Dad's working hours often went late into the night and he didn't want me home alone.
I hurried into my bedroom and packed an over-night case, including books and other things to keep myself occupied during my stay with my grandparents. I don't remember the car ride to my grandparents' house, but I do remember standing with my father at their front door. "I'm just going to drop you off here and then I have to hurry to work. You be good now and mind Grandma and Grandpa."
Dad stayed 10 minutes before leaving for work. Grandma gave me some breakfast and then said I could go play in the guest room for a few minutes. I remember staring at my over-night case sitting on the foot of my bed. It was blue and old. The room had clean white walls and it was a bright day outside, even though it was overcast. It was an unusually warm February.
I sat on the bed, reading for a couple of hours. Uncharacteristically, I didn't feel like playing and I escaped into a book. I wanted to call my mother, but I couldn't. She was in the ICU -- whatever that was. I didn't know then. It didn't sound good. I knew what a heart attack was though and it scared me. People died of those. I wanted to hear Mom's voice.
A while later, Grandma came to the door and suggested that I walk over to my cousins' house. "It's warm outside and you can play with them," she said.
Carrie and Katie lived down the street from Grandma and Grandpa. Amy and Tom lived in town too. Grandma said they would be over at Carrie and Katie's house too.
I don't remember much about my visit with Carrie and Katie -- just that it was comforting being around my cousins and talking to them about what had just happened with my mother. Carrie, Katie, and Amy and I decided that we would have a slumber party at Grandma's -- I remember thinking it was nice that they didn't want me to be alone...
Playing with them distracted me from my worry. That night we had fun and Grandma let us make popcorn and watch a movie. We went to bed early.
The next day was President's Day. No School. Grandma, Aunt Linda, Amy, and I went shopping. I still have two books I bought for myself that day. I read for hours that afternoon, after we got back from shopping.
I still hadn't talked to my mother on the phone, but I had gotten an update from Dad. Mom had endured 3 heart attacks on the night Dad took her to the hospital. She had almost died. I would get to talk to her soon.
I just wanted to hear my mother's voice.
Tuesday morning came. I had to go to school.
Back then I was attending a Seventh-day Adventist elementary school. It was a tiny brick building with two main classrooms and a medium sized-gymnasium stuck to one side. There were only 17 students and six of them were in my grade.
Grandma and Grandpa took me to school that morning. I walked into the front door with my head hung low...
I met my teacher in the hallway and blurted out. "My mom had a heart attack."
Mrs. Walker gasped. "Really? Lynn? Is she okay?"
"I think so," I replied. I didn't really know though. I would know if I could just hear her voice again.
My friends at school knew Mom really well from Church and were all worried about her. They wanted to know when she was coming home. "I don't know," I told them.
That night at my grandparents' while I was doing my homework, the phone rang. I was sitting in the guest room studying for an upcoming spelling test. I still didn't let myself think about my mom. Grandma came to my door and said, "Your mom's on the phone for you."
I jumped off the bed and ran to the kitchen where the phone hung on the wall next to the counter. "Mom?" I said into the receiver, terrified that there would be no answer.
"Hi Sweetie," Mom's gentle voice replied.
"How are you?" I asked. "When are you coming home?"