A little over a month ago, I visited my mom in Oklahoma.
Two weeks prior to my visit, she suffered what was diagnosed as an “apparent TIA stroke”.
TIA strokes are also known as mini-strokes. Hers was so un-stroke-like, I’ve taken to calling it a mini-mini-stroke.
Her episode was deemed “apparent” because she didn’t exhibit many of the typical signs of any kind of stroke.
She didn’t have any drooping features in her face. She didn’t lose strength on either side of her body. Her CT and MRI scans came back normal. Blood work, normal. Urinalysis, normal.
Normal. Normal. Normal.
But, also, not.
She did have short-term memory loss. For a little over twenty-four hours, she couldn’t remember the previous few days, had no idea what day it was, what year it was. And, she cycled through various loops, repeating the same questions and making the same jokes over and over without realizing she was doing it.
The kicker was that her episode took place on my brother’s birthday. She must have discovered it was his birthday forty times or more. Once for every year of his life, it seemed.
She spent around thirty hours in the hospital, during which she regained her short-term memory. She will likely never get back the memory of my brother’s birthday this year, but she has regained all other abilities. She has no continued memory loss. No struggle finding words. No loss of physical strength. No signs of having had a stroke at all.
Incidents like this come with their own weight for me since I live thousands of miles from my mother and lost my dad ten years ago. I know she won’t live forever. I want to savor each moment I have her here, and I can’t spend every day in fear of her dying.
It’s so hard to strike a balance in these things.
I booked my flight to Oklahoma fueled by the heavy knowledge that my mom won’t be here forever, in body or possibly in mind.
I spent a week with her. Seven nights. Six-and-a-half days.
As I packed my bags, I shoved in a few creature comforts.
In my “normal life”, I go for a morning walk with my husband while drinking my favorite tea. Harney and Sons’ hot cinnamon spice. With a desire to continue this ritual with my mom in Oklahoma, I counted out the tea bags.
Seven mornings. Seven tea bags.
Technically, I use two tea bags for my morning mug of tea. One sachet and one pre-packaged in a pouch.
Seven sachets. Seven pre-packaged pouches.
I arrived in Oklahoma late on a Wednesday evening. Thursday morning, my mom and I went for a morning walk. I carried my usual morning tea in my red tumbler I had also brought from home.
When I leave New York, I leave home.
When I visit my mom in Oklahoma, I go home.
I leave home to go home … and do the same on the return trip.
Friday morning, we went for another morning walk.
Sunday morning, I noticed the baggy of sachets wasn’t full like it had been. There were only four pre-packaged pouches left. Once I made the tea for our walk, there would only be three.
The tipping point.
Without realizing the significance, in laying out a finite number of tea bags, one for every morning, I had set the tea bags up to tally the time I had with my mother.
They measured our mornings, moments, and memories made.
How do we measure our lives? Our days?
“Seasons of Love” from the musical Rent asks:
How do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets
In midnights, in cups of coffee
In inches, in miles
In laughter, in strife
It feels impossible to keep track of the passing of time. To hold onto the moments that matter. To create memories that will last. To bottle the essence of someone for reference once they’re gone.
Sooner or later, we all have to go home.
Rent suggestions we measure a year in love.
However the days or years are counted, there will never be enough.