Tuffy: A Lesson from Mom

There are people who look to help and people who look to speak. There are times when silence is best. There are times when all we need is a friend to be there, not necessarily to say anything or least of all, the right thing—but just to be there is perfect enough.

As a person who has delivered eulogies, I would like to share the time when I eulogized my Mother. She was sick for a very long time. This meant surgeries to help Mom deal with the pain of five different diseases in her spine. This meant patience on my part because it was me that dealt with the hospitals. I was the healthcare proxy, which meant the calls would come to me. There were challenges with this. Mom had not been Mom for a long time. The pain and the treatment had changed my Mother to a different version of herself.

There were glimpses of her old self that would push through. There were times when the pain meds didn’t cloud her as much; but mainly, Mom was often confused. According to the nurses, Mom was belligerent, which may or may not have been the case. At times, the phone would ring and I can recall the thoughts of “What now?” scrolling through my mind. Then I’d take a deep breath before answering the phone, and with low expectations, I’d take the call and hear the news.

The calls always started the same way. A nurse or representative from either the hospital or assisted living facility would ask me to verify who I was, if my Mom was my Mom and then they would go on with the story and tell me the news. The stories ranged from Mom having another fall, she was sick or that there was a problem with someone from the staff. The amazing part about this is the role reversal.  
I say this because it used to be Mom fielding calls like this when I was young. She would tell me about the times when the phone would ring and her eyes would roll back as if to say, “What now?” She was there to take the call when I was in a motorcycle accident. Mom answered calls from the school or maybe someone from the neighborhood or even law enforcement. They would ask to verify who Mom was and then ask if I was her son—and with low expectations, I’m sure that Mom had to take a deep breath before taking the call.

I have in my possession a small tiger. Well, he is not a tiger as much as he is a stuffed animal. I have had this tiger since I was eight years old. He is my friend and since these entries are about friends, relationships and friendships—I would like to tell you about my friend Tuffy.
Tuffy came to me when I was in the hospital.  He was a gift from Mom because she wanted to reward me for being a brave little soldier. Plus, Mom couldn’t be with me during some of the tests so Mom sent Tuffy with me instead.
I underwent testing. I had needles poking me—and I swear every time I’d fall asleep, it seemed as if the nurses would wake me up to take my temperature and check my I.V.
Although my memory of this time is minimal, perhaps I blocked this out. However, I do remember the day I met Tuffy. I remember when Mom brought him in before I went to one of my tests.

I’m not exactly sure what was wrong with me at the time. I only know that I was in the hospital for approximately two weeks. I have a clear memory of looking outside the window and the grass was green. The sky was blue. The leaves on the trees were moving with the breeze and of all times, I don’t think New York ever looked as beautiful to me.
It seemed as if the entire world was outside to enjoy life—except for me, of course. I was sick. I didn’t ask to be sick. I never asked to have something called gastroenteritis. I never wanted an I.V. in my arm or to be woken up by nurses all night long.
As for the doctors and the nurses, I swore they were the enemy. They lied to me about the pain. They lied to me about the shots not hurting. They told me, “You’re going to feel a little pinch and then a little bit of pressure.” But no, that was not true. I did not feel a little pinch and then some pressure. I felt pain.
I felt a lot of pain.

Mom was there the entire time. She slept at the hospital. She went home, cleaned up, came back and each time, there was a problem with a nurse or doctor, Mom was there to either help me or tell me to behave.
You know, people never think about the true and basic aspects of life. It’s simple, really. No one likes hospitals and let’s face it—aside from childbirth, there are not too many good reasons to be at the hospital. Rather than dissect the way we think and behave, we seldom take a look at what’s around us. It is understandable, if we look. It is understandable why people hurt or why we cry. It is understandable why people act or respond both behaviorally and emotionally.
Imagine the tricks we could pull off if we chose to understand this before instructing people how to think, act or feel.

I was sick and uncomfortable. I was in pain from the needles in my arm. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t find a comfortable spot—and meanwhile, the world was going on around me. Outside, people lived, loved, laughed and learned; and me, I was stuck in a hospital room. I was missing out on the good things that happen to “Other” people.
At least I had my new friend Tuffy though.
He knew what to say and what not to say. Tuffy knew that his company was important enough and that words can’t always make life easier.

Decades later, I was sleeping on the floor of a hospital room after one of Mom’s surgeries. She was screaming in pain the same as I was when I was a small boy. She was angry the same as I was and outside, there was life. There was a window with a beautiful view. There was life going on out there but Mom was stuck in the hospital. I knew there was nothing I could say. There was nothing I could do except be there. I knew that words would not make the pain stop. Nothing I could say would make Mom’s spine okay again.
No, it was enough to be there and stay by Mom’s side, which wasn’t easy. I ran to do what Mom needed. I was there to advocate for her and there when the nurses needed me to explain to her, “You can’t get up!’
Mom was not being kind to me or to anybody else at that time. She was angry and uncomfortable—and like me when I was eight, Mom just wanted comfort. She wanted the pain to go away.

Eventually, Mom passed away on June 10th, 2015.
We held services for Mom. Of course, I arrived with a bag and a special surprise inside. My opening words were that Mom always told me that dying is part of living.
I explained that life is both inevitable and eventual.
I spoke about the times Mom had to answer the phone with her “What now?” moments. I spoke briefly about the challenges of my youth and how Mom was there.
She was always there. This is the most important thing a loved one can do for you.
To be there . . .
I discussed the human need to do or say the right things when someone we care for is in pain. I assured that yes, this is pain. It hurt that Mom was gone. However, I also assured everyone that there are no right words to say. I explained that when we want to be there for someone, it’s not about us or what we want to say. There are no words that will make this moment disappear or wipe away the sadness. Being there is enough and oftentimes, saying something (even if it’s meant to be helpful) is not always the best thing to do.

Telling someone, “They’re in a better place,” after they lost a loved one is not helpful to someone in mourning. Or, reminding someone, “They’re not in pain anymore,” is not helpful either. Being there is the most important thing.
Sometimes, I swear, people look to say the right things and (entering foot in mouth) they seldom realize that being there is enough. There are times when words are only complications.
Imagine the tricks we could pull off if we learned this.

I explained this in my eulogy and then informed the crowd that there is no reason to try and relieve me of my grief or sadness. I own this. This belongs to me. So, please, if you want to say something helpful, just say I love you and I’m here. Anything else is unnecessary.

After this, I talked about Mom and the time I was in the hospital. Then I reached into the bag and retrieved my old friend Tuffy. I showed Tuffy to the crowd and then I explained, “You were the tough one, Mom.”
“You always were. I know it.”
Tuffy knows it and after this reaches publication, the rest of the world will know it as well.

By the way, after my eulogy with the helpful advice of what “Not” to say or do, it was amazing to me how people still said what they said and did what they did.
But that was about them.
This was about their discomfort and their need to have the right thing to say. But a long time ago, an old friend of mine taught me—you don’t have to say anything. You just have to be there.

Note to the Reader:
It is somewhere around 4:30am and as I type this, I am sitting in my loft. I have soft music playing in the background. I have my trusty cup of coffee which I drink black. I have a few little special things around my desk, which I keep close as a means for inspiration. I have a few pictures. I have a small man built from spongy rubber with wild hair. His shirt says “Have a good day,” and if you squeeze the pint-size man, he says “I feel great! It’s gonna be a stress-free day today!”  And by my lamp, currently facing me is my old friend Tuffy. He teaches me what to say and what not to. He helps me when I need to know that someone cares just by being there but mostly, Tuffy is a symbol: he is a hero of mine, an old friend, a playmate and that no matter how far away Mom is, Tuffy is a reminder that there is nothing so strong as a Mother’s love.

I say this because love is always there—constantly.
And to me, that’s better than any word anyone could ever say.


One thought on “Tuffy: A Lesson from Mom

  1. This is so tough. My Mum also had terrible chronic pain towards the end if her life and so many hospitalisations. You were there its so much to go through. And so sad too the way people are changed by such deep.pain and suffering. And for those who love them is deep.pain too.

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