Upon first impression, when people meet my mother-in-law, it's easy to make assumptions about her. She is beautiful. She dresses herself with care, always with a flowing scarf or a long, detailed necklace. She keeps a manicure and she is only seen without lipstick when she's eating or headed to bed. She is the type of woman who carries a hankie in her purse, who chooses shoes based on whether or not they "make her feet look big." She is always ready with a smile. Her spirit is sweet and gentle and people are naturally drawn to that. She reaches out her hands to everyone. She listens to everyone. There are grown women and men scattered all over the country who call her "Momma." Almost everyone calls her that.
Her name is Melody. And I'm pretty sure there has never been a more perfect name for a person.
One of the first stories John told me about his mother is one that he does not often tell. He was 14. His family had just moved back to Los Angeles. They didn't have much money so they were staying with his uncle and aunt, who was beginning the long, unfair decline of Alzheimer's disease. Either in their car or on foot – I cannot remember which – my adolescent husband and his mother came upon a teenage boy, who was dressed head to foot in white because he was trying to exit gang life. Moments earlier the boy had been shot in a drive-by. Melody rushed to his aid and held his head in her lap. John sat on the curb nearby, his shoestrings dipped in the boy's blood.
The boy died in her arms as she prayed for him.
When I first met her I was tiptoeing along behind her beloved son – who was hurting and who was coming out of an emotionally destructive time – and there was never a fiery sideways glance. There was never an inappropriate question or an unkind word. I arrived at a terribly awkward and inconvenient time in the life of her family, this weird big-eyed girl with really bad hair. A precious uncle had just died. And yet she welcomed me in, she was genuinely kind to me. I watched as she leaned into the man I loved, her little arm sneaking around his waist. He visibly relaxed. His mother was here. It would be all right.
In the nearly eleven years I have known her I have seen much more of my mother-in-law. She has wiped down every surface in every home I've ever lived in many times over. I have felt her arm around me when death arrived at my door. I have eaten thousands of squares of her famous butter cake. We have talked hours upon hours in our pajamas sitting on couches, her arm propped up to twirl her hair, laughing and crying and talking about everything. In her arms she has cradled my children and they have clung to her, their beloved Grandma. Those arms have gone around every one of her family members with genuine love and concern, whether they deserved it or not. She has more friends than anyone I have ever met. She has prayed over and for and with a multitude over the years. She has done that on the phone and in person in and I'm sure has spent many hours alone in her room praying, probably even for you: The Readers of This Blog. I am not joking. She has probably prayed for you.
And so when we got a call on Tuesday that she'd been found unconscious in the middle of the street and was being rushed to the hospital, I was not sure who to ask to pray. Because when things like this happen we call Momma and she talks to God and he usually does what she asks. She shows up and puts her arms around us and we know it will be all right.
When, after rushing to the hospital, John called me and told me that her right arm was virtually shattered and would require major reconstructive surgery, it did not sink in right away. This is a woman who cannot sit still. She is a servant to the core. Like her son, she cannot stand to be idle very long when there is work to be done.
When I finally wrangled my children up and found her in her hospital room, she wondered out loud who would watch Elijah while I worked at preschool next week. This precious woman, who won't even be able to brush her own teeth right-handed for two months, wonders who will take care of ME.
(I wonder too, but let's not say that out loud.)
She has major elbow-and-arm reconstructive surgery scheduled for today at 5 pm PST. There will be screws and rods and such involved. There will be a long road of rehab ahead. My father-in-law will need a lot of tending as he becomes caretaker to the Greatest Caretaker of All Time, who has taken care of his every need for the last 43 years. Please pray for John and his sister Candice and her husband and all Melody's four grandbabies, who might have a hard time adjusting to Grandma's sudden inability to just scoop them up.
We still do not know why she collapsed while crossing the street to her car. All she remembers is feeling like she was about to turn her ankle and then she woke up face down with four men asking "Ma'am are you all right?" She was unconscious when she hit the street, her arm pinned helplessly underneath. There are guesses and test being run. It eats away at the mind.
Please pray for her? Please pray that this surgery goes as well as it possibly can, no complications. Please pray that she makes a full recovery (her surgeon is confident that she can, so long as he gets a good "set" on the screws and she is faithful with her rehab). Please pray that her other health issues (Fibromyalgia – which is very, very painful – for one) do not worsen.
We need her. We need those arms.