“How brave are you?” is the question posed from Uncle Henrik to Annemarie in the classic novel of Number the Stars. I have read this aloud to students for many years, but today, this one line caused me to pause. Perhaps a person does not know just how brave they are until they are faced by challenges or danger. I have never felt particularly brave, but my life has been comfortable with few wants or extreme challenges. My father, on the other hand, served two tours during WWII and was severely injured, even given his last rites, only to survive. I have always thought of him as being very brave.
Now, I think of my mother as being brave, too. This frail 86-year-old had always led a very active life until a few years ago. She played golf, mowed the lawn, could run circles around people half her age. Then pulmonary artery disease took hold of her. Her left leg was amputated five years ago, but it did not slow her down much. She still drove and took care of her own house, living by herself. The loss of a limb did not dampen her spirits, either; she remained a quick wit that could make the crankiest person crack a smile. Then the hungry disease proved that it was not done with her and a little over a year ago my mother’s right leg was also amputated.
Before this surgery, Mom looked at me and said perhaps she should not have the surgery, knowing full well that it would mean certain death in a short amount of time. That was a decision I could not make for her. If she chose to have the surgery, she was also choosing a more difficult life, but she would be choosing to live. We talked about what she would miss, events like her granddaughter’s wedding. Then the conversation turned to how we could make it work. Yes, she probably would give up driving, although she had heard of hand-controlled cars. She still wanted to live in her own home, but might need someone to mow the yard. (I live 2 hours away and she definitely did not want to move closer to me, away from her familiar surroundings.) Mom never shed a tear or felt sorry for herself. When the doctor came in, she told him in her southern drawl, “Well, doc, I guess you got some more work to do.”
Tomorrow I am going to visit Mom who finally sold her house to live in a retirement home to make life a little easier on her. She no longer drives, either, but she still has that indomitable spirit and ever-present sense of humor. Brave? Yes, without a doubt, I would say she is one of the bravest people I have ever known. How brave? Braver than I could ever be.