Note to readers: My beautiful mother Jessica passed away last Monday at 88 years old, after surviving a disabling illness for 38 years. Read her story. Then you'll know why I'll miss her so much and why she is my family hero.
We’ve all likely used the expression, “ I have half a mind to …” meaning “to be tempted to or inclined to.” Most of us don’t truly consider what it means to make a decision using half a mind. But that’s what my mother did for 38 years, since she was stricken ill in 1978, suffering the same affliction as her father—a brain abscess--with one major difference. She survived.
Thirty-five years later, in 2013, my mom had to be rushed to the E.R. for successive falls and dehydration. A physician at St. Joe’s had ordered her very first MRI, a technology not yet on the horizon in the late 70s. The doctor was trying to determine why my mother’s muscles had failed. The specialist was Iranian by birth—with a cultured elegance in speech and manner, but a doctor nonetheless. She was comfortable speaking frankly to family members.
“Her MRI revealed the most amazing thing,” she’d told my sister and I, who’d been waiting hours for a prognosis. “Half of your mother’s brain is gone.”
While my sister and I knew that the brain abscess and its containment had caused substantial damage, hearing Mom’s condition described so matter of factly, as if her compromised brain made her a highly curious medical specimen, was more than we were prepared to hear. I gasped. I clutched the arms of the hospital chair. Both of us verged on tears. “My mother had lived with half a brain for decades? My mother?”
My family was keenly aware of the gifts the surgeon’s knife had taken to save her life: short-term memory, musicality, peripheral vision, attention, creativity, and the full use of the left side of her body.
Her disabilities gave her many trials. My mother had always been a wonderful cook. She sobbed after ruining a batch of chili having mistakenly used cinnamon instead chili powder. The medication she had to take to prevent seizures while her brain healed also dulled her senses. My mother's partial paralysis on her left side was something she had to cope with the rest of her life. One woman refused to accompany Mom on a bus trip, saying she didn't want to be my mother's "human cane," which deeply wounded my mother's pride. She wanted to be an ambassador at B'nai B'rith for prospective residents but was overlooked because of her infirmities.
What Mom accomplished in the years following her surgery was nothing short of heroic. She became a neighborhood nanny. She performed in the musical Godspell at her church. She tutored first- and second-graders from inner-city Reading. She never lost her zeal for clothes, bargain shopping with my sister and consignment shopping with my daughter. With a gift from her friend Violet, she took my sister, my daughter and I to the United Kingdom for 11 days. Nearly every minute was fun-filled and memorable, except when she got stuck in the deep hotel bathtub and my sister had to pull her out.
She kept herself immaculate and beautifully accessorized for decades. She could tell a joke with the best of them. We'd have to gang up on her to beat her in Trivial Pursuit. There was little wrong with her long-term memory, which is housed on the left side of the brain.
Next time you use the expression, “I have half a mind to...,” I hope you’ll take time to think of my mother Jessica Ringler, to fully appreciate that with some perseverance, you can do nearly anything you set your heart and mind to do.