Staring Down the Stryker

Karen Gempel // Tales From the Trenches


March 15  

Two Sundays ago, my husband John and I found ourselves once again with one of our parents in the emergency triage room of a Dallas hospital noting the wheels of a gurney emblazoned with the ubiquitous name of the maker: Stryker.

This seems a cruel name for a perfectly fine piece of equipment designed to bring comfort and respite to the hurt, the torn, and sometimes, the dying, which in the last five years was both of our fathers and my mother.

On this Stryker lay John’s ninety-year-old mother Mary Ellen, fully conscious and in her right mind, and we’d just learned she had fractured her hip. Two hours earlier, back in her apartment, she’d fallen behind me, so close I felt the whoosh of air displaced as she tumbled, her foot sliding, her slim frame hitting the laminate floor with full force.

We’d come earlier to take her to Mass and lunch. Then, as a favor, we had stayed to empty a cabinet and wash her collection of blown glass paperweights when it happened. She fell carrying a paperweight back to the cabinet. Really.

The attending doctor told us surgery would be the next day. After we googled the surgeon, we all agreed, and a room was assigned. The surgery was quick and by-the-book, and three days later Mary Ellen was released with a pin in her hip and assigned to the rehab section of her senior living complex. She will be right upstairs from her apartment for the better part of six weeks if all goes well, and home health care in the apartment afterwards.

What is amazing is that it all happened so quickly. A simple slip of the foot will direct the next many months, and our own present Lent. And there is no question but that we will gladly give up our spring break and our weekends to be there with her, to sit and to talk, to hug and to kiss her, to wash her clothes and to bring her treats, to check her care, and to retrieve her mail, and to have someone from the church bring her communion. (John’s sister helps as well).

We do all this because we are once more staring down the Stryker. We know God has given us a great grace – the gift of being fully present to love our mother fiercely and with full hearts, to praise him for giving her life, and for giving us life within her! This is another chance to dip down into the bottomless well of love she has given us. If we are attentive, we find that in loving our mothers more, we may glimpse Christ’s love for Mary, his mother, and thereby, for us.

Jesus so loved his own mother that even as he hung on the cross, he thought of her first: “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary of Magdala. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19: 25-27).

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