Doing the Best With What You Have

Thursday, 30 Aug 2012 04:59 PM

By Jackie Gingrich Cushman

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One of my mother's favorite sayings is to do the best you can with what you have at the time.

She should know.

She was the first in her family to go to college, graduating from Auburn University in three years. She taught high school mathematics at a time when few math teachers were women. As a single mother of two adolescent girls, she encouraged us both through college.

While I was in high school, she dealt with her own mother's failing health. On weekends, she drove two hours each way in Georgia from Carrollton to Columbus to check on her mother and do what she could.

She has suffered and conquered a variety of illnesses (uterine cancer, colon cancer, gallbladder removal). She does the best she can with what she has.

This week, I had planned to join my sister, Kathy Lubbers, and the 50,000 other people attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.

Instead, my sister joined me in Atlanta.

At this particular juncture in life, we have more important things to do.

Our mother, Jackie Gingrich, is in the hospital once again.

Her latest bout of bad health began in early July with pain in her back and her hips. After flying from Brunswick, Ga., to Atlanta, she was hospitalized and diagnosed with a spinal fracture, then discharged. Three days later, she was back with an infection. After a much-too-long stay in the intensive care unit, she was moved to the hospital's rehabilitation wing. A few days later, slightly more than a week ago, she suffered a series of strokes.

The result: She was no longer able to move her left leg or right arm.

Yesterday, as I walked through Emory Hospital's lobby to join my sister and my mother in her room, I was struck by a rush of memories: I saw the place in the lobby near the escalator where I had stood in August 2005, when her surgeon told me that she had colon cancer. The feelings of shock, fear, disbelief and my blood leaving my body all came back to me.

On the way down the escalators, I saw the corner of the lobby, near the window where my sister and I had waited as she underwent surgery a few months later, the day my daughter turned 6. I remembered how afraid I was that she might die on her granddaughter's birthday.

Passing the cafeteria, I remembered buying my mom lunch while she was receiving chemotherapy infusions. Would she make it? Would she recover?

I passed the table where I had sat with the priest from my church after seeing my mother. I remembered wondering if she would make it through the ordeal.

Walking into her room yesterday, I looked at the white board. The usual information was there: Doctor, nurse, tech, my name and number, along with my sister's and aunt's.

In addition, three items were lined up and surrounded by a hand-drawn box: MRI, Neurologist, PT. MRI indicated the test that she was to undergo that day; the neurologist was scheduled to examine her; and PT referred to physical therapy.

Under the heading goal was "Get up." "A goal," Mom said, "is better than no goal. You have to have a goal."

An enormous goal for a woman who has suffered strokes.

But she is used to beating the odds.

After completing chemotherapy in 2006, my mom was so weak that she ended up in a nursing home. As my sister and I drove away after dropping her off, we both cried, sure that she would not come out.

We were wrong.

Months later, she moved into assisted living, then back home. Since then, she has been driving, going to bridge, participating in red hats and investment club, and counting the offerings at the church. She has watched her grandchildren at ballet performances, flag football games and holiday programs. She has visited my sister at the beach.

Yesterday, however, she did not meet her goals. Extra tests had taken up her time and her strength. But she is determined and does not give up.

As Kathy and I left the hospital last night, I thought about all the goals that I have made over my life that I have not yet achieved.

Then I reflected on all the twists and turns that life has thrown my way and realized that I have done the best I could with what I had at the time, realizing that while I might have to reschedule and rearrange, I would — like my mom — continue to persevere.

I have no doubt that today, when I walk into the hospital room, that "Get up" will be listed again under goals. My bet is that today she will reach her goal.

If not, then possibly the next. After all, tomorrow is another day.

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is the co-author, along with her father, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, of the book "5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours." Read more reports from Jackie Gingrich Cushman — Click Here Now.








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