It’s OK, Mom’s Here

There is joy in a mother’s touch.

There is calm and comfort and so much more than in words spoken into telephones by women separated by 5,200 miles and bureaucratic obstacles.

Last week, mother and daughter Cirila Maldonado and Karla Nowlin held each other for the first time in 13 years.

Nowlin, 43, her body ravaged by ovarian cancer, felt like a young child. So excited. So overcome by adoration for the woman who, after her husband died young, raised Nowlin and her seven siblings.

Maldonado, 79, had just finished the first flight of her lifetime, her sole voyage outside Honduras. She found her baby girl beautiful, so beautiful she almost couldn’t believe in the illness that had brought them to this point.

When Maldonado first heard in 2009 that her daughter had cancer, she said she fell to her knees and begged God for her life. She’d already lost another daughter, Gilma, to the disease.

After Nowlin, who lives on the North Side (Columbus), acknowledged that cancer treatment no longer held any hope for her and sought hospice care, Maldonado longed to see her daughter. Nowlin, too weak to travel, repeatedly told the staff at Hospice of Central Ohio that her greatest wish was to see her mother.

Karla

Hospice workers, especially social worker, Charla Sedziol, began to work to make that happen. But Maldonado was repeatedly denied a visa at the U.S. Embassy in Honduras. As she understood it, an embassy employee was worried that she would try to stay in the U.S. for good.

Frustrated, the family and Sedziol wrote letters promising that the visit would last just a few weeks. They explained the seriousness of Nowlin’s illness, the fact that her health was declining by the day. They asked U.S. Rep. Pat Tiberi, R-Genoa Township, and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, to step in.

Maldonado sought help from the Honduran government.

And then, on February 8, Maldonado returned to the embassy to speak to the man who had denied her requests. Before she went in, she said, she prayed, “God, touch the guy’s heart. Hear my voice.”

Her visa was approved. She laughed. She cried. She thought maybe it was a dream. She called Nowlin who was in the car with her new husband, Paul.

“We were so excited; we had to pull the car over. I was shaking,” Mrs. Nowlin said. She called Sedziol.

“Oh my gosh – I was screaming. I had tears in my eyes, and I was dancing around,” said Sedziol, who within days booked a flight for Maldonado with money from the Foundation for Hospice of Central Ohio.

The first morning after Maldonado arrived, her daughter woke her at 5 a.m.

“I wanted to hug my mommy,” Mrs. Nowlin said. “I did not sleep. I was so excited. I just could not wait to wake up and talk to my mommy. I just keep looking at her and say, ‘Is it for real?’ I hug her and she hugs me back, and I know it’s for real.”
Maldonado and the Nowlins basked in happiness last week. They laughed about Maldonado’s adjustment to the Ohio weather. Mr. Nowlin joking that he would buy his mother-in-law her first pair of pants. Mrs. Nowlin translated for her mother, who laughed and laughed at the ridiculousness of the idea.

They brainstormed the best way to find authentic ingredients for Maldonado’s dishes, especially the banana leaves for the tamales her daughter has waited so long to taste.

They talked about a ceremony to bless the Nowlins’ month-old justice-of-the-peace marriage. The hospice chaplain who has visited them these past several months will officiate.

They praised God again and again and expressed gratitude to everyone who helped to grant them this time together.

As they spoke, Maldonado would put her arm around her daughter or rest a hand on her leg. When Mt. Nowlin cried, her mother stroked her cheek and her neck. No more than 10 minutes passed when the two did not embrace.

The presence of her mother, anyone can see, has done something for Mrs. Nowlin that chemotherapy no longer can.

“As soon as she saw her mother, she just looked like she grew an inch,” Mr. Nowlin said. “She seems healthier.”

Maldonado is to be in Columbus until March 9. On March 8, she’ll help her daughter celebrate her 44th birthday.

If they find banana leaves, there will most certainly be Honduran tamales.

Regardless, there will be joy and a daughter uplifted by the solace only her mother could provide.

(story by Misti Crane, photo by Brooke LaVallay, The Columbus Dispatch, 2/21/11, reprinted with permission)