Every day, she talks to her son.
Doctors give him little chance, the public no longer pays much attention, but nearly every day for more than a month, the mother arrives at the cramped ICU room at County-USC Medical Center to talk to her comatose son.
He is Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan who suffered a serious brain injury when he was attacked in the Dodger Stadium parking lot on opening day.
She is Ann Stow, and she wants him to know that she will be his mother forever.
“We’re here, little man!” she says when she walks into the room.
Bryan is 42, and other family members chuckle, but Mom is insistent.
“He will always be my little man,” she says.
Every day, she talks to her son, which makes Sunday morning so special, because for the first time, she will listen.
She will lay her cheek down upon his cheek, she will whisper that she is here, and she will listen for the response that every mother wants to hear on this day.
“I want to feel him say, ‘Happy Mother’s Day,’ ” she says. “I know he would say it, and I want to feel it.”
For many who reside in our city, Mother’s Day is about flowers and buffets awash in the joyous colors of admiration and affection.
For one visitor, it is about the other side of motherhood, the stuff that Hallmark doesn’t sell, the reality that only mothers can ever understand.
For Ann Stow, this Mother’s Day is about the unimaginable toughness that comes with being the last person in the world who will give up on your child.
“I’m looking forward to a miracle,” she says. “I’m not going anywhere.”
Nearly six weeks ago, Ann Stow was a 63-year-old church secretary living a quiet life in Santa Cruz County with her husband of 36 years and her three grown children. She was nearing retirement, and eagerly awaiting the days when parenthood pays off with the happy cries of grandkids and the warm embrace of family.
“I remember going to church and thanking God for all my blessings, so many blessings that I sometimes wondered when the other shoe was going to drop,” she says. “I remember thinking, please, don’t test me, don’t test me.”
On the late afternoon of March 31, the test arrived, in the crumpled form of her oldest child and only son Bryan, a Santa Clara paramedic.
While walking out of Dodger Stadium after watching his beloved Giants lose their opener to the Dodgers, Bryan was hit in the back of the head and knocked to the ground by two Dodgers fans shouting an expletive against the Giants.
As the father of two was rushed to the hospital with severe brain trauma, Ann was rushing down from her Capitola home and checking into a downtown Los Angeles hotel. With the exception of a two-day break during which she was riddled with guilt, she has remained at his side ever since.
“I can’t go home…this is now my home,” she said in a phone interview Saturday. “How can I leave my child?”
She and her husband, Dave, leave the hotel every morning for the trip to the hospital, where they spend eight hours in a room so small and crowded with equipment that it has only one uncomfortable chair. They return to the hotel every night sore and exhausted and alone. The next morning, they do it again.
“When my son wakes up, I want to be there,” she says.
She was there when doctors said that nine out of 10 people do not survive the type of brain surgery that Bryan’s injury required. She kissed her son when he was the one who survived.
She was there when doctors put her son into a medically induced coma, where he remains seemingly lifeless today. She plastered the wall with photos and filled his room with life.
Doctors told her that her son has only a “slim” chance of survival. She shows up every day to take that chance.
He doesn’t respond? She does nothing but respond, chattering and laughing and reading him letters and telling him stories and doing everything but crying.
“The room is a no-cry zone,” she says. “I don’t want him to see anyone being sad.”
She can’t be so controlling of her own tears, as she breaks down at the oddest times, in front of strangers, looking at a mirror, walking to the car.
“Our lives have been turned upside down,” she says. “But you never stop being a mother.”
If there is a Mother’s Day message in this madness, that is it. You never stop being a mother. It is a blessing forever. It is a job for life. It never changes. It never ends. I still talk to my mother, the great Mary Margaret Plaschke, nearly every day. I am a grown man, yet she is still the one giving advice to me.
Every night back at the hotel, Ann and Dave Stow offer a soda or wine toast to their son, but they do it with a nickname that he’s had since he was 6, a name he gave to himself while pretending to be a superhero.
“Here’s to the Great Hodge,” they say, as if he were still their little child, which, of course, he’ll always be.
“There’s always that nagging reality that when he does wake up, he’s not going to be the Bryan we knew, his memories are going to be gone,” says Ann. “But that’s OK, we’ll just create new memories.”
None of those memories will involve the Dodgers.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt phoned Ann nearly two weeks after Stow’s beating with condolences and is paying their hotel bill, though she said there has been no offer to help with the medical expenses. Ann would rather just forget about him.
“All the stuff going on in his life, I don’t need that brought into my life,” she says. “I don’t need that bad mojo.”
She is grateful for donations that have come from folks everywhere to help defray at least a portion of the enormous medical costs, including more than $60,000 from a Dodgers fundraiser. She is also grateful for the giant card sent by Dodgers employees. She is eternally thankful to all the hospital and hotel employees who have helped her family survive.
Only now, finally, is she starting to also get a little bit angry.
On this Mother’s Day, Ann Stow would like to appeal to the woman driving the car that picked up the two unidentified men who attacked her son. Police are saying the woman was with a 10-year-old boy. The woman is apparently a mother, and Ann would like to give her a message.
“I would like to remind her she has a child who can buy her a card and give her a hug and make her happy today,” she says. “I would like to ask her to understand what it is like to have a son who can no longer do that. I want to appeal to her, as a mother, to turn those thugs in.”
For now, Ann Stow will continue to show up at the hospital every day, resting her hopes on every flicker of Bryan Stow’s damaged brain, searching her son for every twitch, pleading for him to follow her in her fight.
“I know he’s trying to find a path through it,” she says.
It is a path that, like all of our paths, will eventually lead back to a mother, who will be waiting when he gets there.