I was tired. After several weeks of sleeping on a cot I just wanted to close my eyes for a minute. So I turned backward on the hard, stiff-backed chair and rested my head on my hands. While I rested I thought back over what had brought us to this place on this day.
A couple of months before Twig was born in 1982 Mother called to ask if I thought she should go to the doctor after having bloody diarrhea. I asked her why she was calling me instead of the doctor. She decided that since it was only that one time, she’d wait and see if it happened again. Two days later she was in the hospital being transfused because of blood loss. When she hadn’t had any more episodes during her hospital stay, and the lower GI hadn’t shown anything, they let her go home with instructions to follow up with her primary care physician if she had further problems. A week or so later she had another occurrence and her doctor scheduled a colonoscopy. As it turned out, that test was performed on the day that Twig was born. Without telling me what was going on, Mom had the test in the morning and then came to the hospital and stayed with me until I delivered her second grandson. I could not have done it without her.
The initial test results came back while I was still in the hospital. (Back then when you had a baby they kept you for a minimum of 5 days.) She had some minor polyps that they sampled for a biopsy. Nothing to worry about, said her doctor. When they turned out to be malignant he told her that they were very small and repeated that there was nothing to worry about so it was ok for her to take a couple of weeks to clear things up at work before scheduling the surgery to remove them. Two weeks turned into nearly three months as she stalled and postponed always citing the doctor’s statement that there was nothing to worry about. By the time she finally underwent surgery, the very fast-growing cancer had perforated her intestinal wall and metastasized (spread) to her liver. They gave her less than two years to live.
She immediately started a very aggressive series of chemotherapy and radiation treatments that left her predictably weak and tired all the time. She underwent two more surgeries. She lost nearly 100 lbs. and all of her hair, but she never lost her positive attitude and infectious laugh. Or her hope.
While her sisters and some friends helped as much as possible, as her only child, it fell to me to try to take care of her and my dad during the times she was in the hospital. I arranged to have someone with her during the daytime while I was working and I spent nights sleeping by her side to make sure her every need was met. When the end came nearer I took a leave of absence and spent the last 2 weeks constantly by her side.
I am so grateful that I had that time with her. We talked about everything under the sun: shared joys and sorrows; all of our differences, grievances and mistakes. We laughed and remembered and apologized and forgave. Thanks to that time together, by the time I was sitting backward in the chair resting my eyes, there was nothing left unsaid between us – and no more time to say it if there had been. Sometime during the course of the last 24 hours she had slipped into a coma.
My husband touching me on the arm pulled me back from my faraway thoughts. Facing him, with my back to Mother, I opened my eyes and the look on his face said it all. “She’s gone,” he said so softly that it was almost a whisper. I later learned that he was looking at her face when one tear slid slowly down her cheek, she sighed and was still. The pain and humiliation she had suffered during her long, hard, struggle were finally over and she was at peace. At the age of 27 I became a motherless daughter.
Today marks the 24th anniversary of my mother’s permanent address change. While this date is always remembered and the loss mourned, this year has hit me particularly hard. You see, this year I am the age that my mother was at her passing: just a few months shy of her 52nd birthday. In my mid 20s, 50-something seemed so very far away. It seemed enough time to live a whole life. Now, sitting here I realize just how NOT enough it is. The reality of how young Mother was has gripped my heart causing pain unlike anything I’ve felt since 1984. I look at my life and think, how could I be dead today and it all have been enough? It can’t. Even a million more todays can never be enough time to love your children; to laugh with your friends; to hold your one true love; to see the light and joy in the eyes of your grandchildren when you walk through the door. The best that any of us can hope for is the grace and strength to live today with all the love, courage, compassion, and joy we can muster. And in the end be strong enough to help those we leave behind say goodbye.