Just two months ago, I got a voicemail from my dad asking me to call him. When I returned his call, I got some news that shook me: My mom had cancer.
Now, if you have followed and read any of my blog at all, you'll realize that my mom and I haven't had the best relationship, but we had learned how to be amicable to one another, and were actually starting to patch things up between us. This news was not good, and it wasn't going to allow me to get any further kind of closure from my childhood.
Last month, mom started chemotherapy, and it blasted her pretty good. During it all, she would call and ask me how I was, what I was doing, and if I could get away at some point to come up and visit with her. The petulant little boy inside of me came up from the screaming depths, and declined - blaming it on the new job and other hassles that life had thrown my way. I told her I would make time for Thanksgiving, and would come up to visit then. Mom was disappointed in my reply, but agreed. I made my appointment, we had some talks, and we had some celebration, what little we could find with someone in the same room who was ravaged with cancer, and trying not to be sick just from the smells coming from the kitchen. It was a tense Thanksgiving, and I don't think I'll ever forget that feeling and those emotions.
This last weekend, I got a call from my dad. "Come north, we are bringing your mom home to the Hospice Center. The cancer has spread, and they don't know how much longer she is going to make it." I went north. My biggest worry was not on my mom dying, but how the rest of my family was going to be able to handle the stress and loss. My dad has always defined himself through my mom. If we'd ask about any kind of appointment or coming up to visit, he'd want to check with mom to make sure all dates and times were clear. Any decision would be routed through mom, since they made all of their decisions as a team, and no spouse was left not knowing. Similarly, my brother was very close to my mom. They could talk for hours about nothing at all, and at the end of the conversation would determine that they got a lot accomplished. I never understood that connection, and to be honest I still don't get it to this day. How were these two going to handle her loss?
My mind was in overdrive. I couldn't form a coherent thought. All these scenarios and "what-if" statements kept circling in my head. The argument kept coming around to me about "Sure, she's bad now, but there have been plenty of times where someone has seemed to be on Death's door, and makes an unexpected turn around. I'm sure this is going to be one of those times, and I'm going to waste some of my vacation time on a potentially unnecessary trip." Against all of my arguments, I went north to see my dad and brother. Mom was resting, unable to speak anymore due to the illness that had now claimed 40% of her lungs, enveloped one of her kidneys, stained her liver, migrated to her lymph nodes, and nested now in her bones as well. I leaned over the rail of the bed she was sleeping in, took her feverish hand in mine, and whispered to her about how much I loved her, how proud I was to be her son, and that no matter what happens, I would always live and act the way she would want me to.
In that moment, I finally understood that the petty anger and hurts that I was nursing completely paled in comparison to the reality that my mom was destined to leave this world, and that the air needed to be cleared. I gave love and forgiveness, expecting none in return, but knowing that she could hear me, and knew things were right between us.
Early that next morning, about 12:30 in the morning, my brother called me to her room. I rushed there, and the family sang hymns as she struggled for each and every breath. During our singing of "How Great Thou Art", my mom silently passed away, and a peace that I have never seen on her face showed. I knew at that moment she was no longer troubled, and she was finally at rest and at peace. I kissed her head, told her I would see her after a while, and went to console the rest of my family who were there.
Life is short. There are no guarantees about how long you will be in this life. Make the most of each day, live it to the fullest with no regrets, and rejoice when you wake up the next morning able to do so again.
I love you mom, and I am glad you are at peace.
See you sometime soon.