On A High Note

In Memory of Mom – Cancer is not my friend

I know I am to be writing about “entertainment” in this column, but I thought while I had the time and space, I’d write about something far more important than entertainment…Moms. More specifically, my Mom.

juanita

Did you ever notice how just the very word “Mom” sounds endearing? We never think for one minute about living our lives without our Mom. At least I never did. But I have to say I’m grateful that it’s not one of those things that comes to mind until it absolutely has to; even then, you’re bound not to believe it.

CANCER – STAGE I – THE CALL
It is the worst call you will ever get. My husband and I were celebrating our 5th wedding anniversary back in January–just hanging out on a beautiful horse farm not too far from Nashville. My mom had been very sick, and I knew she had stage IV breast cancer. I’d been with her through her first chemo treatments and hadn’t long returned from my parents’ home. I knew she’d taken a third round of chemo after I came back home. I still have her voicemail saved on my phone wherein she related her “pretty good day” experience. (She was jolly and laughing, talking about how great everyone at the hospital had been to her that day.) I also knew that her doctor told her/us at Christmas, that the chemo wasn’t working so well, so we’d all have to “regroup and examine our options.” What I didn’t know, was how little time we had left…

CANCER- STAGE II – DENIAL OF THE DAUGHTER
My father called us on January 4th saying Mom had fallen getting to the restroom, and Dad had said: “you’d better come quick sweetheart, your mom is fading fast.” I was determined that when I got there, and being the only girl in my family (I have 3 mega bros.), that I, yes, surely I, would know what to do. Mom had apparently been vomiting for about 4 days. She needed hydration. So I took SmartWater, Gatorade and anything else I could get my hands on. Between that and the nausea medicine the doctor had prescribed weeks before, she didn’t get sick at all after I’d arrived, at least not in that way. So I was thinking: “See, she’s doing better already.” That is how I felt the first 24 hours.

CANCER – STAGE III – WANTING YEARS, GETTING ONLY DAYS
DAY I
When I arrived, Mom could still walk with our assistance, to the restroom…but she was dragging one foot behind her. I asked her if she’d hurt it when she had fallen the day before. She simply said she wasn’t sure what was wrong with it, but my father told me quietly that the cancer was working on her brain, so her leg wasn’t getting the signals it needed to move. I thought little of it at that moment. I still believed – with 100% of my heart and with all faith, that I, along with my dad and brothers, could reverse this horrific illness – somehow destroy this cancer, and save her from it. I even got angry when the doctor called Monday and suggested Hospice. I told dad we didn’t need it, but they came anyway. While I was hanging out with my mom in her room, the hospice nurse came in for the first time with my dad. She actually asked my mom if she wanted to be resuscitated.…I couldn’t believe it. What kind of damn question was that? She’s NOT DYING – she just has CANCER! Granted, Cancer is not my friend but its just a disease and it can be overcome!

DAY 3
The following Tuesday, Mom was struggling with both legs…but I could still help her to the bathroom, as long as my father walked behind her. By Wednesday, we were wheeling her into the restroom and then helping her up and down. By Thursday, she was unable to help herself at all, and it was very difficult. By Friday, the lovely nurse’s aid who had come to give my mom a bath, suggested we leave her in the bed, and just change the bed sheets. It was after all a hospice bed, and it was designed for this sort of thing. In less than a week of being with my mom, she’d gone from laughing and talking with me and profusely apologizing for having to have me help her so much, to being in the bed and sleeping most of the time.

DAY 8
By the following Monday, when the bath nurse came again, Mom had deteriorated visibly…and had probably lost 10-15 pounds. I kept telling myself we could change things – that we just had to find the right answer. I refused to give up! Every day and every night I held her hand, talked to her, sang to her… she even moved her lips trying to sing along with us when my brother was playing guitar and we were singing her favorite song. We all wanted to believe that was a good sign.

During these long anguishing days, my aunt would pitch in and help me with the changes and the bedding, and with comforting my brothers and my dad. Still, I kept trying to believe that somehow, some way, there had to be a way to save this beautiful, phenomenal woman I’d always had the honor of calling my MOM. But the clock ticked onward.

By the 7th or 8th day after my arrival, her voice was at just a barely audible whisper. Though she kept telling me how much she loved me, how much she loved all of us, how much she wished she didn’t have to be in what she called: “this prison of illness.” She told me I was pretty and how happy she was that I was in love, and how much I deserved it…how happy she was that I’d found all I was looking for, just as she had done 52+ years before.

52 Years of Love- Cancer can’t kill everything
She had been married to my father for 52 years, and she loved him like I’ve never even heard of anyone loving someone before. No matter what – thick, thin, rich, poor, poorer still, happy, sad, rainy, sunny, snowed in, in anger, tears…and even during those little “hate you today”days, she stayed by his side and loved him with all her heart – with all her physical, emotional, intellectual (though she’d say illogical) being. It didn’t matter to her that he was (still is) a workaholic, or that sometimes they had everything they needed and sometimes they didn’t. All she cared about – ever – was Dad and Us. That was her life.

From a selfish standpoint, I remember telling her how much more there could be to her life. She was a phenomenal decorator. She loved color, she loved and collected glass, she loved flowers, etc. She would’ve been a phenomenal Interior Designer. When I told her that, she chuckled and said: “thank you baby, but I think I already am – I just save it for our house.” Her love for dad and for us was so strong, it’s great to know that cancer can’t kill everything…some things, she took with her.

I have always been a fairly happy person. I’ve tried to live as a lighthearted, caring individual, and to exercise kindness toward others. And I’ve always credited my Mom with giving me those qualities and for setting such a fine example for me. She taught me how to sing, how to play the piano, how to plant flowers and later in life, how to forgive, even when someone didn’t have it coming. She was the best at unconditional love I’ve ever seen.

My Mom was the nicest, kindest, most forgiving person I’ve ever met. In the months before her death, she wasn’t always in her right mind, but still somehow, she managed to deal with the fact that she was dying. I didn’t know that “she knew.” But she had made lunch plans and went to visit with friends or family members she hadn’t seen in years. She wanted to tell as many as she could, what they had meant to her, and how much she loved them. She apparently did that as a bit of a ritual for several months before she passed on.

DAY 11
By day 11, she had almost lost her voice entirely…she’d only been whispering when she could talk, and she hadn’t eaten anything but a spoonful or two of jello in two days, or a sip of coffee. She hadn’t been able to hug me since day 8. The cancer had made its way into her brain and was shutting my beautiful Mom down, one cell at a time…but speedily.

CANCER- STAGE IV – FORCED TO SAY GOODBYE
Day 15
On January 19th, just 72 hours after her last audible whisper of “I love you so much…” and just 15 days after my arrival, my Mom passed away at 2:42 in the morning. I was holding onto her hand, and had been resting my head on her shoulder, when I heard her heart slowing down further and further. My father was holding her other hand, and just moments before, had nodded off to sleep. I woke him. “Dad, it’s time…” He got up, put his arms around my mom, told her how much he loved her, and how he’d be waiting to see her again soon…and she was gone.

All my brothers had fallen off to sleep. I awoke them each one by one…and they all went to her side to say goodbye. Then we all stood like stones – still somehow in disbelief – watching my dad hold on…still saying goodbye. The old mountain man, who’d always been as tough as a tree, had tears running down his face, as he said his final farewell the the woman of his dreams.

All our love couldn’t save her…nothing could have. But I like to believe there is some part of her saved within myself – and in my brothers. My brothers are all very remarkable men. Each one of them has some of her kindness and much of her forgiveness in them. Further, they are all excellent parents in their own right – something my mom took extra pride in, as she’d felt she’d had a hearty hand in that, and she loved being a grandmother. I also hope there is some of her kindness and understanding in me. I hope I always stand ready to forgive – as she did, and I hope somehow, some way in each day, I’m bringing honor to my mom. And I hope you will remember to tell your mom, just how much she means to you.

CANCER – MORE THAN A DISEASE
Cancer is not our friend…it is so much more than JUST a disease. It is a thief…and it is not partial. Rich or poor, great or small, youthful or aging, it steals our loved ones away, and leaves us with lonely hearts. Please consider a donation to: the American Cancer Society  or Susan G. Komen for the Cure.