Predestined love…a girl on a farm, a boy in the city. Their lives woven together by their creator. Each as children, opened their hearts to faith in something larger than themselves and never let go of it.
Step by step my parents were drawn together then side by side they walked through life until one prepared to leave for a place unknown.
Which is harder, going ahead or staying behind?
On most days, I could easily smile when I walked into my parents’ presence. I had been away from home for so many years, it was a gift to be near them now. But this morning it wouldn’t come. I hadn’t slept well when I got the call that they were on their way to the hospital unexpectedly. I was worried.
Dad was sitting alone in the waiting area outside the changing room when I arrived. Mom had already gone in to get ready for the test so I went in and took a seat near her curtained cubicle.
Two women sat across from me. I kept my head down.
Mom came out, carrying a bag with her belongings and sat down carefully beside me. The sight of her warmed me but she looked more drained by her pain than I’d ever seen. My breath felt trapped in my chest as I gave her a kiss.
Wanting us to somehow escape the situation, I opened up the pictures in my camera. Just a couple months earlier Mom had played piano for her grandson’s wedding on the Island, hosted a big brunch the following morning and then led a worship service for all the guests. She gave me a scripture to read and afterwards told me she loved the way I had read the words, “You said them so naturally Debbie.”
She’d say little things like that to me and make me feel so good. Valued. I thought how she brightened up everything. I scrolled through each of the pictures as she looked on and steadied her breath by exhaling audibly.
Her eyes had faint reddish rims around them. I knew she was weary of yet one more procedure. I put my arm around her and we sat quietly side by side, thigh against thigh. The room was cold. When the nurse came and called her name Mom rose dutifully, turning to hand me the bag containing her neatly folded clothes, then followed the nurse out the door.
Left alone, I only wanted to protest the unfairness and cruelty of life but the woman across from me said softly, “What a beautiful relationship”.
I lifted my eyes but not my head.
“It’s beautiful. Your mother and you—you can see the love.”
I tried to smile but could only manage a nod.
Just let me sulk I grumbled inwardly as my eyes moistened. I felt raw. I wanted to be mad but being mad changed everything—my energy was gone, I was impatient, I pushed people away, I frowned, my head pounded and my eyes hurt. I lifted my chin. One woman had a hat on—the kind you’d wear to church if you lived in the south, were older and maybe Baptist. The other was clasping a purse in her lap—her ankles crossed and arms neatly tucked at her sides. I swallowed back the rising emotion then closed my eyes to rest the pain behind them.
“She’s going to be alright you know.” Purse lady said.
“And so are you,” Hat lady chimed in.
Tears slipped from the corners of my eyes—I wasn’t so sure about that.
We sat quietly for a while and then little by little I began talking with these two kind strangers while I waited for Mom. I wish I could remember what exactly they had said to me that day. What I remember is that their understanding soothed me. I left the waiting room without the baggage I had carried into it. I thought how a little compassion really is like lighting a candle in the dark for someone.
When Mom, Dad and I walked out of the hospital I wondered if the ladies in the waiting room were angels—the hat hiding a halo and by clasping the purse the other was hiding wings….
A battle ends, relief follows. You could see it wash over Mom when Dr. Charleson gave her the news that the MRI had revealed the shaded area they had found was a tumor growing in her skull. As odd as this may sound, it gave Mom some relief. It helped her to understand why she was having difficulty reading, was struggling with her balance when she walked and was so often nauseous. She wasn’t imagining it.
“I’ll do another round of chemo,” was her response.
The last sessions of radiation were given to help her pain but it hadn’t. She had worried lately about being an imposition on their neighbors who were preparing meals and always wondering if she and Dad needed help. She’d worried about the strain she was putting on the family.
Dad had retired so he would be able to care for her, Joanie had been flying in from Tucson every few weeks to help out. It was a double edged sword—she wanted care and support but she didn’t want to need them. She didn’t want to be a burden.
It angered her that she couldn’t do the things she cared about—live how she had hoped. She was working on her anger.
Mom wanted to move somewhere to make the situation easier on everyone. She didn’t know where exactly and maybe it was more about getting away from her body and away from the loss of her eldest child. There was no consolation for that. Was that the source of the anger she was trying so hard to push away? How could she ever reconcile that? At least now with Dr. Charleson’s report she knew there was a reason for feeling the way she was and she would let the worry of the condo residents go, along with the worry of needing to be something for somebody else, which was so inherent in all of us.
She’d settle in, closer to the womb of comfort. She’d try to let the futility of trying to overcome what was happening to her, had been happening throughout the 15 years of her cancer, come to an end. She would prepare for what was next.
Dr. Charelson looked directly into Mom’s sharp, deep brown eyes, so filled with wisdom and love, and simply said, “No. No more chemo, Dolores. It’s not working anymore.”
Dad and Joanie sat in the small hospital room along with Mom, listening to Dr. Charleson who had been stunned that she would even consider another round. They all sat incredibly still.
Mom made the slightest little gasp, then let the doctor’s words wash over her. There would be no more battle. The end was now near. They’d given her four to six months before the tumor was detected. Now what, weeks, days? Was she ready to say goodbye?
“Well, let’s get in touch with Hospice. I think it’s time we call in a little help,” was her response.
The three of them walked to the car and someone said, “What should we do now?”
Mom said, “I have an idea.”
“What’s that?” Dad asked.
“Let’s go to Solly’s.”
Joan and Mom stayed in the car while Dad went in to get the butter burgers, fries and shakes. The three of them sat in the car together and ate.