As the one year anniversary of my mother’s passing draws closer, I find myself obsessed with trying to recall certain memories, especially, those leading up to her last days. It’s been hitting me randomly lately, “What were we doing on __ day?” Some memories are very clear, while others aren’t. As my mother’s health deteriorated I took a leave of absence from work and spent every day with her from December leading up to her death on February 8, 2012. Most of that was spent in the oncology unit at Duke University. It was our last effort to save her life and I knew the minute we sat down with the doctor that it was over. The doctor, sitting before us with my mother’s charts and new labs in her hands seemed shocked and a bit outraged to see us. I would later learn that her outrage was directed toward my mother’s doctor who sent her to Duke when it was too late for any medical intervention. I could read the regret on her face and felt quick jabs of pity with every word she uttered. It wasn’t very long before we heard the word, “Hospice.”
I felt helpless. Cancer has a way of doing that, stripping you of your ability to feel useful. I tried to plot our next move, yet the disease had other plans.
I admit feeling frustrated with myself and my inability to recall the exact events leading up to one of the most devastating days of my life. Let me correct that, THE most devastating day of my life, thus far. In some ways, writing this is my attempt at sealing some memories. To remind myself. To never forget. So in effort to steer my brain from trying to recall the memories of hospital visits, I’m going to concentrate on other memories.
I’m going to remember that my mother was a teacher. No, she didn’t have any formal training; however, I always felt that was her calling. The woman who decided during a teacher strike in Chicago to walk the picket line with my teacher and homeschool her children. She welcomed other parents and their children into her home during the strike to make sure we didn’t fall behind. After the strike ended my mother decided she wanted to homeschool us full time, but that didn’t happen. Why? I threw a nasty fit and my father grew tired of hearing my mouth and made my mother send me back to school.
After years of being a staying at home Mom she decided to head to nursing school. I observed her reaching out to others, offering study guides and exercising extreme patience when explaining things that came quite naturally to her. She was encouraging and deliberate.
One day she mentioned in passing that she’d love to teach nursing courses and next thing you know she was back in school. Cancer came knocking again and her dreams were thwarted.
I have many stories of my mother’s triumphs, discoveries, laughter and love. Going forward I’d like to rely more on those than the last months/days. I was recently asked what we did during the last days of her life and the answer was, we didn’t do very much. We didn’t have any light bulb moments or life changing conversations. We talked about current events, watched the super bowl and she snacked on her favorite foods.
If we rely on what we see on TV and read in books, then we might expect to have an earth shattering conversation before the passing of a loved one or even accomplish something on their bucket list. Nothing wrong with that. If you can, then do it. My parents were in the middle of a divorce when my mother passed and had sporadic communication, most of which was very tense. My Dad was there the night before she passed and he said three words that I know healed them both, “Sandy, I’m sorry.” I didn’t quite have that moment and neither did my siblings. In fact, the night before Mom passed her best friend tried to have that moment and it backfired. She asked, “Sandy what’s on your mind?” In true Sandy fashion my mother answered, “My damn medicine.” My mother wasn’t even about to sit around and have pity party. We played music all night. My mother had a chicken sandwich and oranges. Before she passed I told her I loved her and she responded with the same.
I’m currently working to align my passions with my life work and hopefully that means Alisha in a classroom teaching. And you bet Sandy, a girl from Youngstown Ohio (Go Buckeyes) will show up in that classroom. I am because you are. Love you, Mom.