It was the moment that I had agonized over in my mind for over two years, the moment that I had prayed would not happen, but like many life changing moments it came in a whisper. It started long beforeon a beautiful summer day, the kind that catches you thinking that all is right with the world. Thatglorious feeling of peace and well beingI seem to get just before the bottom falls out beneath me.
My phone at work rang and the caller id showed my parent's number. I answered expecting the silly hellos that we shared or the invitation to dinner because my mom had once again cooked way too much food.The first hello told me that this was no ordinary call. My dad was on the line, and he always started devastating news with the words, "hey, listen…mom has a growth on her lung. They think its cancer." My first reaction was the one that I always have to unbearable news. no dad it can't be, I'm sure they are overreacting. But I knew it was true, I knew it was my faultand I also knew that this was the beginning of an ending that we would write together.
My mom was always there for me. A stay at home mom, she dedicated herself to her husband, her children and her favorite "story", The Young and Restless. She was a creature of habit with an addictive personality; whether it was her soap opera, her collection ofof bears and dolls, golf or her grandbabies she was wholeheartedly addicted to them all. Her greatest addiction, however,was cigarettes.
The stor in the family is that when she was pregnant with my older sister she put 80 pounds on her tiny5 foot frame. So big, in fact, that the doctor thought the baby would come the beginning of January. She arrived February 20th! So when the time came and she became pregnant again, the doctor recommended that she take up smoking to help control her weight. I was born February 19, 1961, and my mother smoked from that point on up until the morning that part of her lung was taken.
She wa an amazing women. Her original diagnosis was that there was noviable treatment and that shehad around 6 months before the cancer took her from us. She and my father did not accept that. They were babies of the depression, a world war and time apart while my dad faught in Korea. The lessons life had taught them were that you could accomplish anything if you worked and sacrificed. We found a doctor who shared their philosophy and was ready to fightwith her and for her.She faced a mastectomy, lung removal, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, never with a pain or a day of sickness. If it weren't for the loss of her hair and days of endless weakness, you wouldn't have known how desperately sick she was.
Two years she subjected her body to the ravages of chemotherapy. She accepted it like a real trooper, joking with her oncology nurses and flirting with the young men. I fought with her the only way I knew how. I began going to morning mass, praying the rosary at times when I felt the grief and terror build in me, and calling and visiting everyday never missing the chance to give a kiss and say I love you. At night I would construct in my mind what the end would be like, trying to prepare myself for the pain, reading anything I could to understand how to deal with the moment that her life slipped away.
The call came early on a Sunday morning. My mom had been forced to stop the chemo, it had become more life threatening then the cancer itself. Her wish was to go to Florida, to see old friends, sit in the sun and watch the golfers from her porch. I pleaded with her not to go, but came to the realization that this was her journey and it was selfish of me to put my wishes above hers.
My dad's voice was hoarse and I could tell he was exhausted. The words hung in the air…mom isn't doing well. Which in dad speak meant, help I'm scared and I don't know what to do. I was there as quick as I could get to them and immediately called and ambulance. She was bad, but she had been bad before and she had always fought back, this was no different. But it was. She came home the next day and by that evening she was barely lucid. Begging us for help she would cling to us, not knowing what she wanted and my dad and I not knowing what she needed. The next 24 hours before hospice came was the most difficult time of my life. Holding her, caring for her, reassuring her our roles had forever reversed. I was afraid that I was not as strong and steady as she needed, but I never showed it. My last kiss from her came that evening when she looked up at me and the cloud seemed to briefly lift from her eyes and I said I that I loved her, really, really loved her. She passed several days later, she took a breath and was gone.
I am left with the grief and the beautiful memories of a life well lived and a person well loved; but I am also left with the guilt of knowing that if it hadn't been for me, she may never have picked up that first cigarette. We walk our own path in life and God has given us free choice and with that wecreate our lives, flawed as they may be. I am learning to forgive myself and gain acceptance of what has come to pass. I know that she is at peace, her journey has just begun, and we will all be together again. I have the memory of that last kiss to carry me through.