Yesterday I buried my mother. She was 63.
Nearly 2 1/2 years ago, on February 12, 2010, the same evening as the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver Olympics my mother went to the emergency room.
And on July 27, 2012, the same evening as the Opening Ceremonies of the London Olympics, my mother took her last breath.
She went to the emergency room that long ago February for what she suspected was a hernia. “Oh, it’s nothing,” she told me. “I’ll be in and out in no time. Won’t even have to spend the night….Well, unless it’s cancer. Ha ha ha.”
It was cancer.
And it had metastasized.
By the time they caught it, her body was riddled with tumors and she had 8 POUNDS of tumors in her liver alone. And not one large tumor, but lots of little tiny inoperable tumors.
Did I mention my mother was a big muckety-muck at a major University and was Director of a world-renown cancer research network? And her boss was one of the top cancer researches in the WORLD. If you go to a cancer research lab and mention his name, they practically genuflect.
And there was nothing they could do.
They tried everything. Her Oncologist was AMAZING. He was also my grandmother’s oncologist for many years, and he worked directly with mom professionally for nearly 13 years. He threw everything at this cancer. And I mean EVERYTHING. If he could get it for her, and if he thought it had even the tiniest chance of working, he gave it to her. And I know it wasn’t because of her connection to him. Cancer offends him, and I think he does that for all his patients.
At her funeral yesterday, I told him that I thought he was incredible. I told him there was no way…NO WAY…she would have lasted as long as she did if it wasn’t for him. You know what he said to me?
“We didn’t do nearly enough. We should have been able to do more.”
Mom did everything she could. Her tentative diagnosis was 6 weeks. Her confirmed diagnosis said 6 months. She lived 2 1/2 years. And I do mean LIVED.
We went on a month-long trip to Vermont last summer, and drove home back to California after making it through Hurricane Irene.
She saw Niagara Falls for the first time.
We went on an Alaskan cruise with the entire family.
She went and visited with friends more frequently.
She made time for everything she thought was important.
And she fought for her life. Every moment of every day.
A few weeks before she died she asked me if I resented having to take her to the doctor every week and spend so much time taking her here and there all the time, having to do everything because she was too weak to help. Did I wish it had been fast like her original diagnosis had suggested?
I had to think about it for a minute. Not because I didn’t know my answer, but because I wanted to be sure to say it correctly. For her sake, and the amount of constant pain she was in? Yeah, I wish she hadn’t had to live through that. For me? I would do every day of those 2 1/2 years over and over and over again without complaint if it meant I could spend more time with her. Resent it? Not a second of it. I wish I still had to take her every Monday for treatment. But I’m so grateful she’s no longer suffering.
Watching her fade away these last few months has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to witness, and I’m so glad I was able to be there. It meant she never had to go into a facility. She was able to live at home the entire time. She could die at home with me and one of her best friends by her side. I was able to tell her I loved her one last time. I could kiss her and stroke her hair and tell her it was okay to let go. She had fought so hard and it was time for her to stop fighting.
I was there to hold her when she took her last breath.
Yesterday was a day to share my grief with those who loved us both. Yesterday was a day to wear the outfit she loved me in best. Yesterday was a day to wear her pearls so I could feel closer to her during one of the hardest days of my life.
Today is the day after. And it was a lonely day. Those who love me have checked in to see if I’m okay. Really I’m not, but I pretend I am, and they pretend I’m not pretending. I know eventually I will be okay, but not today. Today was a day to recover. Today was a day to really feel her loss. Today was a day to wander around and poke into closets and open drawers and touch the pieces of her life.
Today was a day for me to remember her. Privately.
I know it sounds like I just moped around the house, but really I didn’t. I slept and read and watched some Olympics, too. I just felt like today was a day I needed to be alone and take a break from everything going on “outside” and really just let myself feel what I needed to feel when and how I needed to, without worrying about anyone or anything else.
Tomorrow…Tomorrow will be better, or so I’ve been told. Maybe it will be. Maybe it won’t, but either way, eventually I’ll be okay.
After all, I’m my mother’s daughter.
I’m too strong not to be.
Lynda the Guppy
aka The Bear’s Daughter
aka A Grieving Guppy