On November 26th, two years had officially passed since mom died. A group of friends and family went to her gravesite and had a small ceremony- sang, prayed, read devotional. We brought her some beautiful flowers and her favorite foods. (You’re the only person I’ll ever bring myself to make liver and onions for, mama!)
Mom was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003, when I was 14. She underwent her prescribed chemotherapy and had a hysterectomy, and was later considered in remission. I was not a good daughter that year – too consumed in my own selfish desires and concerns. I remember feeling lost at 14 for many reasons, not knowing clearly what was up and what was down, and what I really wanted. Deep down, I’m sure I wanted to help my mom and be close to her, especially when she was suffering so much, but I felt so detached and disconnected from her – emotionally, for sure, but almost to the point of feeling physically detached. She was getting thinner every day, throwing up constantly, but I generally helped her get to the bathroom or brought her what she needed quickly, and then went about my business, often alone in my room. I do remember going with her to shop for wigs a couple times. There was one instance when her hair was growing back, but she couldn’t tell it was her hair. Her natural hair is red (them Irish genes!), but after chemo, when it started to slowly grow back, it was more brown (mixed with some white and gray). She had been scrubbing her head over and over and she finally said to me in exasperation, “I can’t get my head clean!”. I looked at her head closely and said, “That’s hair, mom.” My heart hurt for her in that moment. I should have been warmer, more tender. Given her a hug and told her she was so strong, I was so proud of her, and everything was going to be ok. But it was too awkward and unnatural; I just didn’t talk to my mom like that. It wasn’t until several years later that I became open and genuine and loving with her. Thank God I finally did, though!
Looking back, my parents and I should have all been more diligent about getting regular checkups after her initial treatment and “clearance” so to speak. At the beginning of 2014, she complained of a cough that never went away no matter how much cough medicine she took. After much persistence and several second opinions, they finally had her take CAT scans. Sure enough. Lung cancer. I asked my mom the year she passed, when she was going back to the hospital and getting opinions from doctors about what to do for her Stage IV cancer, “How did we not catch this earlier?” Apparently, in 2010, she did see a doctor who told her to go back through chemo, but she was hesitant (who knows what planet I was on) and swept it under the rug until she forgot. How could she just forget? Believe me, it’s possible. More on Huntington’s Disease later.
I cried a lot that weekend, even into last week. It’s just a lot to take in sometimes. I mean it’s a simple thing; it’s a death. But with death comes so many layers of emotions you never even knew you had.
C called me on November 26th. Of course she did. She left the kindest, most poignant voicemail. All the simple things I needed to hear. I would expect no less from her. I got back in touch with her a few days later and something she said really touched me. I was explaining that it’s still hard living day to day without my mom and I think about her and miss her often, but overall, in my every day life, I feel a sense of calm and joy and appreciation. Like everything’s going to be ok. I just think about what I have (and who I have) and I feel so incredibly grateful, which naturally leads to a serenity and a happiness that just bubbles out of me. I asked her if that was a good thing or a bad thing. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure. I mean I don’t want to be this idealistic, head in the clouds person (I KNOW I have issues. My husband and I, we have our struggles. We have our shadows). What C said to me gave me a warm hug right through the phone. She said “That is an AMAZING attitude. Don’t ever change that.” Leave it to C to just know me to my core and know with such confidence that I’m a good person.
A lot of what keeps me so happy is little (or big) meetups with good friends! I’m getting ready for my first cookie exchange tomorrow! So excited! Not really gunning for any of the prizes as I’m a totally amateur cookie maker, but just looking forward to mingling with all the girls!
Mama, I know you’ll be there in spirit! I think you’re part of why I feel ok. I think you’re embracing me. I think you watch over me and the kids more than we remember. While you were here, I was the one constantly telling you everything was going to be ok. You had a lot of doubt and fear. I don’t think you have that anymore. And I think you want me to know that. That you’re free and happy and you’re here for me. And that everything really is going to be ok.