I wish I were a poet, because the words that I have to memorialize my mother seem lumpy, awkward, and ham-handed. Insufficient, really.
My lack of articulation is ironic, because during Mom’s illness, I learned to swim in a new vocabulary. Most of those words were unappealing, though a few of them were hopeful. All of the words, good and bad, were sprinkled throughout the updates that went out to most of you, the collection of family and friends who worried for her. So it only seemed right to offer this final missive, or “Mom Update,” to all of you.
We’ve always known Mom to have a lot of spirit, a mischievous glint in her eye, and to season her stories with more than a few embellishments. You know, just to make it more interesting. Oh, and she was loud. Let’s not forget loud. I think anyone who was able to call all of her children home at night without the aid of cell phones or bullhorns can be called loud.
All of that is to say that she was full of vitality. Or as she might have said, “Vim and vigor.” The snapshots that decorate every inch of every wall in my parents’ home are infused with evidence of this. And if pictures are worth a thousand words, then Dad has provided at least a million words about Mom. Nearly every one of those photos show her holding at least one child, laughing, making food, hugging someone, comforting someone, or picking crabs. In short, she enjoyed life.
Contrasting that woman – the one who could pull together a dinner for twenty-five in an hour without having to go shopping or asking for help – with the woman suffering the effects of cancer and the related treatments… Well, it’s night and day.
I think that we can all agree that watching Mom’s decline over the past six months has been heartbreaking. But Mom never stopped being, well, Mom. During her initial hospitalization in July, Mom made it clear that she didn’t want to be in the hospital. She didn’t want to be in a bed, being fussed over, or considered sick. She tried to make a break for it nearly every day. I think there may have been bribes.
While she was still in the hospital, though, she was worried about the rest of us. For example, even though her brain was swollen and peppered with tumors, she wanted to make sure we were eating. So she gave me a detailed order for what to pick up for everyone. Another time, she handed over her grandmother’s ring to Dad to have the stones set for her two most recent grandbabies. She’d realized she hadn’t included them yet and didn’t want them to be left out.
This continued to be true after she returned home and regained her clearheadedness. The last real conversation I had with Mom was at the tail end of a Sunday visit. It was December 12th, just before she went to the hospital this last time. My husband had packed up the car and the kids, and I was on my way out the door. Mom stopped me and said, “I need to know what to get all the kids for Christmas.” We spoke about it briefly, and I offered to do the shopping for her. We now know that the cancer had bloomed again, and despite that, she was focused on her grand kids.
This past half-year shouldn’t eclipse Mom’s previous sixty-seven years. She wouldn’t want us to remember her with a walker, or breathing heavily, or without hair. She’d prefer us to think of her singing the ‘Foot Foot Song’ or playing catch in the backyard. But I share the stories from her illness with you because, ultimately, I think who we are when the chips are down is probably who we are at our core. And with Mom, despite the pain, the bone-crushing fatigue, and the body not working the way she wanted it to, she stayed true to the caring, gracious, devoted, funny woman that she was.
I am grateful for the woman that she was, and am honored and privileged to have been her daughter. My brothers and sisters and I have been commended on how dutiful we’ve been during all of this. But none of what we’ve done was performed out of a sense of duty. It was out of love for both of our parents. Returning the love and the help that they have given us. Back in May of this year, before all of this began, I’d asked Mom to make a ham for my youngest son’s Baptism. Who does that? A side dish or a dessert, sure, but who asks someone to bring the main course? But Mom agreed without skipping a beat. I thanked her, perhaps too effusively. She laid her hand on my arm and said, with a smile, “It’s my pleasure.”
So, I wanted to say in return, it was our pleasure, Mom. Our pleasure.