My mom died before she grew old, I was thirty-nine. She was gone before my daughters, Jessica and Caitlin, graduated high school and walked down the aisle. I never thought I’d spend the last half of my life without her.
It was Thanksgiving 1998, her diagnosis came as a shock to all of us. Mom’s primary care doctor said she had hepatitis and told her to go home and rest. However, she didn’t get better. Testing confirmed she had pancreatic cancer and just two weeks later she had surgery to remove half of her pancreas. She then started a long process of chemotherapy.
My mother was miserable. Food no longer tasted good, she couldn’t keep it down. She was so tired. I took her to her doctor’s appointments dreading the answer to the question we didn’t want to ask, “How much time does mom have?” We hadn’t spent our time well together and now it was fading fast and I didn’t want it to end.
Soon after mom received the diagnosis, she let the wall down, the wall that keeps us from being real. She shared her deepest regret, which was looking the other way when my step-father was heartless and cruel in his choice of words. She cried and I cried and she told me how much she loved me. As she lay dying, she tried to make up for lost time and past mistakes.
I helped mom sell her house and she moved into a little bungalow around the block from us. For the first time in their lives, my daughters experienced what it was like to live near grandma. They rushed to her home after school to help her wash dishes or rake leaves in the yard. Mom taught Jessica how to bake. They watched television together and she laughed at their stories about school and first boyfriends.
About a year after surgery, mom could no longer live alone. We moved her into our house, into the spare bedroom at first. When she needed more assistance we moved her into the living room and set up a hospital bed near the large windows in the living room.
I watched my daughters care for her. Caitlin brought her water, tissues, and books to read. Jessica sat on the edge of her bed and they talked. My daughters were learning to nurture others through caregiving for their grandmother.
Mom treasured her oldest friendships, her grade school and high school friends and the women from the neighborhood where I grew up. They were like family and they visited her regularly.
Mom’s co-workers, young and old, kept scheduled visits on a calendar so one or two were there each day. They played cards, brought her special treats, and shared office gossip. We set up a jigsaw puzzle near the front windows and watched the snow fall.
Spring came early that year and I was thankful for it. We welcomed the warm rays of sun coming in through the front windows. Mom could watch from her hospital bed the rhododendrons and azaleas begin to bloom. Gray squirrels scurried around on the brick planter to gnaw on corn cobs. Our gray and white cat, spent most days curled up at the end of her bed.
Mom’s health declined steadily and one day her friend Grace held my hand and said to me, “Nancy, it’s time to tell your mom it is okay for her to go. Tell her you’ll be all right.” My aunt and brothers came to my house that Sunday, it was Mother’s day. They each had some time alone with mom. It was bittersweet knowing it would be the last time we would celebrate this day. Never again would there be a reason to buy hanging planters filled with her favorite Fuchsias. Sunday brunch at Budd Bay Café wouldn’t be the same without mom.
I sat with my mom longer that night, well after my daughters had gone to bed. I knew mom could hear me, I didn’t know how much she understood. By then she was using a pain pump, pressing a button to self-administer pain medication as needed. Her breathing was labored and her face looked thin. Through tears I said goodbye. I told her how much I loved her and said “I always felt loved by you. We’ll be okay mom, it’s your time to go.”
The following night, not more than a couple hours after I had gone to sleep, I sat straight up in bed and knew something had changed. I walked into the hall and before I entered the living room I heard it – the quiet of the night. I had gotten used to the sound of mom’s labored breathing, but now the house was silent.
Walking slowly to her bed, her body was still and the light had left her eyes. I sat down, unable to move. After several minutes, I called my brother and my mom’s friend and asked them to come. It was midnight when staff from the funeral home got to my house, I was surprised at how quickly it was over.
I don’t remember much about the following weeks. The memorial service was at our church. I wanted to speak but the words didn’t come. I went home to a quiet house and looked around and realized I had lost my way. I kept busy working and being an involved parent but life was passing me by. I didn’t want to reach the end of my life carrying the burden of regrets.
It was then I opened my Bible and began searching for answers I knew I would find there. An older woman at church became my spiritual mentor and I learned what it was like to work through past hurts and use those experiences to grow into the person God planned for me. I had to experience the emotional pain of losing my mom in order to reach a point of needing my Heavenly Father.
Taking my mom in to live with us during the last months of her life was the right thing to do. If it had it to do all over again, I would do it just the same. My daughters saw by example, this is what you do for those you love. I still remember mama.
Nancy Gladwin is a writer and artist. She writes for her two beautiful daughters and you! She blogs at Timeless Truths. She is grateful for her husband, Greg, and God’s unconditional and unfailing love. When she isn’t writing or studying God’s word, she is making memories with her twin grandchildren. She loves to explore the woods and water of the Pacific Northwest. “May the words I write resonate in your heart and point to God our creator who gives us hope.”