Fifteen years ago today, I lost my mother to brain cancer. It was a Wednesday (don't ask me why I remember the day) and we were all just headed out the door for dinner when the phone rang. And I knew before I answered it. Not because I was expecting it, but I just KNEW. My world tilted as my sister relayed the news that the cancer on her brain stem had shut down all her involuntary reflexes, coupled with the radiation having destroyed her immune system. And she was gone.
Unfortunately, with most people who have cancer, you have to accept that losing them is a very real possibility, so it wouldn't be fair or accurate to say it was unexpected. But her death was proceeded by a series of events that one would never choose (if you even could) but makes sense when you look back in retrospect. I was pregnant, and due April 10. I miscarried in early September. My parents came out in October. My mom's medical issues were identified in December, shortly after I became pregnant again. In early January, my parents suffered through a horrific ice storm which knocked out power for a week (in upstate NY...in January) and caused massive damage. The actual diagnosis of brain cancer didn't come until late January. She went through radiation in February. I flew home in mid March, helping my dad cope with the repercussions of the radiation. My dad and I came up with a plan to get her eating and drinking (she was suffering dehydration). She seemed to bounce back and was excited about another grandchild (I was about 4 months along). She had plans to do some crocheting for the baby. When I left after a week, I thought things were going well. My sister was due to arrive in another week and I thought my dad could cope in the interim. When my sister arrived, things had taken a decided turn for the worse, the cancer was growing again and was radiation resistant.
Sometimes the game of "what if" is hard to avoid. What if I hadn't miscarried? Would I have been released from my Drs care to return to NY to spend that last week with her? Would I have been able to attend her memorial 4 states away? No one ever enjoys having to choose between equally horrific circumstances, so maybe there is a reason why we don't always have to. If you're willing to dig for it. To this day, I consider myself blessed. Blessed that the series of events had allowed me to have that last week with my mom. Where we were able to talk and plan and I cherish that time. Deeply.
I actually gave the eulogy for my mom at 4 months pregnant and having traveled 900 miles by car to do so. It wasn't easy either because my mom wasn't "typical". Or maybe she wasn't what I would define as "typical". My mom came from a kind of "git'er done" mentality that didn't really reflect the Carol Brady persona I wanted her to be. She was the type of person (with my dad) who let us make our own mistakes and forced us to live with the consequences. They would tell us, "we will come and pick you up any time, any where. Except jail" and I have to tell you, that sticks in the back of your mind when you are evaluating 'do I really want to'? And not surprisingly NONE of us have ever gotten CLOSE to a jail. Go figure. With them, no meant no. I recall being hit once, at about 14, for being completely disrespectful and completely deserving it. Mom was the type of person who nudged. She nudged you in a direction and let you figure it out. She was supportive in the way that a foundation of a house is supportive. You know it's there, keeping things right, but you don't really pay heed to it. And I think that's the way she wanted it. I acknowledged all of that in my eulogy. And I accepted that I am who I am because of who she was. I think she would be proud.
So, goodbyes are never easy. Even when there expected.
Tomorrow I get to do it again. This one has been scheduled for 3 months, so I knew it was coming. My oldest and only son leaves for basic training for the Air National Guard tomorrow. Lest you think that I am the least bit upset over him serving his country, don't. And yes, he went away to college last fall without much ado, but this is different. This is where I fully expect my son to become a man. Fundamentally changed without my input. That's HUGE. He also is making a sacrifice. He's taking time away from his education to do so, and with the sequester in progress, uncertain if the promises made to him for that sacrifice will be fulfilled. I've explained to him that even if they do not come through with the tuition assistance that was promised, he still needs to look at his service from a character and integrity standpoint and be proud to serve his country. He understands and agrees.
Still, doing all the right things for all the right reasons doesn't make it any easier saying goodbye. Yesterday in church, we've been in a series called Fearless and yesterday's message was on the Fear of Challenges. The pastor spoke of fear and faith (the story of Peter stepping out of the boat at Jesus's command to walk on water). When you fear, look to your faith. Don't gaze at your circumstances and glance at God, but keep your gaze on God and glance at your circumstances. Because with faith, God will handle your circumstances. So that's what we did.
And now I'm holding onto Jeremiah 29:11:
"For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."
So, tomorrow I'm going to paste a happy face on and drop my son off at the airport. With my mom in my heart, I'll say goodbye to him and hold onto the knowledge that I'll see him in 4 months. And I'll keep my gaze on God.
3 hours ago