Even before mom told me about being diagnosed with emphysema, things had been different for quite some time. She and dad had not made as many recent trips to see the family and I knew something was not right. She began talking about some pain she had been experiencing on her side and back. A little about my mom. She was the matriarch, the rock, the constant, the angel in our home. Never complained, always put people first and was the most holy person I knew. So when she called me that night in 2014 and said she had lung cancer, a special part of my heart broke. It seemed like she just told me she had emphysema and how cancer? I could tell by the words she used and the way she used them that she was worried very worried. I immediately went into resolve mode and asked her everything I could. How long has she known? When do treatments start? What does she need from the kids? Does she have a picture of what the next round of her life will look like? I wanted to be there with her, right then and there.
How could something take the life of my mom so quickly after being diagnosed with Lung Cancer? 5 months and she's gone? A person who never got sick. It just didn't make sense. The next 5 months were brutal.
Throughout her life as long as I remember, she never wanted people waiting on her or taking care of her and certainly did not want the attention. That was not her style. Now, in a position of weakness, vulnerability and sickness, it was our turn to return the favor. Seeing my mom transform was like seeing your own life pass before your eyes. All the times we played bingo when I was sick from school, or sang our silly songs, or went to garage sales ,even though were years ago, would forever be locked in memory without the possibility of ever happening again with her.
Everyone in my family had different opinions on the doctors, whether dad should have taken her somewhere else, whether she needed some different kind of diet - you name it. Each time I talked to her or saw her, I saw my mom pass away bit by bit. Seeing her slowly progress from walking a little more cautiously, to her hair falling out but still in good spirits to not moving from the couch and laying in a fetal position was hard. The way my kids and wife reacted throughout the process was hard as well. Someone who tries not to show emotion or really let people know where my head is, was tough trying to balance my thoughts in terms of how sick she was and whether it was OK to have them visit and whether mom would be OK with it as well. How much should my kids see my emotions, how much should I talk to my wife without the fear of breaking down are all questions that I probably should have done different looking back on it.
I called her just about every night more or less just to chat about nothing in particular. I knew she was getting plenty of questions and suggestions from the rest of my family so, mom and I typically kept it light. Kind of the way we got along when I lived at home, always wanting to cut up and try to find some good part of the day. I was so blessed to have a mom like her. She did everything for us and I can remember is just that remember.
We lived about 4 hours away, an easy drive for me but I kick myself all the time because of not seeing her as much as I should have. Perhaps it would have made the visits as little less impactful with less time between each. I remember the last phone call I had with her and the last night I would ever talk to mom. My wife and I were outside, and mom was having difficulty putting a sentence together and could tell that her poor little body was in such bad shape. She was coughing and very congested with only about 3 minutes together on the phone before her saying "ok sport, have a good night." I knew when we hung up, time was close. I'll never forget telling my wife after the call that time was short and that she wasn't going to be able to pull out of it. And short it was.
With all the treatments and chemicals in her body and the sickness breaking down her frail little body, my mom was taken to heaven on October 20th, 2014. Heaven became a better place with her now in it. Her dad and mom were reunited with their daughter. How joyous that must have been. My brother and dad by her side did everything to get her back on earth with us but the power above had already taken her to a better place. When my brother called me early morning on my way to work that she had been taken to the hospital, I went home, grabbed some clothes and started the trip. Within an hour or so, he called back and said she was gone. My only reaction was that I texted my wife saying mom was dead and that they will need to come up to my parents' house soon.
Over the next day, the family gathered and began the process of concluding her life. Seeing my family work through the emotions, funeral processes, the wake and burial is something that until you've gone through it personally, is hard to imagine. Seeing my mom laying peacefully with her hands overlapped and her peaceful beauty the moment before closing the coffin is forever burned into my mind and heart. The last time I would ever see her in person although it was just her body lifeless now, I still wanted just a few more minutes. Looking at all the stuffed animals, letters, pictures and trinkets placed around her inside the coffin from all the grandchildren was the perfect example of the way she lived her life. A life packed to the brim with her love for the lord and family and friends. Watching everyone lay a rose on her coffin on the day that the sun showed bright and the breeze flowed like angels in the wind is how mom would have wanted it. Full of love, prayer, caring and laughter - the epitome of an angel.
A disease so powerful, unrelenting and disrespectful took my mom away without a second chance on life. Cancer did that to her but it's not that easy. It may have taken my mom's life, but that's not the end of her story. If cancer thinks it will not hear from my mom again or feel the impact it had on me by taking her away so quickly, think again. So, what's next? What I know now is that there is a reason for everything. There is a reason I am writing about this today. If by raising awareness and supporting the cause will give another family one more day, one more birthday song, one more holiday together, one more phone call or one more chance to give someone a hug goodbye, then it's a win.