I received the call: Mom has cancer and she is not going to make it very much longer. Talk about shock, and a flood of emotions all at the same time. I was filled with questions and a message that was clear, but I couldn’t understand. The days and weeks to follow would only leave more questions, pain, regret, confusion and uncertainty.
The days after that phone call brought up more questions: “Why?” “How bad is it?” “How much time is there really?” “What can we do?” “What is the truth and why doesn’t someone have all the answers?” When you have a broken leg you go to the doctor, confirm that it’s broken with x-rays, and then the doctor gives you a course of action. The cancer on the other hand didn’t seem quite as clear, and the course of action was unknown. Too many unknowns for me that I thought the doctors should know. That’s what they go to school for, right?
Quickly after being forced to settle with the unknown, (not understanding it or still even accepting it), and knowing my mom was declining fast, I had to shift my emotions and energy to how in world to travel two thousand miles to her. Maybe when I got there this unknown would become clear and it wouldn’t be as bad. I still had hope.
Wrong. She was dying. I remember walking in the house, back to the room, and seeing her for the first time in a while. My strong, stubborn, full-of-life mom I saw last time was sleeping lifelessly. She was so frail, and looked as if she had no hope, no sparkle in her eye. In that moment, I knew the idea of trying this or that was over. I knew it was my turn to take care of her, make her smile and laugh, ease her fear and doubt, tell her that everything would be okay, while inside a piece of me was dying with her.
Strangely, it was easy for me to go into the role of nurse, housekeeper, and funeral planner. I was able to close off the flood doors to the emotions of what was really happening. I knew if I just made sure she had all her medicine at the right time, kept the house in tip top shape, made her laugh, sat with her, and talked about her wishes that somehow that would make her all better.
My daughter and I spent 5 days with her. Just being there, napping with her, talking to her, helping her in any way she needed. With the insistence of my mom, we also took a little bit of time to be tourist and see the sights. That gave my brother and me time to talk about what was going on, and my daughter time to have fun. Still, through the five days I was with her I had hoped that she was going to get better; even though now I could see for myself she was not.
The day we had to go back home was and will always be the hardest day of my life. We got everything ready, and I sent my daughter in to give hugs and kisses. She went outside to wait with her uncle, and it was my turn. I went in and we recapped our visit and how we would keep in touch and that I would call her when I was home safe. We laughed and joked and then that pit in my stomach grew bigger. I was holding back the imposing emotion filled tears. I have to be strong for her, show her it’s all right for her to cry. I wanted her to know that she raised a capable daughter and that I was going to be okay. I said see you later, and as I walked out of the room she began to cry hysterically. I fought with the choice to go back in and comfort her, or to continue to take those steps… walking away from my dying mother.
For three weeks, every day I still had that hope that she was going to pull through. Surely, there would be a miracle and I’d have my mom back. With every call from the hospice nurse I would cry hearing about her deteriorating condition, but a part of me still had hope. I had been sleeping with my phone since I got home, waiting for an update about her or hoping to hear her voice, sick to my stomach for weeks. Waiting for a phone call, then afraid to answer when the call would come. I got the call at 5:10 a.m. on April 29. Mom just died.
I don’t remember if I initially cried. I had to get the kids up and get them off to school. I would tell them later, but I needed to processes this first. I called into work, got the kids off to school, and was in a fog for at least 4 days. I couldn’t tell you anything that happened during that time. For weeks to come I oddly still had hope that this was a dream. It wasn’t until one of the kids made a really funny joke and I went to pick up the phone and call my mom that the hope was gone. It was real and she is really dead. Since then, there have been “firsts” every day that I have had to face without my mom. The Ohio State Fair was her favorite, holidays, moments with my kids, first day of school, and tough days when I need advice or just want my mom to listen.
What is hope? Dictionary.com reads: “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” Although there is no hope of my mom coming back to life, I am finding new hope in what I can do now that she is gone and what she has taught me. What you hope for will continually change, but keep that sense of hope in your life even when it all seems to be lost.
Melissa has been with Schoedinger as an administrative assistant since August of 2012. She loves to attend all the local festivals with her family and always finds ways to stay busy.