~ Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
I remember Mama’s king-sized bed, indoor playground for a child.
Its headboard, a garish marriage of gold leaf and carved pressboard, was a perfect balance beam for size one feet. My sister and I would mount it from the gray, four-drawer metal filing cabinet off to one side, scale its length with the wall as our never-miss “spotter”, then dismount by tip-toeing onto the bedside table, or in adventuresome moments, cannonballing onto the middle of the mattress.
The bed was a slippery splash of polyester and pink roses, the embodiment of beauty and sophistication and style to my little girl eyes. Adult eyes recall 60?s synthetic delusion.
Atop her rose garden refuge one day, lying on her side and playing with my baby brother, her world stopped spinning: she discovered a lump in her breast. Some might have dismissed it or not noticed it at all. My mother didn’t have that luxury–breast cancer had taken the life of her mother when my mom was just a baby.
Her diagnosis was confirmed, and her prognosis? A death warrant. Given less than a year to live, she was now on borrowed time.
It means a strong desire to live taking the form of readiness to die.”
~ G.K. Chesterton
Mama grew up in rural Georgia and circumstances early in life calloused her with determination and strength. She was stubborn and feisty and deliberate. A sweet friend of mine once said, “I had cancer but it didn’t have me.” That’s how mama faced it, too. Obstinately shaking clinched fist in the face of the demon, she vowed to live five more years so my brother…her baby…might capture memories of her, memories she never got to enjoy with own mother.
It horrifies me to think about what Mama endured; not long after her diagnosis, she and my father divorced and she retained custody of me and my sister and brother. Treatments were barbaric 35-40 years ago, and throughout her illness she had five major surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation.
I have vivid memories of standing at our apartment window that overlooked the parking lot, waiting on her return from the hospital where she often went when the pain was unbearable. She was addicted to pain medication and my father threatened to take us away if she didn’t undergo electric shock therapy, the recommended treatment at the time.
And so, she did it…for us.
Upon learning this only in recent years, I remembered that scene from “A Beautiful Mind” and I cried.
~ Mark Rutherford
I never recall Mama complaining. I don’t remember seeing her cry.
I do remember her telling my sister and me about the birds and the bees, and I remember the day she wrote her will; I think I was flipping over the sofa and my sister was sitting nearby (probably more cognizant of what we were doing) and somehow Mama managed to do this without falling apart.
She did that for us, too.
Mama had nine years to train and teach me, shape and guide me; nine years to impress upon me the things most important to her; nine years to brand her legacy.
Watching her then and lingering over a backwards gaze through time, I marvel at her courage. I never knew if she was lonely or scared or angry at her circumstances, but I did know she loved us fiercely and her faith sustained her. One of my favorite gifts I received from Mama was my sterling charm bracelet; the most beloved charm, a glass-encased mustard seed reminding me that a little faith could move mountains.
~ John F. Kennedy
Mama died months after my brother’s fifth birthday, fulfilling her vow and leaving him a collection of memories.
When I think of “courage”, glimpses of cowardly lions and military heroes come to mind for a moment; yet ultimately, the most courageous person I’ve ever known is the Steel Magnolia who gave me life and faced her own death with uncommon valor.
Thank you Robin! For re-sharing such a beautiful, personal story of real courage with all of us. What a wonderful blessing you have in it.
I am sure it is what John F Kennedy said “a mixture of triumph and tragedy” but a beautiful legacy just the same.
Beautiful things can be hidden among hard things, yes?
Courage is facing your fears, despite what everyone one else is saying….it’s taking the unknown road…..it’s finding hope that wells up from your soul …knowing that there is someone taking your hand thru the dark and leading the way to the light…it’s trusting Him, Jesus, when the world is saying its impossible … And you smile knowing a secret that they don’t…and, when the time is right, sharing it with them!
Yes, that, and so much more….
ABsolutely gorgeous Robin. ANd I see so much of your mom in you!!
JILLyyyy! How much do I LOVE you see her in me??? (A LOT!) xo
Your writing is absolutely stunning! I was awe struck throughout the whole story!! What a tale of courage!! Wish I could have met your mama!! She impresses me and so do you!
Awww, your comment is the sweetest; it’s special to me that this piece makes you wish you could meet her. In a small way I hope you did :).
Oh, my goodness. Your words are beautiful. You are beautiful (and so was your mom).
Nothin’ but hearts & daisies for you, Miss Becki (Hope you’re doing well!!).
Oh, Robin. Such beautiful telling of a beautiful, hard story. Thanks so much for reposting this one – I missed it the first time ’round, cuz I started my foray into reading blogs about 4 years ago. I didn’t know the part about the divorce so soon after diagnosis. Wow, a double whammy for your brave mama. Amazing.
I did not read this the first time around. I had not found this site. What a bittersweet story of beauty, love, and courage. Your mother must have truly been made of steel to deal with divorce and cancer at the same time. And how hard it must have been for you and your sister and brother to live through with her. She is for sure part of who you are. It comes out in your writing. I am so glad God blessed her with the five years she wanted. I am sure it was a huge gift to your family. Although there was much pain and suffering involved, as they knew so much less then than they know now… to have her there for those years is important. She gave you the gift of life and also showed you how to live it… even the hard stuff. Great thing to write about. We all need to learn from this story.
This is a beautiful story of a BEAUTIFUL woman. (AND a writing masterpiece, I might add.) Thanks for sharing it again. What a wonderful legacy your mother left you. My husband also lost his father to cancer when he was 9.