I cannot imagine the last five years of my mother’s life: while cancer ravaged her body, she endured the heart-shredding anguish of knowing she would leave behind three young children who adored her.
My 33rd birthday marked the year in her life when she was diagnosed. The year I was 38, I thought about how young that is to die. The first home we bought when I was 26 was nicer than any house she ever lived in; come to think of it, she never even owned her own home. And when each of my children reached their ninth, then tenth birthdays, I thanked God they wouldn’t have to know what it was like to lose their mom so young.
Memories of Mama blur to misty color the older I get…there was less than a decade for me to make them with her. Those still in focus, I grip with defiant clenched fists, hopeful the eraser of time won’t smudge them to something incomprehensible.
In spite of all this, when I think about her, I can’t help but marvel at her strength and tenacity and grace and valor with which she fought a ghastly opponent who didn’t play by the rules.
In comparison to now, treatment in the late 60s was barbaric (not to imply it’s "nothing" now). Surgeons scarred her body, radiation and chemo left their own brand of disfigurement. There was no such thing as pain management, and when she couldn’t stand it any longer, she’d drive a quarter mile down the street to get a shot at the hospital. I didn’t know this until my dad’s illness a few years ago, but she developed an addiction to pain meds, and for us, she agreed to ECT treatment to break the addiction. When I found out, all I could see was an endless reel of Russell Crowe as John Nash in A Beautiful Mind, except my mother was the patient. I imagined to what degree she was alone and scared and in pain and then I had to stop imagining because just the thought was too painful for me.
She didn’t complain, she just kept fighting. Diagnosed when my brother was a newborn and told she had just a few years left at best, she was steely in her determination to live until he reached kindergarten; she was sure by then she would have had enough time to seed memories that would last his lifetime. She died when he was five, just a few months before the start of school. He remembers drinking coffee with her from a child’s porcelain mug, white with a teddy bear on one side, dressed in blue and pink.
I look at her legacy–me…my sister, my brother–and I realize she was a "wonder woman". Not a superhero wrapped in patriotic costume saving the world, but a steel magnolia who not only had concern for others, she acted on it; who loved her children so much she prayed for–and received–added years to her life; who fought a fierce battle with dignity and courage; and who passed along a living faith unbound by disease or death.
It’s paradox to consider that her death is responsible to a large degree "who" I am today, and I’m thankful for how it shaped me…how it made me stronger, taught me to cope with the unimaginable, helped me distinguish between important and urgent, how it has helped me to be a better mother, and how it’s emphasized the preciousness of every day. She’s the reason my heart cries "carpe diem" and means it.
What a privilege to be her child.
~ Although this post has been floating around my mind in some way, shape or form for a while, Scribbit’s Write-away "Wonder Woman" theme prompted me to finally complete the thought; though it might be sad to read, it was a good thing for me to write :).