Thirteen years ago today, I lost my mom to cancer. It was an odd time in my life, my career was hopping, my kids were busy. Mom and Dad lived just down the street, but it was hard to find time for them too. I felt guilty all the time because I wasn’t meeting anybodies expectations.
Mom had been sick for a long time, Dad was the primary caregiver and doing the best he could. She didn’t complain much, but there was a lot she couldn’t do. My mom had always been fiercely independent and it was weird seeing her bedridden a lot, or in her case, couch-ridden. My mother loved her living room.
They had bought a house down the street from us after my youngest was born in 1993, figuring that if they were ever going to be close to their grandkids, they needed to fix the distance. It was an old house, not well cared for and my mom proceeded to gut the whole thing. She kept the period pieces, the great windows, the thick baseboards, the coves. But she removed all the dark woodwork and brightened the kitchen. My mom was the kind of woman who would sand the baseboards down to a beautiful wood only to repaint them, some would call that a perfectionist. I would have to agree.
Mom’s living room was painted a butter yellow, she had a plaid couch that she had hunted for for months that had just the right shades of green and yellow in it; a blue chair for sitting in and a couple of other pieces. The walls had pheasants on them, she could manage to take anything very feminine and include just enough masculine pieces to make my dad comfortable.
About three weeks before mom passed away, she called me at work. She had fallen off the couch when she heard the doorbell. Very disoriented, she had fallen on her glasses and mushed them. Could I please take her to the eye doctor to get them fixed? I could do that. It was a very weird afternoon, one of those that you can remember all the details because it was very significant. In our case, it was the beginning of the end.
Over the course of the week, I worked hard to stop by and see how she was doing, but life kept interfering. My kids have always been active in lots of activities, it was spring, Kayla had soccer, Haley had girl scouts, Josh was in high school, there was stuff to do. I dropped in to my folks as often as I could, but I wasn’t able to stay long, just checking in.
The Saturday night before that final Saturday I stopped by just after dusk, the lamp was on in her butter yellow living room and her skin matched the walls. I gave her a kiss and looked at dad, he didn’t seem to notice anything was wrong. Mom’s eyesight was giving her fits and she couldn’t see well enough to read her book, I went to the kitchen to grab a Diet Coke and dad followed me. I asked him about her color, he looked at me surprised. She had jaundiced right before his eyes, but he hadn’t noticed. No fault of his, you don’t tend to see changes in people you are with all the time. On Sunday morning, he took her to the ER in Idaho Falls, they admitted her.
Mom’s cancer was an odd sort; it stemmed from a hereditary disease that she had and grew on the outside of her liver. It was not liver cancer, but instead a cancer that surrounded her liver and would not let the liver do its’ job, that was why she was jaundiced. She had many surgeries over the course of her treatment that were designed to cut off the blood supply to the cancer cells, they worked well and were fairly non descript.
By Tuesday, the hospital sent her home on hospice care, I had to fly to Boise for my job that day. My sister called, she wanted to know if she should come home. I answered as honestly as I could. I don’t know, that has to be your call. Tracie was home the next day. Mom spiraled downhill that week. There were no good days left. On Friday afternoon, she was lucid and coherent, for about five minutes. My mom has always been good with one-liners, she threw some out then retreated back in to herself.
On Saturday, we chose to spend the day at the house, Mom, Dad, Tracie and I – my husband had gone out of town; my kids were busy, we were just going to all hang out. Each of us spent individual time with mom, talking with her quietly. She couldn’t respond, but it was comforting being able to share things with her. By mid afternoon the house felt closed in, my daughter had a soccer game, so my sister and I told dad we were taking a break, we would be back after the game. Hopping in to my mom-mobile, we drove over to the field and hung out, my daughter’s team was all there in their green uniforms, but the other team wasn’t. How strange, in our league that never happened. We waited fifteen minutes, then I told my kids I was headed back to grandma’s, I would call them later.
We were back an hour sooner than we had planned to be; mom still on the couch, dad muddling around. Together we decided it was time for her meds, she hated taking them, so we knew it would be a group effort. We sat mom up on the couch, I was on the floor in front of her holding her hands; my sister to my right, my dad to my left. Mom was not cooperative, but then the fight went out of her. “Wait, wait, wait” I said, “She just left us.” Her color had changed in an instant, she looked back to normal, peaceful, quiet. We all sat back, stunned a bit, but thankful we had been there. April 1, 2000, census day, a beautiful spring Saturday in Idaho. The day I lost my mom. Love you.