Home » Parents and Parenting » Thursday Re-View — “Remembrance” (1989)

Thursday Re-View — “Remembrance” (1989)

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Remembrance

February 29, 1988. An oddity, Leap Year. It comes every four years, then departs without a trace. Not for me. The pain of that day is seared in my memory. That’s the day that cancer took my Mom, when she was 59 years old. That’s the day that I lost a part of me forever.

The obituary page…so impersonal. Facts: names, dates, places, times. Nothing, yet supposedly everything. How can Mom be a statistic in black and white to them, her whole life listed in capsule form? Yet they know nothing of her, nothing at all.

Mom. Quitting school at 16 in order to bring home money for the family. Falling in love with a sailor in his dress blues, marrying him at 18, and working at 41 years of life together. Two daughters, a business, long days. Always saving for a rainy day, postponing trips “until we are retired.”

Memories. A cool hand on my forehead whenever I had a fever (it comes full circle, Mom; I did the same for you at the end). My favorite meal. Unending words of encouragement and support. Holding my hand tightly whenever I crossed the road on my way to school. Sitting together on a swing under the tree, having morning coffee together. (I didn’t even like coffee, but I liked the time with you.) Going shopping and having lunch together. A blinding smile that lit up the Academy of Music: “My daughter, the Doctor.” Waking up in the hospital after all four of my surgeries, and seeing you at the bottom of the bed, waiting. Trips to Europe, and cruises with my own cabin. Christmas Eve, filled with Italian dinners and hours of opening presents.

Alex. The child against the odds, as I had been for you. My Alex, your third grandson, who you greeted every morning for 16 months as if he were a king. You showered him with the same love you had given me. Now, he asks who you are in family pictures. His beloved Mimi. He was barely 2 ½ when you left. How can I be a Mother to him, as you were to me, when you’re not here to guide me?

June, 1987. Cancer. Dr. Friedman’s office: lumpectomy or mastectomy? Point-blank: “Theresa, what would you do?” As if any of us can outsmart cancer. But I know better. I know how poor a woman’s chances really are. 1-800-4-CANCER. Very supportive, very optimistic, very wrong.

Chemotherapy. Six long months of pills and injections; you were node-positive. The cancer cells will die (so will you). Doesn’t chemotherapy kill the healthy cells, too? You told me losing your hair hurt more than the nausea and vomiting, and I believed you. The wig was rejected, a turban grudgingly accepted.

Change. You’re different, Mom. You’re giving up. You talk less, you care less, you take longer to heal. You’re too sick to tell jokes or have a beer or yell at Dad or give advice. I don’t know you, and I’m impatient because I want the real you back. I’m selfish, and I feel guilty for thinking you should be better.

Super Bowl Sunday, January, 1988. I am depressed. You’re too sick to come to the annual party (you started this tradition, Mom; you have to be here!). The doorbell rings, and you’re at my front door in a long, navy blue bathrobe, turban on your head, bedroom slippers, and your stomach swollen like when I was 9 months pregnant. But you’re here, and my smile lights up the foyer (you always said I was pretty when I smiled). Later, I realized that my house was the last place you would visit before your final trip to the hospital.

February 1, 1988. The first day of the last month of your life. First, removal of several liters of fluid from your stomach, then surgery to implant a porta-cath, followed shortly by exploratory surgery. “Did it turn out all right, Theresa?” “Yes, Mom, it’s okay.” Really? No. Half of your liver is gone, the cancer is strangling your intestines, spreading throughout your body cavity. Six months of chemotherapy. For what? To make the time you had left more miserable?

Roller coaster. The doctors have elected me as the family spokesperson, the person to hear the news and disseminate it to the rest. I cringe every time I turn the corner in the hallway of the hospital, and hear the latest test results. Where there’s life, there’s hope, daughter Theresa says. Mom’s spirit will beat this. But Dr. Theresa knows there’s no chance of recovery. A constant battle; which person do I believe?

Warren Hospital. Your window on the 2nd floor…it’s easy to find from outside. It’s the one with hundreds of cards taped to the window and walls. Doris, the nurse’s aide who helps you sip iced tea, says she’s never seen this many cards for a patient. It’s the room with 29 days of non-stop flower arrangements, brightening those dreary February days, helping to mask the ever-present smell of cancer.

Flowers

Hospital furniture. Adjustable bed and wheelchair. IV tubes, blood transfusions, catheter, oxygen, stomach tube, intestinal feeding tube. A water mattress to cool your body temperature, a fan blowing on your elevated legs (blood clots, remember?). A washcloth on your forehead, Depend undergarments (full circle), hospital robes, blood pressure cuffs, electronic IVs. Beep, beep, beeping…STOP! I want to rip them all out, this is barbaric. I want to end your suffering (or is it mine?) with an overdose of morphine. I ask Dr. Friedman for extra morphine. “Theresa, you don’t know what you’re saying.” Or do you?

Doctor’s words of wisdom: your mother will not leave the hospital…I almost cried when I opened her up and saw the extent of her cancer…if only we could get back some of her spirit, she might have a fighting chance…it would be merciful if a blood clot loosened; it would be quick…should we write a “Do Not Resuscitate” order?…you may have to make the decision to stop feeding her (starve her???)…give her as much morphine as she wants…there are good ways and bad ways to die, and your mother has shown more courage and dignity in her death than I’ve ever seen…I’m sorry, I wish there was more that I could do.

You knew, didn’t you, Mom? You told the nurses you didn’t want this to take too long, that your family was suffering too much. At your request, a priest administered Last Rites…we had no idea. “Are you mad at me, Theresa, for refusing more chemo?” “No, Mom, (choke) I’d do the same thing.” You told us where all of your jewelry was, and what clothes to have Dad wear at your viewing and funeral. You wanted to be in a pink or blue nightgown. Pink? I never saw you in pink. We got you blue, Mom, and the saleslady at Sigal’s offered her deepest sympathies.

Saturday, February 27th. It snowed, so Steve drove Alex and me. You were delirious, but you were coherent enough to want to see Alex. Yes. “Dee dee (your pet name for him).” Alex was afraid of you and the tubes, but your frightened look makes me keep him there awhile longer. You fought the morphine to stay awake, and wanted us all by the bed. Peach schnapps? Okay, Mom, we’ll make sure everyone is offered it at the house. You waited until we left to close your eyes, taking one last long look at your family. You slept peacefully, and Dad didn’t even try to wake you to say good-bye.

Sunday, February 28th. The hospital called us…were we coming? Of course; Dad hadn’t missed a day. The hospital bed was lowered (don’t the blood clots matter any more?) and someone had placed your rosary in your hand. Your breathing was ragged, the machines pumping and beeping, the flowers the only bright spot in the room. June, your favorite nurse, cried in my arms in the hall. She told me that this was how it ended. This is how it ends? All those years of joy and sorrow, hopes and dreams…they just stop? (Is this really happening? I’ll wake up from this nightmare soon, and everything will be all right.) They said hearing is the last sense to go, so I held your lavender rose close and said good-bye, thanking you, loving you, telling you it was all right for you to go. The nurses came at the end of their shift to say good-bye, forming a circle of love around your bed. You continued to touch people, Mom, even at your worst. If only they had known you at your best!

Monday morning, 3am. The phone call. Good. It is done. No more suffering. So many details and decisions, so many people with so many kind words and so much food. Steve makes the trip to the hospital to take down all of the cards. Your room was empty when he got there. The bed was stripped of you, as was my life.tear

Tuesday, the viewing. Wednesday, the funeral. Numbness. Would you believe we’re trying to comfort others in their grief? A woman kneeled with her head in my lap, her tears soaking my dress. (Or were they my tears? No matter.) It’s not really you in that casket, Mom. You’re in a far better place. We got you slippers because your feet were always cold, and I put on your glasses so you could see. The funeral director is amazed at the number of floral tributes; they circled the room many times. Soon, they would grace the rooms of those back in the hospital, and the nurse’s station as well. By Wednesday evening, all is over. My new life without you has just begun.

March, 1989. A year has passed one day at a time. My frequent bouts of grief have given way to less frequent bouts, but when they come, they are just as deep and painful. The thing I miss most is talking to you every day at lunch time (how long will it be before I no longer catch myself reaching for the phone to tell you something important?). This is all so unbelievable; you’re just away on vacation and you’ll be back again, soon. I still get angry when I see older couples holding hands, and I put up a Christmas tree even though I didn’t have the heart for it. I did it for Alex, and for you. I am his mother, as you were mine. That’s what mothers do. I couldn’t go into a Hallmark store at Mother’s Day; maybe someday I’ll be able to pass the cards without crying.

I miss you, Mom, as a mother, and as a friend. Everyone tells me that I’ve been elected to take your place. Silly people…no one can do that. But your memory lives on in my heart, and those parts of you I passed on to Alex will live on in his children, his children’s children, and beyond. Every time I make seafood on Christmas Eve, read a book you would have enjoyed, give Alex a hug, make potato pancakes for Dad, help someone in need, keep watch over the family, say a prayer of thanksgiving for you…at each of these times, I will celebrate the memory of your being.

I miss you, Mom. But if I look around, you are everywhere, in all things. And most of all, in me. You will be with me always, and I know from a deep, abiding faith that someday, we will be together again. Until then, I will remember you, and keep you alive in my heart. I will live as you would have wanted me to, and I will do my best to remember to treat people with dignity, honor, and truth, as you taught me.

Thank you, Mom, for my life.

Thank You, God, for my mother.

May You grant her everlasting peace.

cala liliesl

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23 thoughts on “Thursday Re-View — “Remembrance” (1989)

  1. Dear Theresa, My heart aches for you and rejoices in the last two paragraphs and last three sentences. Writing this and sharing it with us is courageous and generous. Thank you. I’m honored by your spirit and love — and by your mother’s, too.

  2. Hi Theresa …I happened onto your blog this evening, and read the wonderful Thanksgiving tribute to your Mother on this American Thanksgiving eve. Thank you for your courage to share. Your love and respect for her shone through, and I do believe I will follow you as we have the same love for quotations. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

  3. I was filled with sadness when I read this post. My Mom passed away in 1997, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her always with longing and sadness. My grief for my Mom is as comfortable as an old pair of slippers – well worn. My grief for my precious daughter is raw and all consuming. She died on the 18th of January this year. I often wonder whether her boys experience the pain that I did when my Mom died. I know they are having a hard time yet they are so much more “contained”. I wish you well.

    • Sending you many blessings and caring thoughts on this first Thanksgiving holiday without your daughter. Children should not die before their parents; this is ‘the worst loss.’ You will never be the same, but you will survive. Remembering her spirit and your precious time together…

  4. So beautifully written. The entire journey etched on your heart in graphic detail. Your readers reliving the moments with you. It appears that one of the traits your mother passed on was courage.

  5. What a wonderful gift we have in memory. Very moving and an honour to read. As you said, may your Mom forever be alive in you.

  6. oh my goodness…I am in tears again..your story is something I can relate to in my life..I was dx in 2000 with an incurable cancer and had 3 kids under the age of 14….I was so scared I would not see them grow up, but I have( and two grandsons 6 months + 19months)..and still have my cancer,but it is slow growing…my greatest fear back then was I would never see them grow into adults, but my tx has given me time(my work is not done here.on earth..)..I know someday I will leave this world( my work will be done here)…..I hope my children are there for me like you were for your mother…and I pray their memories are as beautiful as your mother was to you….:-)

    • I have so many feelings reading your comments – relief that you have fought the hard fight and are here to influence and love your children and grandchildren, pride that you summoned whatever strength you had to survive one day at a time, and understanding that you know you still have work to do – a special, unique-to-Robbie purpose. Blessings and healing to you, in all ways…

      • the thing is cancer is so different to many people..it just does it’s thing and you never know which one it way it will go….it is the “beast” as some cancer patients call it, and I feel that is a perfect name for it..hopefully some day soon we will have a cure…mine is one that is slow growing and I was blessed to use a new experimental drug that now is first approach…it has changed me in my life in so many ways, but I was younger than your mother. Your story touched me since I could relate to you reaching for the phone at midday, my mother is my best friend…. I am so sorry it happened that she left you so young…

      • through our pain we help others…….here is a song that your story in 2009 made me think of…it is beautiful. I put the lyrics at the end..here is a video of it ,too….

        Blessings
        Laura Story

        We pray for blessings, we pray for peace
        Comfort for family, protection while we sleep
        We pray for healing, for prosperity
        We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering
        All along You hear each spoken need
        Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

        ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
        What if Your healing comes through tears?
        What if a thousand sleepless nights
        Are what it takes to know You’re near?
        What if trials of this life
        Are Your mercies in disguise?

        We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
        We cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
        We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love
        As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
        And all the while You hear each desperate plea
        And long that we’d have faith to believe

        ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
        What if Your healing comes through tears?
        And what if a thousand sleepless nights
        Are what it takes to know You’re near?
        And what if trials of this life
        Are Your mercies in disguise?

        When friends betray us, when darkness seems to win
        We know that pain reminds this heart
        That this is not, this is not our home
        It’s not our home

        ‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
        What if Your healing comes through tears?
        And what if a thousand sleepless nights
        Are what it takes to know You’re near?

        What if my greatest disappointments
        Or the aching of this life
        Is the revealing of a greater thirst
        This world can’t satisfy?

        And what if trials of this life
        The rain, the storms, the hardest nights
        Are Your mercies in disguise?

        Read more: Laura Story – Blessings Lyrics | MetroLyrics

      • Thank you for this; I was unfamiliar with the song, but loved following the words while I watched the video. It’s beautiful, and what I have come to believe in this life – “What if your healing comes through tears…and what if…the rain, the storms, the hardest nights are your Mercies in disguise?” So true. Sending you my heartfelt gratitude and blessings.

      • and to you the same, this part got me the most…since we all have such disappointments in this life..I believe they are what gives us a heart of compassion….:-) you keep on writing for all of us…

        What if my greatest disappointments
        Or the aching of this life
        Is the revealing of a greater thirst
        This world can’t satisfy?

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