My Origin Story
My life is divided into three parts:
Growing up was like living in a suburb in the movies. We lived on a cul-de-sac. All the neighborhood kids played together and all the neighborhood parents hung out together. Summers were amazing. Kids could be found playing in the streets together at all hours of the day. Days were filled with street sports and nights were filled with lightening bug catching. Without even knowing it, I was growing up in a dream.
Life at our house was great. I have one brother who is 5 years younger than me. We ate dinner together as a family nearly every night. We watched TV together, we read books at the same time. Our parents fought sometimes but very rarely in front of us. They were very happily married by all accounts. Everything in my life was perfect.
Talk about famous last words.
Then everything changed.
One night during my junior year in high school my brother and I were woken up by screaming coming from our parents room. We knocked on the door and asked what was wrong. Dad told us to go downstairs and wait for him. The next thing I remember is flashing red lights and the firefighters came in. Our stairs were very narrow and in the corner of the house so the firefighters had to carry my mom out of the house on a soft stretcher (basically it was just a piece of canvas with handles on the corners) and she screamed in pain with every step they took. My brother and I were huddled on the loveseat. I remember trying to cover his ears but I'm sure he heard our mother's cries.
She got taken away in an ambulance. I think my dad went with her but he talked to us before he left. He told us that mom's back was hurting and that she couldn't stand up or walk on her own to go to the bathroom. Then he said I was in charge.
The next day I remember being a zombie at school. I didn't tell anyone what had happened the night before. I just went through the motions of my regular school day without really being there or talking to much of anyone. I think I even took Joey to school but I don't really remember.
Days later I remember looking at the x-ray of my mom's entire body. It was her full skeleton right there in a picture. Reduced to bones and dots and nothing else. That's what it boiled down to. Bones and Dots that weren't supposed to be there. Dots that turned out to be breast cancer. The big C word.
The Dots were cancerous growths that had attached to my mom's bones. Some of them were rubbing on nerves which caused the pain that got her into the hospital.
She went through chemo and radiation. She lost weight and hair and height but not spirit. She fought hard for 4 years. Those 4 cancer years were rough and good and hard and unbearable and weird and amazing and I will be forever grateful that I had them at all.
We had four amazing years knowing that it will end. Not everyone gets that much time. Most people who lose a parent that young do so from a car accident or medical emergency. It's usually quick. We got 4 years and I take that as a blessing.
Some of that time I was in full denial. Some of that time I was in full acceptance. Most of those four years were a mix of emotions. I treasured every minute that I spent with my mom whether it was sitting with her at a chemo treatment or watching tv at home or when she and the family helped me move into my first dorm room.
I'm sure I missed a lot just because I was living on campus and I'm sure my brother had a very different experience. But I'm still grateful for every minute of really knowing that things could end. Knowing changed me and my life for the better.
I stopped caring about what people think about me or the way I look. That crap just doesn't matter. What matters is the people that we love and spending time with them.
I learned how strong my mother really was. I knew she was strong but now I knew she could take on chemo and radiation and being sick everyday and losing her hair and she still smiled every time I walked in the room.
I learned how scared for someone you can be. I never had to worry about anything or anyone before the C. Now I knew how it felt to be scared to lose someone.
I also learned how to take care of myself. My mom was taking care of herself and my dad was taking care of my mom so my brother and I had to fend for ourselves. Luckily we already had most of those skills. But I got my shit together more or less. I got myself up and ready for school and work everyday. I did my homework and kept my room clean. I started doing all of my own laundry. I cooked for myself when I wasn't working. I went grocery shopping if the family needed things. I did it all.
I learned to appreciate my parents. I learned a little bit about being a parent too when I helped with Joey's stuff.
We still did things as a family. When I went to college I lived on campus but it was only a 30 minute drive back home. I went home every Thursday for dinner and we watched a TV show together. I loved those dinners and even though I knew I was missing out on hanging with my new college friends, it just didn't matter. Spending time with my family was so much more important. I knew that this wasn't going to be time that I would ever get again.
When it was time for my mom to die she was in home hospice. They brought a hospital bed to our house and set it up in our computer room which was right next to the kitchen and a bathroom. The hospice nurse said we could call her anytime with question so I did. No one was talking about how long she had left to live and I wanted to know.
When I called and asked the nurse told me about a week or two. I was in shock. I knew the end was coming but to put a time frame on it like that was indescribable. It was horrifying and terrifying and awful and the most gut wrenching feeling I had ever felt. My stomach dropped so low that I thought I'd never be able to eat again.
I wanted to die myself instead of her. Everyone says you can't know that feeling until you have a kid but I think it works upward too. I wanted to be able to take away her pain and I was more than willing to die to save my mother.
At home she was getting pain meds but she could have a conversation with you. You knew she was in pain but it was still her talking. She would fall asleep often. My dad and grandma weren't really able to take care of her medical needs. She was getting bed sores and was always uncomfortable.
Dad decided to move her to the hospital. I helped my grandma put her into the wheel chair to get her out to the car and I was terrified by how small she had gotten and how big her ankles had swollen. I could practically lift her myself. I had a class or something so I didn't go to the hospital right away. Plus I was so scared for her that I needed some time away.
The first time I saw her in the hospital I brought my brother with me. We went in together to see her. She was high as fuck. She was talking about rescuing a dog that got stuck in a tree and calling the fire department and then a squirrel was stuck up there too. She was very concerned that the squirrel would never be able to get down. I reminded her that squirrels live in trees and she laughed and we cried because this was no longer our mother.
This was our mother on drugs. End of Life drugs. She was barely there. She drifted off into dream land and my dad or grandma took us out of the room and told us that she was on lots of pain meds and that we should go home and relax for awhile.
We went back to the hospital one other time. Either later that night or the next day. She was mostly sleeping but when we were each holding one of her hands she woke up and recognized us and told us that we needed to be in a relationship with Jesus because he wasn't like a friend that comes and goes - he sticks around through the tough times. We agreed wither her and told her that we loved her. I think we hugged her. I remember kissing her on the forehead and telling her goodbye. We left the hospital and went home for the evening. I stayed at the house with Joey because my dad was going to stay at the hospital.
Later that evening after dark I got the call from my dad. Joey was right next to me. He didn't even have to hear the news. We both knew. She was gone. We hugged each other and cried. We were on the floor in front of our blue recliner.
I will forevermore be in the After Death portion of my life. There is no coming back from the death of your mother.
It seemed like we stayed like that for a long time. I don't remember going to bed. I don't remember waking up the next day. I don't remember much from the next few days really. I know I helped my dad with funeral arrangements. And I do remember the funeral.
The rest of that school year was a blur. Really the rest of college was a blur. But I graduated. And decided to move to Denver with my then partner. I felt like I had to get away from the loss. Get away from everything that reminded me of my mother.
I started to build a life in Denver but looking back I recognize that I was depressed. And then I found out that I had a tumor growing on my skull. I had surgery to remove it and I had a year and a half of recovery time. My partner and I broke up. I went back to school for early childhood education. I worked in that field for a couple years. I met my current partner three weeks before moving back home. They followed me after a year of long distance relationshiping. We got married and are now trying to conceive.
Happy times are now happier and sadder than before. Happier because I know not to take them for granted and sadder because I can't share them with my mom. Bad times are tougher and easier. Tougher because I can share them with my mom and easier because she can’t be disappointed in me.