My heart remembers things my head tries to forget. At least that’s the way it felt this morning when I woke up remembering today marks ten years since I got the call that my mother was failing fast and I needed to get to her quickly.
I made the dash to the care facility where I had moved her just 10 days earlier to find her barely conscious. But as I walked into her room she looked up, managed a weak, but grateful, smile and in her last act shakily stretched her hand out to me. I took that hand and rarely let go of it through the next 18 hours or so that I sat by her bedside listening to her struggle for every breath she took.
Below are the two columns I wrote for the Topeka Capital-Journal during this time. The first I was working on the morning of that call. I hastily finished it and raced to my Mom’s side. The second ran the next week, right after her funeral. I share them as a way of honoring my memories of my mother.
What I’ve Not Said
I want to tell you what I’ve not been telling you. In the last few weeks my mother’s health has taken a serious downward turn. Mom has been fighting lung cancer in her left lung for the last five years. That would be bad news for anyone, but for Mom it is even worse. At age 92, this is her second battle with this disease. She had her right lung and three ribs removed because of cancer 19 years ago. With only one lung, and it compromised with cancer, it was only a matter of time until the disease would grow stronger than my mother.
It appears the tide of her fight has turned. The cancer is winning. But I’ve learned through the years to never count my mother out. She may not win this battle, but she will be the one to decide when it’s her time to throw in the towel.
Over the last several weeks her pain has increased and she is becoming frailer, but still she gets up every morning and dresses for the day. She greets visitors with as much enthusiasm as she can muster and she hates, even now, asking for help. Mom has told me several times over the last week that this is not the way she ever wanted to live. I can only nod and fight back tears as I say, “I know Mom. I know.” And I do know how much she dislikes feeling so helpless and being in so much pain that even to breathe takes enormous effort and will.
I do know it’s hard, yet I don’t know squat about how this really feels for her. I’ve never felt that kind of pain. I’ve never been 92 and looking at the end of my life. I have been in situations where I had to ask for help, and I didn’t like doing it either.
What I do know are my wishes for my dear mother. I wish her happiness, joy, peace, painlessness, and to feel completely worthy and deserving of love and goodness. But I also know the only way for her to have those things is for her to leave her physical body and make her transition to whatever awaits beyond it.
So, I’m stuck between a rock and hard place. The rock is wanting what’s best for my mother. The hard place is I must let her go in order for her to have those things. But, this is her journey and I can’t slow it down, speed it up, or stop it. All I can do is stand as a caring witness and love my mother through whatever lies ahead.
When she was told the cancer had returned to her remaining lung, just six months after my father died, I promised her she would not go through this alone. I told her I would be there, through it all.
She, after all, was there for my first breath, and I intend to be there for her last.
My Mom, My Angel
There was no way of knowing when I wrote last week’s column that my mother would make her transition from this life to whatever awaited beyond it in a matter of hours. My mother, Loreen A. Thomas, took her last breath April 17, and I was blessed to have been there to wish her well and to love her on to her next great adventure. I like to think she was met with a big, joyous party, complete with balloons, streamers, a Kelley Hunt CD playing, and with my dad waiting to again dance the night away with her.
And when that celebration wound down, I’m quite certain my mother got busy cleaning up the party residue and doing whatever she could to make Heaven more organized than it was before her arrival.
That was my mom. She never wasted a minute. Whether it was keeping the books for the family farm, creating a tidy home, teaching 4-H sewing and cooking, helping with the field work, or contributing to one of the many community organizations in which she was involved Mom was rarely idle.
My mother was one of the most gracious, courageous and bright women I have ever known. Hearing stories from family and friends as we prepared her life celebration I learned that my mother was even more of those things than I previously knew. I never knew that my mother drew up the plans for our house, which was built in the mid-50’s. I didn’t know that Mom had baked the county champion angel food cake for several years running. Mom never talked about those things. In addition to being one of the brightest and most talented women I knew, she was also the most humble.
Reverend Susan Montgomery, pastor of the Belvue United Methodist Church, said at Mom’s services, Mom never thought of herself as anything special. But to me, and her many friends, she was indeed very special, and provided a shining example of a life well lived.
My mom and I shared a love of books, especially well-written biographies. Mom was always more interested in other people’s stories than her own. She loved a good conversation and was not only articulate, but was also a good listener. When she asked about you she wasn’t doing so to be polite or pass the time, she really cared about your answers.
Mom instilled in me a deep love and appreciation for the outdoors and wildlife. She knew the names of every plant and tree, and fed any critter that wandered into her yard. Mom loved picnics and would use any excuse to eat alfresco, which she thought was a rather high falootin’ word to use for enjoying a good meal outdoors. There was nothing pretentious about my mother. What you saw was what you got, and what you got was a compassionate and kind woman who dearly loved her family and friends.
Mom was my rock and I feel untethered without her. She was always my hero. Now, she is my angel.