I sighed as I entered the kitchen. It must have been a deep one because our eldest son, who was doing the dishes, immediately turned to me and said, “You ok, Mom?” Our boys have seen me cry only three times in their young lives. Once when my best friend was killed 6 years ago. And twice since October when we heard the news of my mom’s brain cancer. I usually shield our boys from my personal pain, but my mom’s rapid decline has me by the throat and I can’t pretend I’m not choking any longer. I do my best to stay strong and focused during their schooling (we homeschool), but it’s hard to focus on fractions knowing my mom is slipping away from us and there’s nothing I can do about it. Her voice is very weak now and besides a sweet “Hello”, she never wants to talk on the phone anymore.
When my mom was first diagnosed we knew she was going to have brain surgery and a long recovery. Docs told us for her to have a fighting chance at beating brain cancer she was going to have to work hard to withstand the chemo, radiation, and a demanding rehabilitation. And even then the tumor was most likely going to come back and take her life.
My family knew the odds were stacked against her, so everyone organized around her to do what we could to support her and encourage her to fight. Being a black belt candidate, I dedicated my black belt training to my mom, and I told her I’d train hard if she trained hard. We gave each other high-tens and agreed to keep each other accountable, and I told her I wanted to see her at my black belt test this May. Because her steroids induced a semi-diabetic condition and she had to give up sugar, I gave up sugar. We were going to do this thing together. My mom, my dad, me, and my entire family, we all linked arms and as a team we were going to take on this brain cancer Goliath. It didn’t stand a chance.
And everything was going better than planned until she had that darn seizure on December 15th. Since I wrote about it at length, I won’t expand on it here (entitled 15 minutes of hell), but my blood hasn’t stopped boiling since. What if, what if, what if, keeps running through my mind. It seems so senseless to get a woman that far into recovery and then have it wiped away because of a nurse’s neglect. I wonder if it will ever be settled in my mind.
And now she’s too weak to do her exercises and she’s not keeping her end of our bargain. Each day brings a worse report from my dad. “Is she doing her exercises?” I ask. Usually he tells me she’s too tired and won’t cooperate. He can sense my frustration. He knows she has to do them to get stronger.
“Honey, she’s just too tired. She’s very weak.”
I hate hearing that.
When I hear she’s not doing her exercises I want to drive over there and get in her face and yell, “fight, damnit! Get up!” I want to scream at everyone, “It’s not over yet! Don’t give up! She’s a fighter. She can still recover. God can still heal her. Maybe it’s the effects of radiation and it’ll wear off. Maybe it’s the seizure and she’ll recover from it. Those things take time, you know. Maybe it’s just the side effects from her medicine. Just tell me anything except she’s dying. Don’t tell me that. Not now. Not yet. She was doing so well, remember? She could rally again. She made it through her radiation. My black belt test isn’t until May….She told me she’d be there.”
It feels as if I’ve entered hell for the second time. And all I want to do is be with my mom. I don’t want to train for my black belt anymore. I want to give up.
I know my mom isn’t being lazy. She doesn’t need a pep talk about exercise and its benefits. She doesn’t need me to remind her how much her grandchildren need her. She doesn’t need me to remind her of our deal. My mom’s body is shutting down on her and there’s nothing she can do about it. I think she needs me to wrap my arms around her and tell her how incredibly proud of her I am, and how I’ll be with her no matter where this takes her. She needs to hear how much I love her and how thankful I am that she’s been my mom. She needs to know that I know she’s done her very best to stay with us. She needs to know she’ll never be alone and we’ll love her to the end.
So, tonight as I looked at my son in the kitchen, I allowed him to see my tears. I didn’t hide away in the closet. I just said, “Honey, I’ll be ok. I’m just sad about my mom and I don’t want to lose her.”
Somehow he turned into a 40 year-old, walked over and put his arms around me and said, “I understand, Mom. But, remember. Either way Grandma wins. If she stays or if she goes. And if she goes, just think of it like she’s going on the best vacation ever and we’re going to join her a little later.”
Such wise, spiritual words from such a young man. My precious son helped me realize that I need to continue my black belt training not just for Grandma, but for myself. I have to keep living even if my mom doesn’t. It’s a gut shot to accept, and the pain is so awful part of me wants to lie down and die with her. But that won’t help anyone. My kids need to see me fully living in the face of tragedy. They need a roadmap in case they are ever in my shoes.
I see the choice I have to make. I have to renegotiate the deal I made with my mom. I have to commit to my part regardless if she’s able to keep hers.
So, that’s what I did tonight. Come recovery or death, I’m committing to my end of the deal. I’m going to continue training. And if she’s not up in the stands when I test for my black belt, God will give me the strength I need to do it and I know she’ll be looking down cheering me on.
Hooya, Mom. Here’s to both of us doing our best.