On September 3, at 0602, I got the phone call that I knew was coming but didn’t want to get: My mother had died, having lost her battle with an insidious blood cancer and one that decided to tack on some leukemia as well.
When she told me about the blood cancer and that there was no cure, it was a matter of when, not if. I can’t seem to stop thinking about the irony of things: This woman underwent one of the most dangerous surgical procedures that few people survive: Repairing a dissected upper aorta. And she came through with flying colors; not only that but when I got to the hospital and found out what was wrong and all that, well, I freaked the fuck out and more so when I’d had a similar surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm.
She was as cool as the other side of the pillow, well, until the surgical prep team started sticking needles in her. For a very Christian woman, my mom sure could cuss like a sailor.
As time went on after that surgery, she’d have fantastic days and some that would wind up hospitalizing her for as short as a day or two or, sometimes, longer. She battle pneumonia – mostly – and it seemed as if they couldn’t really knock it all out but eventually, they did. Before her surgery, she’d wind up going in for transfusions when the blood cancer would drop her hemoglobin levels below 7 but after the repair, eh, they only had to transfuse her once that I knew about.
She was on a medication that was keeping the blood cancer pretty much in check… but she was still having very good days and not so good ones. One of the symptoms of this cancer is an enlarged spleen and it went from not bothering her – due to the medication – to really starting to bother her.
Things were just starting to go down hill. I got a call one morning that she was back in the hospital, throwing up, complaining about her side hurting really bad; they run her through COVID testing and her white cell count is very high, usually an indication of some kind of infection but after more testing, whoa – she has leukemia? Where did that come from? I didn’t recall reading about this happening when I read up on the blood cancer itself. The doctors decided to put her on a medication to deal with the leukemia but, really, all it did was make her feel worse. Her own doctors disagreed with the leukemia diagnosis but, it seemed that the blood cancer was getting worse. So they took her off the leukemia medication and she was feeling better once it got out of her system.
Until she wound up back in the hospital not two weeks later. The leukemia was confirmed and much debate about what, if anything, could be done at this point. Removing her spleen, well, that might have helped some but at this point, she was physically too weak to endure the surgery. Targeted radiation was talked about but I guess it was kicked to the curb as well, either by the doctors or my mom who, understandably, now had a great dislike for being in the hospital.
All she wanted to do was to go home. I talked to her on the 31st of August and she was in good spirits but told me she was tired… and I knew what she meant by that. I Facetimed with her on September 1st and she was lucid… but stoned out of her mind thanks to the pain meds they were giving her to keep her ailing spleen at bay. Called to check on her on September 2nd and her husband told me she was having a down day; didn’t feel like talking and the fact that they had moved her to hospice just cemented things in my mind.
I’d been preparing myself for this moment… for years. You know that one day, she’s gonna die and by some means and knowing this just fucking sucks. Two of my siblings are gone; my father is gone and one day, my 80-year-old-plus mother will leave. It sucks even more to know that what was wrong with her was incurable but you just never give up hope so easily and you try to maintain that “hope for the best but plan for the worst” thing in your mind.
And through it all, she was unafraid because, as she would say time and time again, “I know God has me and will take care of me.”
Then the call; the time I got it and who I got it from told me what had finally happened. And here it is, four days later, and I still don’t know how I feel about it. The grieving will come but, as I told my step-father, life still goes on because it has to. Arrangements being made; talking to and checking on my sister to see how she’s holding up and more so when she’s the executor. Talking to other family members who are asking me if I’m okay and maybe they don’t believe me when I tell them that I am even though I’m kinda numb, too. I told… someone who asked me if I was holding up, “Ask me again in a few days – the answer will be very different.”
I miss her. I was so used to talking to her – even via Facetime – pretty much every day and, yeah, I’m finding myself looking at the clock and automatically thinking that we’ve either not heard from her yet or we need to give her a call… then the stark reality that I will never hear her voice again; I’ll never be able to kid her about her weird food combinations or how much ice cream she’s been indulging in. Won’t be able to tell her, again and again, that of all the people I’ve ever met in my life, she’s the most amazing and strongest person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know and so much that if she weren’t my mother, I’d want her to be my mother.
Her strength. Her unshakable belief and faith in God and no matter what got thrown her way and life threw some major shit at her and from a lot of directions. She wasn’t a quitter; she wasn’t the kind of person to sit back and let someone else fight her battles. She was an amazing person.
And now… she’s gone. And, yes, it hurts. I kinda had to laugh for a moment to think that I’m now a 64-year-old orphan and, of course, along with my sister. It’s not as if she was taken away “all of a sudden” or unexpectedly so; no, I knew this was going to happen and there was nothing anyone – except maybe God – could do about it. It doesn’t make it really any better, though. I’m numb. Very sad. And I’m okay with it, too. The usual platitudes about her not suffering any longer and knowing the hospice procedures that would allow her to pass away peacefully.
It won’t be “real” until the funeral, which is in a couple of days. It’s really gonna hit me and I know it will and I’m okay with that. I try to assess my frame of mind and, admittedly, it’s not all that good but I know the “cure” for that is to just keep doing what I normally do… it just really sucks not to be able to say to her, when she’d ask what I’ve done today, “A whole lot of nothing!”
There’s a lump in my throat and the screen is kinda blurry… and I’m actually smiling because I know that God has her so she’s okay…
And so am I. I wrote this because I had to. Been talking to a lot of people and that’s good but this, too, is about what’s in my head and whatever’s there, well, it has to be let out or, as that line from the Sonic commercial went, “There’s barely enough room in there for me!”