December 26, 2023, we drove to my parents to celebrate Christmas with them, and once we had arrived I pulled my stepfather aside to ask how my mother’s latest cancer scan went. You see almost two years earlier she called me one day with my stepdad sitting beside her and told me she had been diagnosed with lung cancer. A smoker for many years both of us actually and also a senior dealing with COPD. I wasn’t shocked but being told my only parent had cancer felt like someone had just run me down, the wind caught in my throat the world I knew suddenly crashed around me in an instant. My mom and I have a very love-hate type of relationship and yes I am a Christian and believe in forgiveness and all that jazz. But it also doesn’t erase years of trauma or the past overnight. It most definitely is something God is and has been working through me and for that I am grateful.
My analytical brain, of course, wanted to find out everything about the type of cancer she had, and at first, she was very forthcoming allowing me to see her medical reports. As I read them and talked to her from my home about two hours away I had this feeling she didn’t understand that small cell carcinoma is terminal cancer. At best she would have a year…..
So I mentally prepared for the worst, I was luckily wrong she fought hard three rounds of chemotherapy and preventative brain radiation and God only knows all the other things that she went through. She shielded me from most of it, even though I wanted to be there and be helpful in whatever ways I could. She kept me from most of it. Maybe out of a mother’s love, maybe because I had four children at home three of which were very young and dealing with one with medical needs and two with other special needs. I think she wanted to spare me from really knowing the truth. But my detective curiosity as it is researched it all. I attended an appointment with her via the phone because of course this all happened during covid. And I asked the doctor straight out how much time does she have. This was wrong and if ever this happens to you or a loved one don’t ever ask that question. It steals hope away! At the time I thought she didn’t fully understand what type of cancer she had but I think she did she just wanted to hope for something more. And she did she fought hard and beat those odds.
She beat them and went on her lifelong dream trip to Alaska, although she wasn’t able to enjoy it as much as maybe prior to cancer she also met my three aunts in BC after and spent some quality time with them. She helped me plan a rushed wedding and was able to see me walk down the aisle even though she had just lost her hair. If it weren’t for our church and some very special members that would never have happened but it did and I am so grateful for it. For the pictures, for her being there, for getting married. God knew it was time and had all the right people there with us to make it happen.
Back to December 26, 2023, and that lingering feeling she was hiding something from me. I was unfortunately right and time was now running out. Cancer that everyone around her thought was only in her lungs had spread. But I already knew that it was also in her lymph nodes and had already metastasized to her bones and it was now in her liver. The doctors stopped all preventive palliative chemo and it was now just waiting on God’s timing. Time is something we so greatly take for granted until there isn’t any more of it so freely given.
Thinking back I wish I had realized that time was ticking a bit faster but being a busy mom and student and having an emergency happen shortly after I just didn’t. I did end up taking my youngest daughter for a visit and she told me what was going to happen. She had a few phone conversations with me where she blurted out she didn’t know how much time she had left. Hope had changed to fear of the unknown. So I did what any good daughter does I went over the things that yes I wanted in the house, what she wanted me to have and know, we cried a bit, but I made sure to say I love you when I left. Not something we did often but something I needed her to hear me say.
A few weeks later I spent some time in my car with God in our church parking lot late at night and I came to peace and forgiveness in my heart for the past. It’s not worth holding on to anger like that. It’s not worth not telling someone you love them when you may never get to again. Tomorrow isn’t promised.
Things changed pretty rapidly on January 31, 2023, my mother started taking some pretty strong pain relievers and she wasn’t that type of person. She stopped playing solitaire on Facebook, and answering facetime, her texts turned from words to letters and I began to get very concerned. The next time I saw her was February 4, 2023, and she was not the same. She slipped her drink on her and I found these pills all over the house, she didn’t get up, couldn’t hold a conversation and just didn’t seem right. I had to help with a phone conversation with nursing care, take the meds and put them up, and left a note for my stepdad about the call and about her meds I made sure to tell her I loved her again but I knew something was not right. I had a good talk with him before I left and he didn’t seem that concerned just said the doctor had been out and said things wouldn’t get much better. I called my one aunt and told her about my visit and the pills and my concerns, as my aunts had started visiting my mom more regularly over the past month. Later that day my stepdad found my mom she had fallen in the bathroom and he called 911.
By February 5 the house had a daytime nurse, a wheelchair, and a hospital bed ordered and everyone was around all my aunts, family friends and I drove my younger children to see her one last time. And February 6th, I went down to help my stepdad get some rest as things had gotten worse fast. She couldn’t be left alone due to falls and he hadn’t slept in days and my mom was slowly slipping away from us. As I made these long drives alone I cried, listened to worship music, prayed, and talked to friends and family but I trusted God. And I praised him through the storm literally both in song and in my driving on February 9th I drove through the fog and the rain to be at her bedside at the hospice that she was transferred to on the 7th. Again even the doctor told my relatives that it usually takes days to a week to get someone into hospice it took two days to get my mom in. A huge relief for those of us who loved my parents and were trying to help them at home but it became so overwhelming for everyone my mother was in pain and days were changing rapidly and we were all worried about keeping her safe.
By her bedside I told her I loved her, I told her to go to Jesus again, I told her she was a good mom and I was going to miss her. I held her hand and I watched as the life was slowly leaving her, she wasn’t my mom anymore she was still fiercely strong and stubborn but she was tired, the pain was too much and her body wasn’t going to take much more. She didn’t know I was there maybe she could hear me and I hope she did. I hope she heard me praying and I hope she heard me say I loved her and it was OK to let go now. I knew deep down that was the last time I would see her. And I was right at 12:17 pm February 10, 2023, she took her last breath on earth and went to Jesus.
Cancer sucks, and it’s horrible and sad and messy and so much to it. Those who beat it really do get a second chance that they should cherish and be so grateful for. It’s hard to watch and it’s hard to hold on to your faith. I have had my moments and won’t pretend I didn’t but ultimately as I sat beside her bedside and prayed for her and to her. I knew in my heart that God has a special job in Heaven just for her. That one day we will meet again. And that he heard my prayers to come to get her and take her pain away.
My grief is raw and it’s real and even though I have had a while to prepare there are things I wish I had done. I wish I had started saying I love you sooner. I wish I had said things that I only had the courage to say to God. I wish I had spent more time listening to her and more time cherishing that time we had left. I wish I had slowed down so to speak. Those of us living who aren’t thinking about dying or fighting to live, are always running to the next thing never fully appreciating the moments we often later take for granted, we never truly slow down to smell the roses or be grateful for the lives we get to live in. Always trying to just get a bit more, be a bit more, take one more trip, and work one more extra day. Life is so precious and just enjoying it is something that I am learning from the way my mom lived her life and the friends she shared it with. She was the first to be there for many whenever they needed something and instead of a funeral, she wants a party. She wants us to celebrate her but also to stop and celebrate life and the life we still have with each other.
I am grateful for God and his timing, I am grateful for my mom’s death and it was fast and did not drag on. For both her and those that love her and wanted to be by her side. I am grateful to reconnect with extended family. And I am grateful for his timing and his teachings and his love for us here on Earth and in Heaven. And although we can’t always explain why things happen the way they do. I am really learning that we almost all the time need to Let Go and Let God.
……..I miss you already Mom……….See you when I get to Heaven……I Love You…………