One moment I was just sitting in the faded, olive drab Lazy-Boy in my mother’s den. I, completely alone, sat staring at the wall. Just staring. Celery green vinyl wallpaper smothered the walls. Green/gold shag carpet joined this odd color scheme and a 7 ft. brown pleather couch lay empty in beside the Lazy-Boy. These chairs belonged to my parents. Mom claimed the Lazy-Boy and Dad claimed the couch because it was the only piece of furniture that fit hit 6 ft 3 in frame comfortably. Now cancer and Alzheimer’s had laid their claim on them both.
I found myself fixated on one little corner that had worked itself free from its constraints. As I began to look around, I noticed several other potential escapees. It was as if they cried in a chorus “Free us!” Feeling drawn to that one little corner, I found that it loosened very easily. In a manic frenzy of anger and tears, I liberated every sheet from their prison. Speechless and emotionless, I sat in the mountain of my madness. Numbness enveloped me. I did not hear my husband Kent enter the room, but his quiet voice brought me back to reality. “What will your mom say when she comes home?”
Home – we had moved back home to Amarillo a few months before to take care of my parents. Daddy now lived in an Alzheimer’s Care Unit and Mom was waiting news from the barrage of tests. She had already been diagnosed and battled breast cancer for a 2nd time, but now tests detected a strange fungal infection in her lungs. I wanted answers because it broke me seeing her become a pin cushion of sorts. Her frail body housed masses of tubes and bruises. Despite these obstacles and nuisances, Mom and I had begun to re-define our relationship. Like most mother and daughters, our relationship had its moments of pain. But I believe that it wasn’t always typical either. For most of my growing up, my mom vacillated between anger and bitterness. She did have justifiable reasons I know – abandonment and abuse from a first marriage, loss of significant family members, as well as, dad’s drinking problems, the drug abuse and erratic lifestyle of 2nd oldest brother. But the event that “just took the cake” as she’d say – was the death of my oldest brother in Vietnam. At this juncture, the seeds of anger and bitterness took root. As far as her mood or emotions, every day was a new day. I cherish the “good days” because she behaved like a T.V. perfect mom. We’d have heart to hearts and go on shopping sprees. Sometimes, she would tell me stories about her life and lessons she learned. Only on those good days did I feel truly loved. But those bad days would always blind side me. Words would be hurled at me like daggers leaving their wounds of being called ugly, stupid, and unwanted on my young heart. I never realized how deeply those words damaged me until I moved away from home. I never told anyone but Kent. But I guess I really couldn’t see until I became free from my walls of confinement.
I will never forget that moment everything changed in fact, it had almost been a year exactly from this same evening of my destruction in Mom’s living room. Mom had called me with excitement in her voice and rushed to tell me about the dream she had had. She began – “I found myself at church. The altar call was given and I was pulled towards the front. But the man at the front of the altar wasn’t Dr. Moore, instead, he had on Bible clothes and he had long hair. He smiled at me and held out his hands. I reached towards him, but in my hands I had this cabbage. Isn’t that odd?! I had this cabbage in my hand. The man noticed this too and I felt as though he wanted me to give it to him, so I did. He simply threw it away. I don’t know why or how, but afterwards I felt different. I’ve felt different ever since. Why??”
I didn’t have an answer for her, but the week after her dream, when we had returned to Amarillo for a Christmas visit – the impact of this dream radiated from her face. For the first time in years, there was joy in her eyes and upon her lips shone a smile that would melt the hardest of hearts. That Christmas marked the beginning of our healing process and redefined our relationship. No longer simply mother/daughter sometimes enemies – but friends. My prayer for her had been answered.
Tonight however, the walls came crumpling down or wallpaper at least. Earlier that very evening, we awaited news from the doctor. With covers and blankets up to her chin, Mom looked fragile and birdlike in that hospital bed. Concise, professional and detached marked the news that the fungal infection in her lungs, which landed her in the hospital in the first place, had been destroyed. Before we could exhale a collective sign of relief, he told us the biopsy revealed that she now had lung cancer. “How bad is it?” Mom asked. “We can perform surgery,” the young doctor hesitated, cleared his throat. “but there is a 95% chance you wouldn’t survive the operation. We could always try chemotherapy.” Mom stared at the doctor and asked point blank – “How long do I have and don’t you dare lie to me.” I know I saw his eyes shine with the onset of tears as he answered, “Six months tops. I can make arrangements for you to go into hospice or go home if you like.” It was then I saw the hint of a smile play on mom’s lips. “Home – I’d like that.” She responded. “Fine, the doctor began, – I can have you discharged tomorrow and…” Mom’s starry-eyed gaze snapped back as she replied, “I don’t mean that home, I mean that home” and glanced heavenward. “I’ll never go back to my other home again – I don’t want to die there.”
I suppose that is why I never felt any risk of getting caught because once Mom made her mind up – there was no turning back. A few moments after the doctor shared his news with us, he asked to speak to Kent and me privately in the hall. Here he revealed his true estimate for her – 3 months. I slipped back into her room and found her peacefully sleeping. I took her hand to pray, hoping I wouldn’t awaken her. I wanted to tell God that He couldn’t take her home, not now, not when we were actually whole again. Her gentle voice broke into my prayer “How long did doc say I really have baby girl?” I thought about lying, but her eyes always had a way of making me cough up the truth. She closed her eyes after I told her his verdict and said “It won’t be that long. I had a dream last night – a different one. Three large men in black were chasing me. They caught me, threw me down and each one violated me and beat me until I died. I know these men in black are the cancer. The abuse they put me through is the hell this cancer will put me through and I will die very soon – but not 3 months. We will know in time what 3 means.” We never spoke of that dream again.
The next day, after we settled her in the room in hospice, she didn’t waste time planning her funeral. I hated every minute of it, but she was relentless. She chose her songs, told Dr. Moore what to preach, picked out her dress, selected the menu for the lunch before the funeral, and a constructed a list of those not to invite or inform of her funeral. Her thoughts – why should people see me dead when they didn’t care to see me alive? Her instructions also included a list of presents we were to buy for ourselves –our last Christmas presents from her. She even planned for us to celebrate in her room. Her eyes sparkled in delight as we decorated her room with a tiny tree. Those same eyes misted as I played her favorite Christmas carols on an old piano Kent rolled into her room. I thought we sounded pathetic because of the difficulty I had seeing the notes behind the steady stream of tears. She didn’t seem to mind and later smiled in delight as we presented her with our gifts. As the evening drew to a close, she drew me close and gave me a hug. I hesitated for a moment fearing I would hurt her or pull out the tubes. But as she held me close she whispered “Suzy – I’m sorry for everything I put you through. I do love you more than you’ll ever know and I thank God for you.” I melted into her embrace, how could this be the end? While in her embrace, she made me promise to keep up with my school work (I’d returned to college to work on my Bachelor’s degree in Journalism) and not let her funeral or death get in the way. Kent was now at her side and he gently placed a kiss on her check. “Take care of my baby girl” she charged. She ordered us to go home and get sleep for we’d need it. We promised to return tomorrow.
Tomorrow came – but sometime in the wee hours of the morning – Mom had slipped into a coma. We remained encamped in her room that Saturday and into that night. Stirring with every rattled breath, thinking this was it. At one point, Mom anxiously called out “Hurry up! Hurry up!” No one knew to whom she was speaking to, but I reached down and silently cried out to God “Please take her home now – she’s ready.” I heard a rustling of curtains and lifted my head expecting to see the nurse, but we were alone. Stepping over to the window expecting it to be open, I found it closed and locked. It was then I knew, we were really not alone. Her face now had serenity about it and I swear – she was smiling. Mom did pass from this earth the following Sunday afternoon – three weeks to the day she received the news of the cancer. She too was free of her constraints and I assumed the role of guardian over my daddy until he joined her – three years later.