26 August 2015

"Until we meet again, Mom!"

On the morning of 3 August, driving from Grand Rapid to Cincinnati, I got the call. "I am so sorry, sweetie. At about 10 this morning, your mother passed from this life." Although it was not completely unexpected, it certainly took my breath away.

And I cried. For the first time in almost two years, I cried because finally my mom was done with her brave fight. Finally, she was out of this physical body that had failed her so miserably. Finally, she was able to leave that hospital bed, all those machines and tubes, the lovely and caring nurses and doctors, the chill of the recycled air, and the smell of illness and fear and death. Finally, she wouldn't have to start each morning willing herself into getting out of bed and facing another day. Finally...

I know my mother loved life.I know that.
I know my mother loved her family. I know that.
I know my mother loved her Creator, and her Church, and her Religion. I know that.
But I also know that each day was a battle for her. A very uphill battle.

Her diagnosis of Stage III melanoma (which quickly became Stage IV) and Stage 0 breast cancer had begun to take its toll. My mom is a scrapper and a fighter, as were her doctors. They all fought hard. Immediately, one medicine and then another. Radiation and surgeries. Each one leaving her body a little weaker but her will a little stronger. She fought for her family, for her friends, for others she had met or would never meet. She fought to be that pillar of strength she had always been.

At night she let her guard down and slept, if her body allowed it. During the day she fought. Each sunrise brought a new day with new possibilities...and new realities, new pains, new struggles, and new tears

She made daily contact with friends and families, even more so these last few years. A quick phone call or text, a card or email, a dinner date or coffee break. She Skyped with her youngest granddaughter and "talked shop" with her first grandson. When her body allowed, she visited, traveled, socialized, dined out, and just lived life.

When her body didn't allow it, she prayed...and then prayed some more. There was no activity or no person who was overlooked in her daily and even hourly prayers. If you had ever crossed mom's path in this life, you made it onto her prayer list. And sometimes, she even remembered to pray for herself. I imagine sometimes for relief, sometimes for a cure, and sometimes just for the strength to continue the fight.

In between her fight, she gave of herself. She gave to her family. She gave to her grandchildren. She gave to her community. She gave to her Church. She gave to her students. She gave to strangers. She gave to life-long friends. She gave to her cause. And finally, she gave in to her Cancer.

I wasn't there beside her that morning, but I had been there the two weeks before as she was admitted that one last time to the hospital. I was there as they brought in doctors and specialists who used their knowledge and powers and prayers to heal her body. I was there when they gave assistance to her multiple organs that had suffered damage. I was there when they took away her ability to speak due to her ventilator. When I was unable to be there physically, I was "there" via texts and phone calls from her family as they stood vigil by her side.

Even as the patient in the ICU bed, she provided the strength...to her husband, to her sister, to her children, to her grandson, to her multitude of family and friends, even to the doctors, nurses, and specialists. Until that time came she was unable to provide that strength.

Until that time when her body failed her.

Until that time when she moved onto the next stage in her life.

That time when she left the physical body destroyed by Cancer. That time when she moved from being a physical presence in our daily lives to being a beautiful memory. A memory of strength, of beauty, of hugs that never ended, of words that encouraged. A memory of laughter, of holidays at "home," of visits with family and friends, of shelter, of life lessons.

A memory of the most amazing person in my life.

I refuse to say "good bye." Instead, you are there in every yellow flower I see. Your words are in every conversation I have as a parent. Your arms are there every time I offer a hug to friends and family. Your smile is there every time I watch a sunset, feel a snowflake, drive in the rain, eat a great dinner, or even drink a hot cup of decaf coffee.

This isn't "good bye."

This is "Until we meet again, Mom!"