Through the sun-kissed curtains in my room, I struggled to find my phone and relieve myself of its heinous screams at 8:15a. Following suit, I checked social media of any updates and among the lulls and surges of the Facebook world, it stopped me. Staring at a perfectly square picture of words reading, “World Cancer Day.” The moment slows down, my heart skips a beat.
Even when you think you can escape it for a minute… you can’t. My mother passed away nine days ago. She had stage four cancer and was in the 3-5% of people who cannot be diagnosed. People have asked me every day how I am doing, and the truth is, I don’t know. Grieving is a process, and I will say now that the only thing to be said of it is you have good moments and worse. There is celebration and there is remorse. There are fits of tears and small, shared smiles… Leave it to as awful a time as this to realize just how loved someone can be. So many people have come to me offering prayers and sympathy and a promised shoulder. I thank you. I have largely slipped into a wordless expression, but let me say, I have seen and heard the words you have offered. I appreciate them so deeply. I sit with them, and let the warmth of their love pour into me. It has made and continues to make a difference.
But back to World Cancer Day. The day is to raise awareness and funds for cancer and the damage it can do. I’m here to raise a slightly different awareness… I, like unfortunate thousands, am not able to say that battle was won. What I can talk about is a battle of other sorts…
At my mom’s funeral service, I gave a eulogy. I would try to explain it and how it fits, but I think my parting words speak for themselves…
How do you tell the world about your mother in a few minutes? That was where this started. And in thinking about it for the past few days, I realized that besides the time limit, I will never be able to find the right words to say everything I want to say about my mother- but I think I know where I want to start.
If you have only known me for the past couple of years, then you may not know just how much of a challenge I was for my mom. Growing up, I was often called, “Little Tim.” I liked to think that was because I embodied all of dad’s good qualities. And I did, but like Dad, I was hard-headed and difficult at times- and in the least, a lot more to handle than Greg or Sheryl.
Mom and I had our differences. In fact, if I had to be honest, I spent most of my childhood in disagreement with her. She bothered me in middle school, was way too nosey in high school, and by the time I headed to college, I was happy to have some distance between us.
And in retrospect, I think I’ve finally figured out why it was that way, why I was that way. I don’t think I knew what to do with that kind of love in my life. If you knew my mom then you know what I’ll try to explain, and if you didn’t I’ll do my best. My mom never cared for things of this world. She wasn’t troubled by wealth, social status, career growth, time, or anything of that nature. She only ever cared about the people in it.
She spoke kindness and compassion to everyone. She had an infectious smile and a comforting presence. She listened to stories and problems and if she didn’t have the wisdom that helped, she had a hug and prayer that did.
That was mom every moment of every day. And for the longest time, I didn’t know what to do with that. But one moment can change the course of your life forever.
On October 19, 2013 my mother sat down on my couch and looking into her soft brown eyes, I faintly heard her say, “I have cancer.” Even thinking about it now, I’ve never had a moment in my life so slowed down. Because it truly was in those seconds that my perspective changed.
I grieved. I grieved for my mom, but mostly I grieved for all of the time I wasted not loving my mom back, and how I now had so little time to make our relationship what it should have always been.
From then on, I did my best to live a life of love. I realized the best reflection I had of that was looking at my mom. When I spoke, I chose words of kindness. When I felt anger, I prayed for patience and understanding. When I hurt, I prayed for healing. Slowly, I saw mom and I’s interactions change. For the first time in my life, I felt like I had a relationship with my mom.
Our growth was constantly rivaling the growing cancer. I remember crying in the doctor’s office as he showed us the body-scan of hundreds of tumors. Of sleeping beside her hospital bed after surgery, holding her hand and praying. When I dyed her hair and spent most of that time pulling out chunks of it. Coming home after three weeks and seeing her thirty pounds lighter. Going to chemotherapy and feeling like we belonged anywhere else in the world but there…
It was hard to see her through the changes. She changed and our parents’ marriage changed. Our family changed. We were new together. None of us knew the time we had left, and in a way, that made each experience better. The five of us, we were finally what we should have been all along.
A lot comes with cancer, and for me, it came with a picture of how it would end. In those final moments I thought we’d all be seated around mom in a hospital bed, sharing love and holding her hand. But that wasn’t how it happened at all. In reality, Sheryl and Greg were working, I was sitting at school, and Dad was driving to the wrong hospital. (Not his fault).
It wasn’t how I thought it would be at all… and I really hurt over that the first couple of days. That I couldn’t be with my mom when I felt like she needed me the most. And then I realized that it was just another one of the thousands of times that she was taking care of me. I’ve always needed her more. I couldn’t be there and admit to standby helpless and watch as I lose my best friend and mother in the same day. But like every single day since October when I found out- my mom had still called me in the morning to tell me how much she loved me, and I told her back. And as hard as it is, that’s enough for me.
We have less time than we think. You will never be able to make it right, because you’ll always have things you would have done differently- but you can make it better- and that is one thing cancer gave me. The opportunity to make my relationship with my mom, my family, better than it was.
I bought a book a few years back, For One More Day by Mitch Albom. And each time I read it, I find new meaning to its words. And I’d like to share a piece that has stuck with me:
“And I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know. There’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begins. So this was my mother’s story. And mine. I would like to make things right again with those I love.”
Loving you endlessly,
Your “Little Baby”
I had 473 days to make it better… Don’t wait for cancer to come, fix it now, and everyday hereafter.