Twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week, 8,760 hours in a year. It has been a little more than two months since this battle, for time, took on a life of its very own. Time is no respecter of persons. Simply put, it is a precious gift. A gift we take for granted in the routine of life, almost assuming we have an unlimited supply. For all our hopes and wishes, we cannot pause time, nor stop it…we can only cherish the moments given to us, comprehending the gift we have been given.
November 18, her birthday, another milestone; 84 years young or 735,840 hours of living. Dinner at her favorite restaurant, surrounded by the love of her family. What began in 1950 as a simple family of three, then shortly after that four. This family has now grown into a family of eighteen. Small by some comparisons, still it is ours…mine. The few who are aware of the truth know this will most likely be her last birthday celebration. The gift of knowledge also gives us the gift of time. A bittersweet gift–nonetheless, it is a gift.
A routine checkup a few days prior confirms the reason for her fatigue and malaise. The word we all fear rears its ugly head. Still, there are more tests to run, scans to be done. We know the reality yet cling to all shreds of hope and faith. Thanksgiving is less than a week away. Doctors will need to wait. Her knowledge of what awaits her can wait. If the worst is to be, the least we can give her is this precious time.
Thanksgiving is another gift. A long overdue trip to Tennessee, priceless moments spent with her beloved family…while she is still blissfully unaware. Scans and doctor's appointments follow. The scans confirm our worst fears–still, we choose to remain silent. Our silence is synonymous with her peace. The peace of not knowing this is her last Christmas. The peace of being unaware of her time on this earth draws closer with each passing moment.
Days before Christmas, I enjoy a day with her doing routine things we have done countless times before. Her genuine smile and excitement upon my arrival is my gift, and it is precious. We spend the day Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, and having dinner at her favorite diner. I wash dishes and help her with other insignificant chores her frail body no longer allows. We browse through a box of old photographs she has excitedly dug out of the closet. It does not matter what we do or where we are–all that matters is treasuring this time. As we grocery shop, I hold her arm supporting her; weary, we have already done too much for the day. We walk through the market, something we have done together hundreds of times in my lifetime. Except on this occasion, she is not holding my hand or taking care of me. I am taking care of her. Though it saddens me, I am honored to perform this one small task for her. She knows she is not well, though she still does not know to what extent. As I help her into my car, she remarks, “It is not fair. I never drank, I never smoked, I did everything the doctors told me to." I quietly respond as I buckle her seatbelt,“I know, Mommom, it isn't fair.” As I prepare to leave, it is obvious our day together has depleted her energy. My heart aches. I want to hug her and make her feel better, as she has done for me so often throughout my life. Though it is late, and she is concerned about my drive home, I sit for just a few minutes longer…wanting to extend our day that I am keenly aware will become a precious memory.
Christmas day, I snuggle next to her on my sofa, grateful for the holiday–thankful for more time. Trying to take in each moment, hoping time will not fade these treasured memories. She places her frail hand on mine, and I am still…content by the gift of family…wishing I could make this day last forever.
New Year's Eve, I call her before the stroke of midnight. I am disappointed she has chosen to be home alone instead of surrounded by her family. For all her feebleness, she is still the most strong-willed woman I have ever known. Though I have no doubt, it is why she has lived a full life. Our conversation is similar to the many New Year's Eve calls we have made over the years. I hang up the phone, acutely aware this is the last New Year's call I will make to her. The idea that in a few days, she will know what we know weighs heavy on my mind as I drift off to sleep. It felt wrong to celebrate the ushering in a new year, which will bring significant loss.
The holidays are now over. She meets with her oncologist. He is a kind and gentle man. Though his demeanor is insignificant, he could be the kindest man in the world, and I would not care. Our hope and faith have been replaced with inoperable and incurable. This man has taken away our gift of time…replacing it with the knowledge of how little time we have. I know he is only the messenger. Still, it is a message none of us are prepared or desire to hear.
As I sit next to her talking about everything and nothing, she reiterates the same sentiments from several weeks ago and a new revelation, “I never drank, I never smoked, I stayed away from all the foods they told me to. I felt good on my birthday. Before I knew." She pauses and sighs, "I wish I did not know.” Her words pierce my heart, reminding me of the phrase I have heard many times before, BC – Before Cancer. I look down at my watch, realizing I have stayed much later than planned...still just a few more minutes. I prepare to leave. After we have already said our goodbyes, she makes a point of getting up and walking across the room to hug me tightly. One more time. Today she learned what we all knew. There is nothing left to do except pray she can find the same peace she had when she woke up yesterday. Before the knowledge that cancer is determined to steal her time. I walk into my house, and Chris stops what he is doing. As I collapse into his embrace…no words are necessary.
More scans, labs, and doctor's appointments come and go. Each doctor's appointment strips away at the tiniest shreds of hope lingering in our hearts. She is indecisive, as she is faced with the most challenging decision–quality vs. quantity. Regardless of her decision, her doctors can offer no guarantees. Still, a decision must be made, an answer must be given...to a question none of us can answer. Maybe no decision is the decision. She has made one decision: she does not want to know the limits cancer has placed on her remaining moments in this world.
The routine of daily life exhausts her. Her nutrition and rest are vital to her continued existence. Her daughters alternate with her care, tending to her every need, keeping her on a scheduled feeding and nap time. She has become the child. They have become the parent. She discusses the desire to have her hair professionally done, not an unusual request, yet uncharacteristic. The origin of her simple request brings tears to my eyes as I fully grasp her reasoning. She is shy and self-conscious. The thought of anyone she does not know taking care of her hair is unsettling. I set up a consultation with the most loving and qualified woman I know for the task. After some gentle persuasion from my mom and me, she eventually acquiesces. Her hair consultation goes well. The appointment is set for January 25. With the limit of time, the trivial moments of mundane life have become momentous.
In our family, we hug, we kiss, and we say I love you. For the past few months, every hug, every kiss on the cheek, or the forehead, every I love you has been overshadowed with the knowledge I do not know how many more times I will have this opportunity with her. With no intentions, reality is cruel...denial is a futile use of time...while acceptance leaves an inconsolable pang, which brings an unending wave of emotions.
I know how blessed I am to have this gracious, loving, kind woman who has been a part of my life from my first breath and all the breathes in between. I know how fortunate I am to have someone who makes saying goodbye so difficult. She has been my protector and defender, my confidant, my friend, my family, a piece of my heart, and so much more…she is my Mommom…the perfect combination of mother and grandmother.
No amount of time with her will ever be long enough.
Update: On the evening of June 27, 2018, my Mommom left her earthly body. She waited until everyone was gone for the day, except for my mother. A month before she passed, she asked if I would write something to read at her funeral. As I fought back the tears from her request, I told her, "It would be my honor and privilege." Immediately after she made this request, I recalled this piece I had written about our gift of time. I will always be grateful I had the opportunity to read that last main paragraph to her while she was still here with us. My daughter captured this photo as I read it to her. What I would not give to hold her hand, talk about everything and nothing at all. You see, even with the gift of time, there is still never enough.
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