My mom’s life and mine have finally dovetailed. Now, a mother of a 5-year-old and a 3-year-old, I truly understand her.
But this was also the first year I had to live without her.
I’m a late-30s woman who has lost her mother. A mom who made it just past the age of 70, who actually got to meet and be a big part of all four of her grandchildren’s lives. That’s not tragic. That’s a life well lived. So who am I to feel alone, utterly sad, as if no one has ever gone through this?
There’s just something about moms, particularly when one becomes a mom herself.
This cancer thing had gone on so long, I felt as if the past eight years held a thundercloud of fear for me. What was I afraid of, exactly? I discovered this year — the year I had been dreading since her cancer was diagnosed — that without her I could be a mother, an employee, a daughter to my father and a wife to my husband just fine without her advice. But I couldn’t phone and tell her that Sam created a backyard fort today with his friend Claire out of garden stakes and the baseball blanket she had made him.
Shortly after Steven and I got married, I got a call from my dad. I was looking out the upstairs window of our newly purchased Adams Morgan house, sitting on the new blue quilt on our bed. “Your mother has breast cancer,” my dad said.
I started to ask questions: Has it spread? How big is the tumor? Radiation? Chemo? “Helen, she’s asking questions,” my dad said. She took the phone from him. Clearly, he had called instead of her because he thought it would be easier on her. But Mom was the one with the answers.
After a year or so of surgery, radiation, chemo and all the things that go with breast cancer, her doctor said she could take a break from treatment. And then Sam was born.
She was there in the first hours after he arrived. And she was back a week later, soothing him to sleep with every song in her endless songbook, telling me to get up and out of the house, walk around a little to push those baby blues out of the way.
Two months after that, I was sitting on that same bed, same quilt, looking out that same window onto the same pretty trees. The cancer had spread to her liver. “I just wanted to see my grandchildren grow up,” she cried to me.