As most of you know, my mom passed away Thursday, January 15th at 9AM in Pensacola, Florida at Sacred Heart Hospital.
She had fought cancer for nearly 15 years. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, the Spring if I recall correctly. I remember her crying and saying she was sorry when she told me. She was mad at her self for skipping her yearly mammogram.
I remember asking her if she wanted me to stay home from a college trip to France. She, of course, wouldn’t entertain the thought. My uncle (who, himself, died a couple years later from cancer) came down to help her through the double mastecomy and initial radiation and chemo treatments. Thinking back on it, I was so damn self-involved. It’s my biggest fault. I should have stayed. I should have been there. Another fault of mine is terrible long-term memory (hence the blog) so maybe I wasn’t as absent as it seems in my own head. I hope not.
After the initial surgery and treatment she was in remission for a few years, taking tamoxifen, a maintenance drug. Unfortunately, her body built up a tolerance and the cancer came back. I don’t remember all the details, but I remember it being on a rib, on her spine, etc. She fought it over and over again. Times without treatments became fewer and farther between. The last few years there was little to no respite between treatments. Eventually, it was the chemo that killed her, not the cancer. In fact, just two weeks before she died she said her most recent PET scan was great and the cancer was much reduced. But, her body just couldn’t take it anymore. She started retaining water and we later learned it was a sign of her kidneys and liver beginning to shut down.
Two weeks ago my mom’s boyfriend texted to say he had to take her to the hospital for dehydration. The next day he told me her kidneys were failing, but they were trying to get her kidney function back up. If they couldn’t she’d need dialysis. Either way, she couldn’t tolerate anymore chemo so it would just be a matter of riding out the cancer. The next morning he said she had only days so I booked a flight the following day. A few hours later he called back and said she had only hours and asked if I wanted to talk to her.
There’s nothing like saying goodbye to your mom in the hallway at work and trying to figure out how to convey 34 years of appreciation and love. She was pretty well doped up on pain meds, but I could understand her a couple of times as she said “I love you.”
After that I went to my desk and re-booked my flight. Delta re-booked it for free and I was on the plane in an hour. Josh met me at the airport with a bag.
I arrived at the airport around 6pm. My brother was already there with his wife and my nephew. I was shocked by my mom’s appearance. She pretty much looked like every dying cancer patient you’ve ever seen on TV. They tried to dial down her dose of pain meds to see if she would become coherent at all, but it never made a difference. She was basically sleeping the whole time, which I am somewhat thankful for, I certainly didn’t want her to be in pain. We stayed with her until around 10 and then went to a hotel. Back in the hospital by 7:30 and she died right at 9AM. I won’t go into details, but it was pretty peaceful.
She wanted to be cremated and have her ashes spread at a mountain in Arkansas. In the end, it made more sense to not have an immediate service. Instead, I will be planning one for the first weekend of May right before her birthday. We will have the service at the base of the mountain and then those who are able will climb it for the spreading of the ashes.
Having no service, yet, has been hard. Funerals really are for the living. Her old co-workers and he boyfriend’s co-workers had a service for her last Thursday evening at the chapel in the nursing home where she used to work. I did the program, which helped a little. I wish I could have been there.
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For the moment, we’re left with a ton of paperwork to distract us, a rental house in Florida that’s now my responsibility, a memorial service to plan and many a sleepless night wondering if I told her enough that I loved her. Wondering if I made her proud (not if she was proud of me…I know she was, she always told me that), but if I was who she always wanted me to be.
It helps to know that she’s in a better, pain-free place. As we keep telling Nolan…
“Bebe’s in heaven. She’s an angel now.”