Today marks 28 years since my mother, Joan, passed away from cancer at age 60. It was only a few months after I turned 24. I missed her actual passing by just a few minutes – something I regretted for a long time, even though the doctor assured me it was for the best. I’m not sure if it was, but, that’s the way it was meant to happen, so be it.
I loved my mom. And I liked my mom. She had an innately caring and gentle soul. She was artistic. She was a romantic. She loved deeply. And, she was funny. In her last couple of years alive, we became friends as adults. We both realised she was dying, so we took the opportunity to leave nothing unsaid. It was probably the greatest lesson she taught me, and she taught me in her dying.
When I was a pre-teen, my Dad’s mother told me that my Mom wanted to abort me. Shocked, I didn’t believe it, but as my Dad didn’t deny it, I felt it must be true. It weighed heavy on me for years to come. One day, many years later, while Mom was washing up the dishes and we were chatting, I said I had something to ask her. As she was in her last year of life and we now had a very close relationship, I asked her if she had ever wanted to abort me. I told her what my Grandmother had said. She stopped washing the dishes and she looked me in the eye. “No. Never. I didn’t plan any of you, but I never wanted to abort you. Absolutely not.”
And with that, years of heaviness lifted.
Whether it was the truth or not doesn’t matter to me. It was her truth at the moment as I know she loved me deeply, and as I stood there, the tears fell. It was now my truth, too.
My Mom struggled with drinking (as did my Dad). They divorced when I was 8 years old, and by the time I was 9, I moved out of my Mom’s house and to my Dad’s in another city nearly 4 hours away. One of the most desperately painful memories I have to this day, is the day I moved away from her. She stood at the doorway at the top of the stairs to the house, crying. I looked out the car window, also crying, as my heart was ripped out. I didn’t want to leave her, but a child is easily manipulated by words of one parent against another. And so, I left, though my heart always remained, in part, with her. My Mom.
When she was diagnosed with cancer, I decided to move back up to my childhood hometown. We had another couple of years to be together, learning about each other, sharing stories, family history, and matters of the heart. We left nothing unsaid, nothing unasked. We held hands. We hugged. We said all the “I love you’s” that went unheard for far too long.
The last time I saw her alive, laying there in her bed in the nursing home where she had just been transferred from the hospital in expectation of imminent passing, she thanked me. My Mom thanked me for caring for her. (The tears streaming down my face as I type this, missing her desperately…still) I wanted her to eat something, anything, and was trying to spoon feed her some ice cream. No, she wasn’t hungry. And she was no longer in pain. So I sat there holding her hand. She smiled gently at me and told me how much she loved me, her brilliant blue eyes just as brilliant, but tired, so very, very tired.
I’ve lit a candle for her this morning, as I have done every year since her passing. And as once again I can’t make it to a church (a fact she wouldn’t care about at all, truth be told), a candle at home will suffice. I wish she could have seen me become a mom, too. I wish she could have known my boys. But some things just aren’t meant to be. At least I know she’s watching over us, always.