Two years ago on this day my Mum died at 5:59pm. The time of her death interests me because it’s the moment she left this planet. It’s now the moment I light my memorial candle and even though she’s gone this Jewish ritual (called a yarzheit candle) somehow makes me feel close to her.
I’ve actually started writing a book about my experience with cancer, heart transplant and losing my Mum all during the same timeframe. I didn’t realize how emotional I would become by writing certain sections. I started writing a section of my book about my Mum only a few days before Mother’s Day, that was a terrible idea. I just cried all weekend. I guess sometimes I like to add lemon to the wound.
The last two years of my mother’s life were filled with great highs and lows. She was diagnosed with metastatic cancer at the ER within a few hours of thinking she had a stomach bug. The following week I fell ill too, getting surgery for a pacemaker and then starting the heart transplant work up. It was an unbelievable time in our family.
The dust settled a little and my nephew, Matthew, turned one that August. My best friend, Jackie, threw him a party because our family was a hot mess. We arrived at her home to professional level decorations and food. Jackie can really host a party. We all watched my nephew with the fascination and joy that only new life can bring, plus he was a good distraction to our dosey doe with death.
That spring I got “The Call” and received a heart transplant. My Mum came to visit me in the hospital on an IV infusion of chemotherapy. We were a rag-tag bunch.
My Mum’s ovarian cancer marker would lower to almost normal levels and our family rejoiced. It seemed like the chemo was working. But in the back of my mind, I knew that she was terminal. We were told that her cancer was “everywhere.” It was going to be a matter of time and while we didn’t know when, I knew that it wouldn’t be long. She was becoming skin and bones, lacking a desire to drink or eat. This scared me. Having battled weight since she gave birth to me and my sister, surprise twins, she enjoyed looking trim. My sister told her, “cancer is not a weight loss program.” My Mum laughed this off and considered getting thin from cancer a small shred of something positive she got out of the whole ordeal.
My Mum and I talked about many things before her impending death, while we still had the time. See this is the part that is like adding lemon to the wound because as I write these words, my eyes are blurry from tears. One thing she said to me had a profound impact on me. She said that the “gift of cancer” for her was that it brought me to Dallas for my heart transplant; she “got to see me live.” This wasn’t her first time to see me battle a major illness. When I was 15 I had bone cancer and she took me to the hospital up to three times a week. She got to see me live after that battle too.
As an adult, I can’t fathom what it must be like to see your daughters’ experiencing life threatening illnesses. I’ve had bone cancer, heart transplant, breast cancer and major complications along the way. My twin sister has had life threatening blood clots, including multiple pulmonary embolisms and deep vein thrombosis. My Mum had said to me that as a parent, she wanted to absorb all of our pain and suffering. I felt the same way as her daughter, I wanted to take her suffering away too.
My Mum spent the last few weeks of her life at home in a hospital bed too weak to walk. Her body began shutting down, losing the desire to eat or drink and then sleeping a lot. She was in pain and we had to give her powerful drugs to make it barely tolerable. During the last two days of her life, family surrounded her.
The process of writing about my life has been cathartic. My writing coach says that the first draft of a memoir, “tells the story to you, the second draft tells the story to others.” I couldn’t agree more.🇺🇸❤
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