Happy Birthday, Mom

So, it’s June 28th. For most of us, it’s just another day. The July 4th holiday is right around the corner. School is out for summer recess. The trees are in full bloom, and it’s summertime once again. But for me, my brother and sister, it’s anything but just another day. June 28th is our mother, Jane’s Birthday. Celebrations, cookouts, cake, gifts, smiles, laughter. Tons of camera shots, video tape. Telling Stories. All the things one celebrates when you mom has her Birthday. Not this year, though. You see, my Mom passed away last January 27th, after battling Multiple Myeloma Cancer for over 6 years. She got diagnosed only a few months after she retired from a long career in Nursing, where she was a caregiver, friend and and empathetic ear to anyone who needed it. She developed really bad pneumonia that required hospitalization, which was very much out of the ordinary for mom. After lenghty testing, it was confirmed. We were all in shock. Not her. Things like this don’t happen to people like my mom. But unfortunately, they do. And it did. After losing my older brother, Jim, and my father, Bill, 9 months apart in 2000, you could have never convinced me that things could ever get any darker. But this, this was a black hole, the likes of which we all felt, at the time, just couldn’t be true. You know, you tell yourself those lies, and convince yourself that she really isn’t going to die. You fool yourself into believing the myth that maybe they’ll develop a new drug, or treatments that will keep her with us. As long as mom was alive, that was the lie I was sticking to. To have to believe the truth was just too painful. As the years went by, she seemed to be doing remarkably well. She underwent a stem-cell transplant, which was hell for her, but she told us she wanted to be here for as long as she could, and would be willing to undergo such a difficult, painful procedure. Basically, what they do, is harvest some of your blood cells and plasma. Sometimes they use a donor. Then, they put you into a special hospital ward, where they completely wipe out your immune system thru drugs and radiation. Then they put back your harvested stem cells, which they first try and cleanse of any cancer. From these cleansed cells, they try and rebuild your immune system back to life, hopefully free from cancer. It takes weeks and weeks of hospitalization. Your muscles atrophy. You lose your sense of smell and taste. Once you have a basic immune system, they send you to a rehabilitation hospital, to get your muscles to work again. For an entire year, you are on a strict diet. Once you can begin to get around on your own, they send you home.Before you can go home, your entire house has to be cleaned and literally sterilized to keep as many germs out as possible. Walls were re-painted. Furniture was thrown out and replaced. Guests were screened and visits limited for months. Hepa filters were used. Mom had to go to the hospital sometimes as many as 5 days a week for bloodwork and testing which never ended. And she never complained once about why this happened to her. I know she struggled with it. She was only human, it would have been impossible not to. We all did. And I want to thank my sister-in-law, Tammy, who bore the burden of care for my mother the entire time. You see, 20 years ago, we built mom a new house, right next door to the house she and my Father purchased in 1960. My brother bought that house, and so was literally 20 feet from her door. I had already moved to California, so all I could do was give support over the phone and Internet, and visit every chance I could afford to. Tammy was incredible. She knew every medication, every Doctor, every Nurse, literally everyone at the huge, sprawling Medical Facility. She took Mom to her visits, got her medications, and made sure she took her pills, nebulizer treatments, and watched her diet. Because of her selflessness, my mother recieved the best care that anyone could ever recieve. My sister and brother were also a great help. She ramained in remission for 18 months, not really a very long time. So, what did she do? She decided to undergo a second stem cell transplant. That’s right. She went thru that living hell a second time. She still felt that she wanted as much time as she could get. She felt that the quality of her life, as difficult as it was, was still better than giving up. We never tried to tell her what to do, it was totally her decision, and we told her we would support whatever she decided to do.

Last summer, 2010, she had a great time. She went to the beach, went shopping, enjoyed family and friends, and especially her grandchild, Sammy, my sisters son, who was all of 3 years old. She told me how badly she felt that she would be unable to see him get much older. I called my mom all the time, even if for only a few minutes. I still have her name and telephone number in my contacts list. I can’t bear to delete it.

Last November 13, while at work, I got a call from my sister-in-law. Mom was not doing well. In fact, her cancer cells had risen alarmingly fast. So fast, they were concerned she might not make it to Thanksgiving. Her doctor gave her a high dose of medications and chemotherapy, but said he didn’t know if it would work, and even if it did, that they were running out of options. The treatement worked, and Mom enjoyed what she knew would be her last Thanksgiving. She had never gone out for a Thanksgiving Dinner before, so my brother made reservations and took her out. I bought plane tickets, and went to see her for 2 full weeks in  December, spending one last Christmas with her. It was difficult for me financially, but I would have gone bankrupt, and sold my soul to the devil to be there. The weather in Central Massachusetts was horrendous. Snow storms and ice storms seemingly came 1 after the other. The day before I was to leave the entire northeast corridor was shut down. My flight was delayed 2 extra days, which I spent with Mom and my family. The last photo of us shows me with kneeling next to her, my arm around her head, while she is sitting in her favorite recliner. We are both smiling. During my visit, I was fortunate enough to have many discussions with her about all kinds of things, from Politics (she shared my same political ideals, and voted for Obama), to music, to reminiscing about the old days, to what is would be like for all of us when she was gone. They were difficult conversations sometimes, but I am thankful today that we had them. She cried only once while I was there visiting, and in an instant, my spirit sank, and heart fell out of my body and shattered on the floor in a billion pieces. Tears flowed, and I tried my best to console her. The morning I left, I promised her that I would return in the early spring for another visit. It was the only way I could fool myself into leaving. If I confronted the cold, hard truth, it would have been that this would be the last time in my lifetime, that I would ever see my mom alive. That terrible truth was painfully obvious, but I would have been a total, miserable, unconsolable wreck, and might not have left. After arriving home on New Years’ Eve, I drove the 2 1/2 hours to my home in Arkansas. I called Mom the next morning, and she greeted me with a cheerful Happy New Years Day…

Shortly afterward, a visit with her Doctor revealved what we already knew. namely, that they were out of options, and the cancer was advancing. Mom wanted to die at home, in her own bedroom, and not in the hospital. Hospice was called, and arrangements were made. I spoke to her using Skype as often as I could. Our very last conversation was on January 22nd. She was still able to get around in her wheelchair. Her brothers, sisters, and friends from many years came frequently to visit. My sister-in-law moved into the spare bedroom. As the month progressed, so did her cancer. Mom’s grandson, Nicholas, was due to get married on Jan. 29, and my Mom wanted to attend. Hospice made special arrangements for her travel. A few days after our last conversation, Mom began to sleep all the time. She barely woke at all. Every now and then she’d open her eyes for a minute or two, and then that was it. My family now was at her side nearly 24 hours around the clock, determined to be there when she passed. They set the computer up in her room for me one last time and went outside in the hallway, to give me some privacy. I cried like a baby, saying my goodbyes, and telling her how much she meant to me, and how much I was going to miss her. I couldn’t believe it had finally come to pass. I was inconsolable with grief. My wife held me close while I sobbed and sobbed. Finally, on Thursday evening, Jan. 27, at about 7:30 pm, Mom slipped the Earthly boundaries and passed on to be with all those who had gone on before her.

We all felt that Nicholas should continue with his wedding, which Mom would have wanted. My wife and I flew back to snowy Massachusetts to say our goodbyes. Mom’ s funeral was in a terrible snowstorm. The wiperblade iced up and broke off the windshield arm while I was in the funeral procession, and I had to make a mad dash out in the middle of a very busy road to grab it. I pulled off to side and fixed it, but lost sight of the procession. At the Cemetary, I slipped on a patch of ice, hidden under the snow, and fell flat on my back, nearly cracking my skull open. These were most definitely the worst days of my life. Dark, Cold, Miserable and unending sadness. 3 days later, I was back home and back at work. Winter evolved into Spring. Mothers’ Day and Memorial Day were difficult, and had an entirely different meaning this year.

One bright note is that my sister moved into my Mom’s house. She and her family will be able to make it their own, and Mom would approve. So now, as her birthday approaches, and all of the nearly 50 years of memories that I shared with her flood back to me, I, and my entire family, grieves over the loss of a wonderful, friendly, giving, loving, incredible woman, who never gave up hope, ever. The battles my mother endured were as tough and painful and as difficult as you would find in any War. As a matter of fact, it was War. She endured things that would have crushed most anyone. It was hell, just like War. For me, and my family, these are still difficult, painful days. I’m trying as hard as I can to work through it.

So now, I say, Happy Birthday, Mom. I Love You so very much, and I miss you more than any words could ever convey. No matter where you are, I carry your love, light, and spirit with me everyday, and will continue to do so until my last breath. I know I will see you when that glorious day arrives. May God Bless you and keep you safe.