When I wrote this about a year ago, I never intended for it to be read by others. It’s rather personal and definitely not the happiest read. But with my mom’s birthday coming up tomorrow, for some reason all I can think about is sharing this short story. I don’t necessarily wish to, but it is laid on my heart to do so. Who knows, perhaps this post will help someone else out in such a way that I could never fathom.
My mother was the most selfless person I ever met; she truly turned being a mother hen into an art form. Never once as a child did I lack a peanut butter and honey sandwich in my lunch box or the perfect monopoly opponent; she was and would always be there. Her sole purpose in life was to take care of me and my little sister; and to this day I cannot fathom why, out of all things to do in the world, being a mother was her all-time favorite. It was literally all that she lived for. Not only did she personally cater to my sister and me nearly 24/7, but she always kept the house immaculate and every night had dinner simmering on the stove. When I was a little girl I would often ask why she didn’t have a real job like Daddy, and although there were plenty of times we could have used the money, she always reminded me that being a mom was a job, too—even though I never believed her. Come to find out, those years would become the most treasured times of our lives.
Unfortunately, being unable to go back in time to the 70’s and 80’s, there is no way I can give a firsthand account my mother’s childhood, but I can however share what I’ve been told both by her and by others. My mom grew up in the Lone Star State with three brothers and practically no parents. Don’t get me wrong, she had a mom and dad, but both were workaholics and constantly let her know that she wasn’t wanted. Meals were often skipped or “forgotten,” her mother never learning how to cook, and when they were actually prepared they consisted of canned salmon and boxed mashed potatoes. Because her parents divorced shortly after she graduated from Seagoville High, she was on her own working day and night as a waitress to pay for her apartment and tuition at a neighboring community college. Toiling over all-night waitress shifts on top of her studies for nearly three years, my mom ended up marrying my father after two months of on-and-off dating and soon had both me and my little sister.
Seven years later, we all moved from Norman, Oklahoma to Crested Butte, Colorado; it was one of the best things that happened to both my mom and the rest of the family. You know when you see those snow globes of a small town in a souvenir shop somewhere or maybe even your grandparents’ house? Well, that’s basically where we lived; it was a place where it was always the same person bagging your groceries and snowflakes were the main accessory to everyone’s outfit. Not knowing how to ski was like not knowing how to breathe; the locals made sure that their children mastered the black slopes before they started middle school (thankfully my sister and I learned rather quickly by skiing with our teachers and classmates on Fridays rather than going to school like most kids). As for my parents, my dad loved to ice fish on Lake Powell and zoom us around on his snowmobile while mom enjoyed snowshoeing and cross-country skiing solo in some neighboring field or forest. And yes, at times we all thought of trading in our nine feet of snow for a stretch of white sand in any place warm, but when I look back I can see that my parents raised my sister and me in pure paradise.
Even the move from Crested Butte back to Norman seven years later didn’t weaken Mom’s devotion to us. She always seemed to be just as nurturing and loving as ever to her “babies,” even when times were tough. Apparently her being a part-time realtor and my dad a real estate developer didn’t mix well with the recession of 2008, the year my mom told us that it was time for our family to “try something new.” And I admit at first this “new adventure” wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. Coming to Oklahoma and not knowing a soul at school, but coming home to Mom everyday made everything just the same as it always was: different house but just as sparkling, the same dinner simmering on the stove. The house was no longer a fine cabin tucked next to one of the nation’s greatest ski resorts, but mom made it home nevertheless. The way my mom carried on made me feel like she’d always be there, even if I didn’t want her to be, but life has a way of destroying the constant at the very moment when you feel like nothing is ever going to change.
The first time I noticed that something was different was the day before I started my classes as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma. At her insistence, we were walking my classes together in an attempt to memorize the slight differences between each of the identical brick buildings. To be honest, to this day I still get a little confused. As we were walking up a flight of stairs that I was praying would lead me to my Spanish class, I couldn’t help but notice that I had made it up to the top of the stairs alone. Casually turning back, assuming she was probably tying her vibrant Nike tennis shoes again, I was surprised to see her standing there, hunkered over and nearly panting. I had to do a double take. This couldn’t be the same woman that was one of Colorado’s most avid joggers and skiers, but nevertheless, there she was. I quickly asked if she was alright, and she, being too good of a mother, told me not to worry and that she was just catching her breath. But if she could have seen how she looked as she said it, she would have instantly recognized how hollow her excuse sounded. I was shocked, and the moment was lodged somewhere in my memory, but I repressed it. I didn’t realize until much later what I had witnessed.
As time went by, my mom slowly grew weaker and weaker. Mom had known since one of her prenatal checkups with me that she dealt with anemia, or a lack of iron in her blood, so she just figured that her iron levels had gotten really low because she rarely ate any meat. But with the extra meat in her diet, the daily iron supplements, and the fresh vegetable juice that I prepared for her every morning it still wasn’t enough. The last thing Mom wanted to do was go to the doctor, but eventually she went and ended up having an emergency transfusion because her blood count was so low. Once we brought her home she felt better than she had in ages. She even had the energy the next morning to cook our family favorite, biscuits and gravy with deer sausage (I can never get mine to taste as good as hers). It all seemed too good to be true.
But as the months went by, Mom started to grow weak again, and I was at a loss for what to do. I would talk with her privately about her going to the doctor again, at least for some more blood, but she wouldn’t have it. She had told me that “once was enough,” and that it was the last place she would want to go back to. But eventually it got to the point where we couldn’t take no for an answer. It started off like any other day. My sister and I were video chatting with a cousin of ours that had just recently joined the U.S. Navy in Maryland. I remember it was quite amusing watching my cousin try to talk to us while devouring a giant chocolate-covered strawberry. Suddenly, my dad threw open my sister’s bedroom door and abruptly told my sister and I to end our video chat. After a quick goodbye, my dad told us that Mom had become incoherent. We rushed her to the emergency room where they immediately gave her more blood and scheduled her for an MRI, which she would have never agreed to if she knew what was going on. I felt so helpless. The same mother that was there for me my entire life could now hardly even recognize me. When the doctor told us the next day that her body was riddled with what they thought to be cancer and that it was too late to operate, all I could manage to do after crying was hold her hand.
My mom passed away a couple hours after the diagnosis. The doctor asked us if they should do a biopsy to confirm if it was cancer or not, but my dad decided that if she never knew then we shouldn’t know either. To be honest, that was fine with me. When Dad mentioned to the doctor that she would have never agreed to undergo radiation if she learned she had cancer, the doctor slowly nodded his head and said something that you wouldn’t think someone from his medical background would say: “Perhaps it was for the best.” At first I didn’t think I heard him correctly. How was my mother leaving me for the best? But as he continued, he explained that Mom’s choice to stay at home instead of spending the last year in chemo had most likely given her both a longer and less painful life. As the doctor explained this to both my family and my mom’s (they drove up from Texas just moments before she passed) I realized that he was right.
I can hardly remember the week that followed Mom’s death, but I know somewhere in there I managed to type up my mom’s funeral program and buy myself a new black dress (Mom was never that fond of the old one I wore to funerals). I felt like I was in some sort of dream-like state where the world was spinning in slow motion, but this quickly changed once the funeral started. Suddenly everything was real. The only time I had found solace during the service was during the slideshow that concluded the funeral. As pictures of my mom doting on me and my little sister flashed by, I suddenly realized why my mother had dealt with her failing health the way that she did: it was because of her daughters. For our sakes, she held on to being “same old Mom” as long as she physically could; doctors would have easily crushed this fragile fantasy like breaking a toothpick with the first MRI. Being a mother for my sister and me was what she held most dear in her heart, and for the majority of her life that was enough to keep her going. My mom was and will always be the strongest, bravest, and most loving person I will ever know. As I watched the video clip of my mother waving goodbye at the end of the slideshow, every fiber in my being was quaking with the realization that I had truly had the best mother in the world.