The day my mother was diagnosed with cancer last summer, felt like one of the darkest days of my life. She had always lived a clean life, and yet was told that cancer had invaded her lungs and that she had less than a year to live. It wasn’t fair, and it didn’t make sense.
One of the sweetest women I had ever known, who had already lost a young son to the specter of cancer, still had so much life left to live. She had a 50th anniversary to celebrate, a European cruise to go on, and grandchildren to kiss and hug. She didn’t have time for things like this.
As those who have had this disease touch their lives can attest, cancer doesn’t care about your plans. It doesn’t notice your pleas for mercy. Cancer doesn’t care if you don’t want it around, so it is useless to be angry at it. It will do what it wants to do.
On this day it chose to take a beautiful woman from the earth, and the world is worse off without her in it.
I sit here in my childhood home, crying as my mother is taken and wheeled out on a gurney. I hug my sister and brother tightly. Soon my father joins us and we all cry for a bit.
Dad chose his wife well. We couldn’t have asked for a better mom and we know she is in a better place. A place free from pain and worry.
However, here pain and worry still exist, and it would be easy and even somewhat comfortable to allow the darkness of grief take over and let bitter water pour into my soul.
Nevertheless it is clear that I am my mother’s son. She was not the type to wallow in pity, and so her part of me sees small rays of light though the darkness.
My mother fought the battle with cancer for nine months. During that time, my siblings and I had many opportunities to share tender moments; quiet times the regular hustle and bustle of life does not usually allow. We had hoped our time with her would be longer, but knew that whatever time we did have with her was a gift. This was one small ray of light.
We took more pictures. Pictures from this time and before became more valuable than any amount of gold. Pictures that would be cherished for decades to come. Pictures that we would share with our children later on and talk about the many memories of when we went to neighborhood parks, the Grand Canyon, to Disneyland, or just out to dinner. This was another blessed ray of light.
I had the opportunity to assemble and compose a video of thoughts and memories from friends and family, and witness first-hand the huge impact she had on all those around her. As it turns out, no one ever met LaRae who didn’t come away a better person, or at the very least a happier person. I also had the opportunity to hold my mother’s weakened hand while she watched so many express love and gratitude for her many years of service to those around her. Those opportunities were two more blessed rays of light.
The mercy I was allowed to have less than 48 hours before she returned home was the most tender.
Nearly every weekend for as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed Sunday meals with my mom and dad. This was another ray of light I didn’t recognize until now.
This last Sunday, dad had told us that we likely wouldn’t have much more time with mom before she goes to be reunited with her loved ones. She had become unresponsive, and it was unclear if she could even still register what was going on around her. I hesitated before heading back to see her. Logic told me that I had already spoken to her countless times before, and if she could not respond nor hear me then another visit wouldn’t be necessary.
Acting against that knowledge, I went back to talk to her one last time.
I sat in the chair beside her bed, and watched as her chest rose and fell. Her eyelids fluttered open, then closed, and would do so again and again. I said nothing at first, for I thought I had said all I needed to say previously. But then I opened my mouth, and I began to tell her how much I would miss her. How beautiful and wonderful she was. How much I was sorry for being a turd of a teenager. How much her family and friends on the other side are so excited to see her again, but how much we wished we had more time.
My cheeks were wet with tears, and as I looked at the face of my mother, I said to her, “I don’t know if you can still hear me mom, but I really hope you can.”
At that very moment, my mother nodded her head, ever so slightly up and down. It was no more than an eighth of an inch, but to me it was everything. Her hand, not having moved the whole time I was with her, lifted from its resting place on the sheets, and moved slightly toward me. I gently placed her hand in mine and she somehow managed to squeeze it, letting me know that she had heard and understood the things I had said. I sobbed like a baby as I was allowed this final and unexpected miracle.
Even during this, the darkest time of my life, these rays of merciful light brighten up the darkness.
Thank you to all of you who helped by bringing your light into my family’s life. I hope I can someday be a light in yours.