I haven't been able to even look at this story for months.
But, Mom's been gone for almost two months now, and I felt drawn to read her story again.
For those who don't know, my mom's 6 year long battle with Multiple Myeloma (bone and blood cancer) ended in February of this year. Since the phone call that launched this whole difficult journey, I've been recording it. What began as a journal became a story of strength, faith, and the light that shines best in darkness.
I didn't begin by writing a book, but it may well become one.
Here's an excerpt that made me laugh this week. I hope it does the same for you.
“Oh, that feels wonderful!” Mom smiled as I worked dry shampoo into her hair.
She sat in a chair this time, moaning with pleasure at the head massage she was receiving. Dad smiled and snapped a photo with his phone. It was a good moment. It was also a weird moment.
Eleven days before, she was admitted to hospital for what would apparently be the final weeks of her life.
“She’ll have about a week of cognition, which will erode more and more, until finally she slips into a coma and then quietly away.” The doctor had based this on his decades of seeing people die from kidney failure, which was apparently one of the best, least painful ways to go.
The first week his assessment seemed right on, but in this second week Mom had suddenly become more alert and even stronger. To our surprise, not only was she awake more and making more sense, she was also strong enough to lift a spoon to her mouth, hold a cup without spilling, and today, even sit in a chair on her own, all of which had been impossible just days earlier.
Day to day, the doctor would give us flowery updates about numbers “heading in the right direction”, whatever that meant. We’d understood the direction was supposed to be down, not up, so this sudden improvement didn’t seem “right” to me. It was frustrating to receive updates of things “holding steady” or “improving” when the prognosis had not changed. If she’s going to die, what good did false hope serve?
It seemed cruel. Especially when Mom continued to talk about “when I get home…” and the paperwork she would do “later”. No, Mom, you won’t. There won’t be a later. I wondered if others were believing the falsely positive news too, and how that would impact their grieving process. Wouldn’t it make it more difficult?
False niceties were one thing. Mom’s physical and mental resurrection of sorts, was a completely different thing.
Days earlier, I’d scooped a spoonful of tapioca pudding and held it up. “You hate this, don’t you?” I’d asked.
“With a passion.” Mom said, her face unchanged.
I lifted the spoon to her mouth and she ate.
“Not that – not … not you feeding me…” she said.
“I know. I get it.” I said. It was the necessity of being fed that she hated. The inability. Made sense to me.
For the last couple of days though, she could suddenly sit up in a chair and feed herself. She could have more normal conversations with visitors. Even more normal than the first week. Unfortunately, that meant there didn’t seem to be the same hallowed view of words and time. There were the normal sarcastic jokes and even complaining about how awful the food and bedding were. It was the weirdest thing. Visitors were surprised to see she was her same joking self. I wondered if people thought we were liars and that Mom was not, in fact, dying.
They’d discover the truth of it soon enough, I guessed.
In the meantime, it was a painful kind of limbo. The normalcy of the years met with the imminence of death, and they didn’t match. They collided like two puzzle pieces from two different puzzles. There was nothing about them that fit; no congruence at all.
That’s when a childhood gem unearthed itself – the ability to laugh. I was suddenly deeply grateful for hallucinations and confusion and for my mom’s sense of humor.
While my sister Char, (her husband) Jeff, and I visited in her room one day, Mom kept lifting her arm and looking at the IV line that hung from her wrist. Then she’d fuss with the fuzzy vest resting on her lap, pulling it up into peaks and smoothing it out again. I wondered if it looked like a cat to her again as it had the other day. Was she petting it?
As Mom closed her eyes, appearing to drift off to sleep, Jeff told us about his staff’s excursion to Siloam Mission, and began talking about scheduling volunteers.
Suddenly Mom opened her eyes, seeming to pop out of sleep, and said, “Yeah… you’ve got to do that when you’re dealing with horses.”
I put a finger on the corner of my mouth to stop it from stretching into a smile. Jeff smirked, and Char covered her mouth, unable to keep it in that time.
Mom looked at us all and, when she saw Char, she asked, “What are you laughing about?”
Char explained, and Mom said, “oh” and croaked out a tired laugh and went back to sleep.
We'd been taking shifts to be with mom, and this was the first time Char and I had hung out at the hospital together. I’m so glad that happened. With all the childhood feelings drudging up, it was refreshing for some pleasant memories and feelings to spring up too. I remembered that night what a lifeline Char and I had been for each other. She could always make me laugh, sending me into a fit of giggles at the worst, most awkward times. The old, familiar dynamic was in full swing that night.
At one point, Char was helping Mom with her supper tray by removing lids from food containers, and Mom was inspecting her food and complaining about it.
“What kind of meatballs are these? Their color doesn’t look right.” Mom said, jabbing at them with her fork.
“Swedish meatballs” Char said, reading the menu paper.
Mom took the paper from Char and examined it for herself. She poked the meatballs and wondered aloud what kind of meat they were. Pork? Beef? Who knew.
“I’m gonna have to find out…. Because this doesn’t look right…” Mom mumbled it half to herself.
“It looks right to me” Char said.
“It looks right to you?” Mom asked, still rubbing her fork across the top of them, making marks in the sauce.
Char stood by, ready to help when needed. I sat on the bed and watched the unfolding of Char’s first meal with Mom, quite enjoying the silliness of it. At least it wasn’t pureed food as it had been. Today she could finally try solid food.
Mom scooped a fork heaping full of rice and jabbed a whole meatball on the end. Was she serious? Was she really about to attempt going from pureed food to eating a whole meatball and pile of rice all in one bite?
Char’s large eyes met mine in a shared moment of silent shock. Char was usually good at holding it in. I, on the other hand, had to leave the room immediately before I busted a gut laughing. She could always send me over the edge with that look…
There, in the hall, I flopped into a chair and unleashed a torrent of silent giggles until I was nearly in tears. There were so many ridiculous, silly moments amidst the chaos, and in that moment I unabashedly enjoyed them all thoroughly.
They say it is healing to laugh.
Maybe that was part of the secret to Mom’s strength. Every hard day at work, every awkward or painful interaction, every month of pain and uncertainty, she laughed. And it softened the edges of life.
It was a legacy I was glad to remember, and appreciated anew.
Instead of taking things so seriously, may I always remember, at least sometimes, to laugh.