Mom’s on the Roof
and I Can’t
Get Her Down
A Faith Healing Story
By: Cynthia Meyers-Hanson
My official Author Page is @
Oh God - I Have a Lump
My routine mammogram was scheduled for days after Dad’s death. While at work, I got a telephone call from my OB-GYN.
“You have some irregular tissues that have gotten thicker this year. I want to schedule more tests and have you consult with a surgeon.”
“A suspicious lump?”
As I sat at my desk half-heartedly listening to the doctor for further instructions, I felt fear and pain overwhelming me. A co-worker was seated at my desk. She tried to give me comforting thoughts, “It could be nothing.”
How could she know what it is like to face a family history of breast cancer and to hear that you could be next? Breast cancer just killed my mother. Her grave was barely cold!
Ignoring comforting verbiage, I turned to my officemate. “I have a lump!”
His father died a day after mine. Therefore, we had grown closer.
“Get out of here! Go home! I’ll cover for you here.”
My supervisor was not available. Rushing over to my manager, I said, “I’m leaving.”
Next, I went on a frantic search for my husband. I couldn’t find him in the building. Telling his secretary why I was leaving, I fled.
Once home alone, I lay on the couch and began to feel zapped of all energy. At the same moment, I was lifeless and restless.
I kept praying, “What about Stacey? If she sees her parent replacement go bald from chemo, she’ll die. Oh my God! She’ll be devastated!”
Then, I got an idea. It just popped into my head. I decided to get a haircut. Figuring she’d see my short hair, I’d tell her I was trying new hairstyles. Then converting to a wig, Stacey would assume I was still experimenting. Just before I left for the beauty salon, the telephone rang.
The doctor’s nurse called to tell me when my next cancer test, an ultrasound, was scheduled. She didn’t reach me at the office. Concerned, the OB-GYN staff knew I just buried my mother, she called my husband with the information. Immediately, my husband called home.
“Are you okay?”
“It is probably nothing. Don’t worry!”
Then, I was off to visit the beauty salon.
Rainy Days Always Get Me Down
This time Margie arranged the funeral with Father Jim. The three children delivering the Bread, Wine and Water were my brother, Margie, and I. For this funeral, we left my kids with a babysitter. During the ceremony, I cried. Afterwards the party was somber. Instead of my house, we grieved in the church’s social hall.
When we arrived at the funeral, my sister greeted us with the fact that a wedding was preceding us.
“How sad that the hearse is already here! How sad for the newlyweds to exit church and view it!” I reacted.
While dragging picture frames out of my car’s trunk, I heard a familiar voice. “Cindy,” my grandfather yelled from across the parking lot.
As he walked slowly towards me, I remembered he had lost his wife, which was my grandmother, to suicide. He knew how I was feeling today. Turning away from my tasks, I found his arms outstretched to me.
Hugging, I whispered, “He did it to himself.”
“I know! I know! Darling, I came here today for you. You’ve been through enough.”
My grandfather and his wife were holding me as we went to the social hall to wait for the funeral mass. We waited in the hall until the wedding party left.
During the mass, I saw Dad sitting on top of his casket like a thinker deep in thought.
“Dad, this was senseless. I told you I’d help. You didn’t have to do it this way.”
Motioning that I was right, his gesture reminded me of that commercial, “I should have had a V8!” After gesturing to his forehead in brilliant afterthought, he left.
Then, we exited to the song “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”
Since Dad was a veteran, we heard “Taps.” They gave the flag to my brother. Then, the second bottle of water appeared. The casket was doused with holy water and so was the keepsake cross.
Reeling back behind my husband while grabbing his arm, I remembered Mom’s words, “Now, get two bottles of water ready for my journey. Not one! Not three! But two!”
Glancing around, Father Jim headed my way with the crucifix he had drowned in holy water. Shaking my head, I gestured toward my sister. He did a ninety-degree turn and gave her the memorabilia of this funeral. The skies were a bit cloudy above us but I did not expect what happened next. A few drops of rain landed on our funeral group, which caused us all to look up wondering if more could be expected. Certainly, God shared our pain.
Once at the luncheon that followed, my aunt ran around telling everyone that it was my wedding anniversary today. She tried to turn this party into a party for me. Declining the thought, I thanked her for the memory.
Right before my thirty-third birthday, I found out Mom had cancer. On my anniversary, I attended my Dad’s funeral. Do you think I will let it ruin the rest of my life?
Another Funeral to Arrange
My brother and his wife came to my house to spend the rest of the night. It was near 3A.M. when we got there. I was too nervous to sleep.
My husband greeted us. Shaking my brother’s hand, “Don’t feel guilty. You all did your best. Ed wanted to be with his wife. Now he is.”
Hugging me, we went to our room to talk.
“The police took my bosses’ names to check out motivation for murder.”
Since we had common bosses, my husband said, “I’ll notify them at the management staff meeting tomorrow.”
The girls woke up before Stacey. In order to break the news to Stacey alone, I sent them out for breakfast with my husband. Calling Margie to come over and help us, we decided to let her know it was a fire and Dad died. However, we were not ready to say the word suicide. Once we were all assembled, I woke Stacey. Bringing her out to the family room, Stacey noticed my brother, his wife, my sister, and her husband.
Finally, Stacey asked the question, “Why are you all here? Why did Aunt Cindy wake me up so early?”
With their moral support, I began, “Remember when Mom was dying? You wanted to know what to call me? I told you to call me Cindy until Mom was gone. We didn’t want to hurt her feelings. After she died, sometimes you have called me Mom.”
Nodding, Stacey hid behind her pillow. She knew I had left in a hurry the night before.
“Well, Dad died last night. Today, you can call my husband Dad if you want to or you can call him by his name. Whichever!”
Stacey ducked deeper in to the pillow that she had carried out of her room. I told Margie to call Hospice because Stacey would need a counselor today.
Returning with the girls, my husband drove into work to talk with the bosses. Upon his return, we were going to the funeral parlor. In the driveway, I met a neighbor who noticed all the cars early in the day. I briefly told her Dad was dead. She was in shock.
Some of the people this neighbor informed about my father’s death reprimanded, “That is really a bad joke!”
It was too fresh in everyone’s mind that I had lost my mother and now my father.
On the way to the funeral parlor, we stopped to eat breakfast. Shoney’s became our hangout on funeral arrangement day. By mistake, the waitress gave us the usual table. Sitting by the window, I left room for Dad.
Upon arriving at the funeral parlor, I quipped, “They should give us a parking space without name on it. We have become regulars.”
That comment broke the tension as we went inside. Once in his office, the funeral director winced, “I don’t know what to say!”
“Same time, same place, same casket, different body. And, can we get that for the same cost?” I continued boldly.
The director just stared and let me write the check. No need to explain the contract. The only difference was that we had to name our father’s parents for the death records this time.
As we left the funeral parlor, my brother mentioned, “The cost to buy the casket had now been incurred.”
“If we had understood Mom meant Dad would leave for Heaven this soon, we could have bought the casket storing it in my garage. Then after Dad used it, we could have had a yard sale and gotten some of our money back on a slightly used casket.”
I got my sense of humor from my father. It was either because he was a joker or because that is how I learned to survive him as my father. Today, we all laughed in pain.
Arriving home, I called Charlett, who had kept the telephone list from the last time. “I’ll meet you, tomorrow, and explain how to tell people what happened to my dad.”
Once the calls went out that I was an orphan, the telephone at my house rang off the hook. Some people were morbidly curious but most were sincere in their shared grief.
The next day, my sister and I met with the investigator to read the three letters Dad wrote. I found out that they were found taped to the bathroom mirror that night. It was the bathroom that he was in at 7:30A.M. when he hollered, “Don’t come in the bathroom!”
Early in the day, he must have decided to end his life. I was sure the notes were up on the mirror before my sister, Debbie, called me from the 7-eleven. What a relief and a horror!
Thinking aloud, “If only, I had used the facilities!”
The first note read, “Dear Cindy, I am sorry...” The next one said, “Dear Father Jim, I hope God will forgive me and judge this correctly...” The third note stated that it was no one’s fault. It was just grief.
Later, we went over to my parents’ house and wandered around his bedroom in disbelief. On the back of Mom’s death certificate, I found another note. It proved how scared Dad was. I was convinced that he was his own murderer. My brother was convinced as well.
Margie found it hard to accept the word suicide. She preferred to play Columbo and seek a murderer. There was no doubt in my mind that I needed to seek help for my sisters and myself. Hospice people heard about the second death. They began ringing my telephone. I set up a date to meet with Bill, a family grief counselor at Hospice.
Finally, Debbie called. She had no idea Dad was dead as she hollered, “Go get a check from Dad. It is from someone in Key West, who bought my washer and dryer. Dad should have received the check in the mail by now. Tell him to stop avoiding and harassing me.”
I asked where she was. She was living around the city park’s lake.
“Meet me by the band shell in 30 minutes.”
If you were on vacation, the scenery around the lake would be healing. The swan boats glide gracefully over the water. On stage, kids perform amateur shows without spotlights or grand audiences. The night-lights look like Christmas. However, we came to deliver bad news and cash to Debbie.
My husband broke the news gently as Debbie and I hugged. I had another funeral to attend in the morning. Debbie missed saying good-bye to Mom. Now, she missed saying goodbye to Dad.
My father felt bad about the ill feelings between Margie and him. As he sat brooding one day, I reminded him that Valentine’s Day was coming. It was my sister’s anniversary. I coaxed him to a florist to buy her flowers.
“It is always nice to get flowers in public, for instance at work. It would mean a great deal to Margie to receive a bouquet because Valentine’s Day is, also, her wedding anniversary.”
Short on money, her husband had been told not to waste cash on flowers this year. Dad’s gesture would be a grand surprise.
After the Valentine’s bouquet arrived, Margie called me. “Dad made the mistake of labeling the flowers with my maiden name. At first, I thought that an old boyfriend found me. Then I read the card,” excited, elated, and giddy describe my sister’s voice over the telephone line.
Her feelings were less hostile than when Dad wouldn’t let her move into his home. Margie planned on visiting with Dad on Monday night.
“Maybe, I should invite him over for dinner at my apartment,” she added. Becoming sensitive to his grief, Margie explained, “Dad is afraid Debbie is after his money.”
“Then, let’s shield him from her telephone calls. We can do coded ringing so that he knows it is you or me. He can ignore other telephone calls avoiding a confrontation with Debbie.”
It seemed silly but my father tolerated the plan. We were trying to calm him down.
Now, as I banged on Margie’s apartment door, my sister and her husband were about to find out that dinner plans with Dad were off. Margie lived on the third floor right by a stair well. Chris and I woke up her dog with our presence. As she attempted to open the door, my sister must have had the same feelings I had driving to Dad’s house earlier in the evening.
It is a mixed emotion. Being awakened at midnight, you sense something is dreadfully wrong. However, in the moments before you find out what, you convince yourself, “Cindy just came by to visit.”
Your silent prayer is, “My sister was just passing by and saw the light on. Therefore, Cindy thought she’d stop in.”
However, your thoughts are quickly interrupted by the truth. As I told her Dad had died that night, she collapsed in my arms and nearly threw us down the stairs. Quickly, I maneuvered Margie to her couch.
Looking around in the century of silence before anyone else spoke, I saw the flowers dad sent five days ago. They were still alive and on her dining room table. My own anniversary was days away. On Valentine’s Day, Margie promised to remind our father to send me an anniversary bouquet.
“I guess Dad won’t be sending me flowers this year. Your bouquet is pretty. I am glad they arrived and that the two of you had peace before he died.”
At the same time, Chris told Margie the story of Dad’s death. Then she followed us to the house. As we rounded the last corner, we saw the wagon leaving with our father. The police were vacating the crime zone. Dad was gone.
Once my car was parked next door, I noticed my brother was in my parent’s yard. He was wandering around lost. The air was cool but I declined a jacket offer by Chris. Making a beeline to Mike, we locked up the house and watched them tow Mom’s car. Then we went back to Maryanne’s for coffee and small talk.
I am not sure if any of us was listening to each other that night; the shock was too great.
Rephrasing Father Jim’s words, “One death was so beautiful and the other so grim.”
We discussed the possibility of foul play. I played devil’s advocate. I didn’t want to believe it was murder. I knew my Dad enough to know it was at his own hand. However, I was scared as my siblings discussed the possibilities. Knowing there were three suicide notes, I stated, “I prefer to believe Dad did it to himself. I vote suicide.”
I seemed to be in the minority that night, anyway.
Then my brother spoke out, “Mom warned us. She said he was in the line right behind her.”
Tonight, those words were comforting in the face of such evil.
Chilis Restaurant Again
There aren’t many places to take ten women to dinner and drinks on limited “wife and mother” schedules. So, I took my friends to Chilis just in time for happy hour.
We ordered up margaritas, which I only began drinking the Friday after Mom’s death. I am not a big social or private liquor drinker. After two wine coolers, I can’t construct a sentence. While at this restaurant and talking with ten friends, I felt normal again. Ready to move on with my life, I enjoyed a wonderful meal, fun drink, and pleasant conversation. Then, I went home.
Helen, the young cancer victim, was our designated driver for this dinner party. Dropping us off in front of our homes, I stood with some neighbors enjoying last minute small talk.
Usually, if an ambulance, fire engine, or train is in the distance, I hear it. However, tonight, the noises blowing in on the wind were muffled and calm. I was in a very good mood.
Since my mother’s death, my sister, Debbie, called quite often asking to borrow money. When the telephone rang, I rattled off, “Stacey, get the telephone. If it is Debbie calling collect, refuse to accept the charges.”
Obeying my command, the look on Stacey’s face told me something was wrong. In my absence, a sad event occurred. I was about to be in the middle of more bad news.
“It’s some lady. She wants to talk to you. NOW!” Stacey finally blurted out.
“Get her name. I’ll call her back, “I responded.
“She won’t let me hang up. The lady is hollering at me.”
Instead of saying hello, rudely, I picked up the receiver and demanded, “What?”
It was Maryanne, a friend of the family and my parent‘s neighbor. Recognizing her voice right away, she was panicked and screaming, “Get to you dad’s house! Get here fast!”
“Why? What is going on?” I asked quite innocently.
“No time to explain. Just get here!” The telephone dropped to silence.
Informing my husband that I was going to my father’s house, I decided that it was probably my older sister giving him trouble.
“Call 911 if she is causing trouble. Don’t try to handle it yourself,” my husbands worried aloud.
With that promise, I left.
As I drove the winding road out of my neighborhood, I prayed that the only problem was Debbie quarrelling with Dad while attempting to move in. My parents’ house was on winding roads, too. As I tried to go around the last left-hand bend, traffic stopped. On this lonely stretch of dirt road, the cars were backed up, and I was motionless. Staring at police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck’s lights, they lit up the street in front of me. Spellbound, I hoped Dad had escaped the fire.
“He smokes cigarettes and is careless at times,” I thought aloud. My heart was not beating as I screamed out, “Cars get out of my way. I need to pass you. My father lives there!”
Of course, no one could hear me. I looked around deciding to park the car and run to the house.
All of a sudden, I saw a white shirt waving at me. This unknown person signaled me to move my car to their driveway. The guide was the next door neighbor, Maryanne. Opening the passenger side of the car, she jumped in.
Immediately, I questioned, “What is going on? Is the house on fire?”
Maryanne verbally led me to her driveway as I parked the car. Once stopped, she said, “No, it is not the house. It is your Mom’s car.”
“Oh, no. I just sold the car. We were supposed to close the title tomorrow. What happened?”
“Well, it appears that your Dad was in the car,” Maryanne continued. Her child witnessed my father in the burning car.
I kept repeating that I was sorry their child witnessed such an ordeal. I kept asking if their child would be okay.
Then I asked a silly question, “Is Dad okay?”
She paused, “Cindy, from what I saw, I doubt it. I think he is dead but they haven’t pulled his body out yet.”
Leaping out of my car, Maryanne got to my side, swiftly. “Don’t go over there, Cindy. Or you may see something you don’t really want to see.”
I was unable to see Mom’s car; it was blocked by trees and the veil of darkness that surrounded that night. It repeatedly dawned on me in this confusion that Maryanne said their child saw Dad in the burning car. All night in the middle of the discussions, I turned to her and asked, “Is your child okay?”
When the full impact of the news hit me, I declared, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God; Oh God! Oh God!”
Holding me up, Maryanne walked me to the house, “I tried to get him to a psychiatrist. Today, he promised me he’d go. He didn’t go. Oh God! Oh God!” I continued.
Reaching Maryanne’s house, I remembered that many of my parents’ neighbors were there to help me sort it all out.
After the initial shock wore off, I called my husband, “Dad killed himself.”
Quickly, my husband asked if he needed to come over. I asked him to tell the girls nothing and to get them to sleep. I needed to deal with this event without children whining for attention.
Next, they called a priest for me. The neighbors knew what to do because they had just paid their last respects to my mother at the local Catholic Church.
I kept worrying aloud about Maryanne’s child who wandered in and out of his bedroom to their living room. He was sleepless.
Coming to grips with the reality, I asked Maryanne to call Margie but there was no answer. That seemed odd to me and a little scary.
Wondering aloud, “Where could she be on a weeknight?”
Noticing it was after 9 P.M., I decided to call my brother. When Sandy answered, I asked for Mike. He was out to church but she would ask him to return my call. Then I told her the reason for this call. Through the receiver, I could hear the tears rushing down her face.
“The telephone number is __-____. Have my brother return the call here.”
As I hung up the telephone, the priest arrived. Father Jim and I spoke for a while about my night out with friends.
“Your father may have postponed this suicide, but it would have happened,” he consoled. “If he made up his mind to kill himself, he would have done it some other night,” he added while assuring me. “You had the right to visit with friends,” Father Jim concluded.
After a short conversation about my dad, Father Jim admitted, “I have to confess that Sunday after mass, I saw and brushed passed Ed, hurriedly. Knowing you father was a new widower and manic-depressive, I feel guilty for not talking briefly to him.” Remorsefully, he sensed that his confession made me feel better. Continuing, “If outsiders and professionals didn’t see this suicide coming and didn’t take the time to prevent it,” he assured me, “being too close to this situation, you shouldn’t feel guilty.”
Father asked me if I wanted to go with him to pray over my father’s corpse. I apologized to him for having to put him through this vision of death and declined the invitation to accompany him.
As he left for next door, the police investigator and policeman on duty entered Maryanne’s house. The detective asked, “Are you the daughter of the deceased?”
Nodding, he motioned me to the dining room table. Leaving the couch, I took a seat near the detective,
“Did you have any reason to kill your father?”
Instinctively I responded, “I have his only heir living with me. Stacey and I inherit it all now. All the cancer bills, all the liens, all the creditors...” I trailed off. Quickly adding through nervous laughs, “I have had my father’s power of attorney since December. I could have robbed him blind ages ago. The joke is on me. The cancer ate up all his bank accounts.”
Seriously, “Did you father have any enemies?”
Staring blankly, “He was afraid now that Mom was gone that his children would come to live off him and his money. Again, the joke is that there is no money. Mom died of cancer, three weeks ago. The money is gone! Cancer, you know?”
“Did they know the money is gone?”
“I don’t know.”
“What are your siblings’ names and what are their spouses’ names?” He proceeded to ask where he could find them if he had questions for them.
Then I got scared. I drifted back to a story that my sister told me three days earlier. Calling to tell me she was in Orlando, Debbie needed help.
“Come and get me, please. I’m alone near the Sentinel Building. If you love me, you’ll help.”
Having my own affairs to get back in order, I told her to seek help at the YWCA nearby. Meanwhile, today, at 7:30A.M., Debbie admitted that her husband was with her that night. It all seemed crazy in my grief-stricken mind. Becoming frightened like my father, I offered all the help I could to the police about all dad’s children.
Just then, Father Jim returned with news of a suicide note or two, He told me one was to me and one was to him. I felt relief that it may not be a murder. The detective turned his attention to the priest.
Then the other policeman asked me, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?”
Refreshing his memory, I answered, “Once you had to rescue my family and me from a prisoner, who was trying to break into my house. Another time, you had to take a report from me because a house I was watching was burglarized. Then again, when my mother was barfing blood, you came on the 911 call.”
“Oh yeah! Now, I know you. Gee, I wish we could meet under better circumstances.” He added, “I took a problem complaint from your father, yesterday. He was really low. At one point, your dad said that he wondered what Stacey would do after he was gone; I should have known.”
The impatient detective cut this conversation short, “You say your mother died of cancer?” I nodded as he continued, “How long ago, a few weeks?” Still nodding, “When was the last time you saw your father alive?”
“This morning near 7:30A.M. He was dressed and on his way to grief counseling, I thought.”
“Is that the last time you spoke to him?”
“No, I called him near dinnertime to tell him I would be out with some friends. I needed a break because I stayed with Mom the four to six months while she was dying. She couldn’t walk for three months. I needed the night out!”
“He was determined to kill himself,” the detective became sympathetic reassuring me, “not going out would have postponed but not thwarted his suicide attempt.” Then this sergeant left.
The priest and I discussed the glorious death followed by this ludicrous one. “Such opposites,” I muttered.
“It doesn’t diminish your mother’s beautiful acceptance of God’s Will, Cindy.” Father Jim comforted.
“She asked me to take care of Stacey. I lied to Dad and told him she asked me to take care of him as well. What she really told me was he was in line behind her. She asked us to pray for Ed and Jean Meyers. She was right! He’s dead and it’s only been a little over three weeks.” Hesitating, then I asked,
“Can Dad be buried in the church? My grandmother committed suicide. They would not bless her grave, you know?”
“In this case, all things considered, Ed couldn’t be blamed for this act of violence against himself. Yes, call in the morning. Once you are ready to make arrangements, we will have a Catholic funeral for Ed.” Father hugged me and left.
Maryanne had been trying to reach my younger sister off and on. Margie still was not answering her telephone. I was worried. Maryanne and Chris feared Margie was involved and may be dead somewhere as well. Chris, Maryanne’s husband, finished his part of the police report and questioning.
Then we decided to leave to find Margie.
In spite of the fact that she was not answering her telephone, we decided to check her apartment. Before we left, the telephone rang. It was my brother.
Speaking to my brother, “He’s dead! Dad killed himself. He blew himself up in Mom’s car. I just sold that car. We were supposed to close on it tomorrow. I don’t understand why her car. Why fire?”
“I’m on my way,” My brother assured me.
Informing him that I was at Maryanne’s, “In your present state of mind, don’t drive here alone.”
“Sandy will bring me. We will be there.”
“I can’t find Margie.”
Mike said he’d help find our sister when he arrived.
Meanwhile, Chris drove me to Margie’s apartment. “There was tons of activity at your Dad’s house today. Cars were coming and going just like when Hospice was there twenty-four hours a day. The neighbors were happy to see you father had company besides you, Cindy.” Then Chris added that when he first saw the car on fire, he thought no one was in it. “The kitchen door was open so I ran inside hollering for your father. My kid followed me to the property but then he headed to the burning car. By the time I realized the car was on fire with someone in it, it was too late to drag Ed out.”
This small talk quieted a bit. Then he continued reviewing the facts, “As I ran back out, I could hear my son cry out, ‘It’s Mr. Meyers. He is in the car!’” Chris apologized for assuming my father was on the telephone calling 911. “I should have checked the car sooner.”
I tried to let Chris know it wasn’t anyone’s fault, really.
Coaxing my kids to get ready quicker for school, I was more hot tempered lately. I guess some people call my coaxing screaming.
In the middle of the confusion my sister, Debbie called. I hadn’t seen her in years but I had informed her of Mom’s condition and then demise. Debbie was at the 7-Eleven nearby and wanted to see me. She had a U-HAUL and wanted to move in with Dad. Her husband and she were penniless. They were hungry.
I emptied my pantry of peanut butter, jelly, crackers, bottled juices, soup, and so on. The kids wanted to understand this peculiar behavior. I told them that I was collecting this bag of food for the poor. Then I dumped the three girls at school and informed the principal and others in charge to be careful for Stacey’s well being.
Meeting my sister, Debbie, she looked worse than Mom did moments before her cancer death. Debbie was anorexic, to say the least. She appeared tired from days of travel up from Key West. She was not the cheerleading, cute blonde that I remembered her being. She reached out to hug me. I let her do it. She wanted to see Stacey who is her biological child. She wanted to see Dad, too.
“I want my belongings. Can you get them for me?”
Jumping into my white Camaro, I flew to my parents’ house. When I arrived, my father was in the bathroom. I retrieved Debbie’s personal stuff from the house.
The whole time I was at the house, Dad kept hollering, “I am in the bathroom! Don’t come in the bathroom!”
“I have no desire to use the facilities because I am late for work.”
Finally, he followed me to my car. He was full of fear and grief.
“Don’t be afraid. I am on your side,” I consoled.
Fully dressed and ready to leave the house, Dad stated, “Maybe, I’ll go see my shrink, today.”
Relieved, I left to deliver Debbie her junk. From the front yard, he waved good-bye. Waving back, I sped away.
Trying to convince Debbie to leave the area, I stated, “Dad has filed a complaint against you because he is afraid. He already told Margie she couldn’t move in. Dad told the police that he thinks you are after his money. If I were you, I’d leave before trouble starts.”
Handing over her belongings, I left my sister, who promised she’d get out of the area. Confident that she’d follow my advice and leave, I went to work.
Once at work, I complained, “I feel dirty from my sister’s hugs but what do you do? Someone has to care for her.”
At 4:30P.M., I called Dad. Mom’s car was sold, and we would close on it, tomorrow. Informing him, “I have the difference to pay off the loan; don’t worry about your bills.” Then I asked, “Did you see your doctor today?”
Frankly, he stated, “I didn’t go see my doctor. Spouting from books, what do they know? My shrink told me to put your mother in a nursing home. Those doctors don’t care! They take the easy way out. Who needs them?”
Then Dad informed me that he spoke with Nancy, a Hospice counselor, many times and would believe her first. “I feel like Nancy cared for your mother. She helped me. Not like my psychiatrist. He never cared.”
Knowing he talked to some type of professional in these last few days, I felt a little better.
Next, Dad cried, “I gave your mother a terrible life. When we married, Jean promised to love me for better or worse. I gave her the worst! I didn’t know my manic-depressive behavior was forever. I was too young! She had to put up with this ‘Looney Tune’ but she deserved better.” He rambled on about Mom.
Questioning him, I wanted to ascertain what Dad felt Mom missed out on while being his wife. Knowing the answer she would give, now, I needed his answer, “She deserved more out of life.”
Dad was unable to label his regrets. Knowing my mother intimately, her biggest regret was not having a spouse. My father was an extra child.
Many times, she told me, “Just once, I wish he would have been a companion and an adult.”
In her last few months, my father put on a good act. Dad convinced everyone that he had overcome his illness and had become an adult. Mom received her answered prayer.
Examining their life together, I pointed out, “Mom wanted children, and you gave her four. Wanting a nice home, you gave her many including this one on five acres. How many men with your disease give their wives even half as much? Giving you a normal life, in return, you gave her a home and family. Her family gave her the reason for living. Due to her strong love of life, you allowed Mom to fill her cup with children and grandchildren. What more could you have given her?”
The answer was obvious. During thirty-seven years of marriage, Dad should have been as loving to Mom as he had been in the past four months. He should have treated her with less hostility. However, I did not reprimand him.
Today, my father was punishing himself for murdering his father and wife. The only catch is that he did not murder either. They died of natural causes. His grief was too strong because he never dealt with his father’s death. The realities of his wife’s death flooded him with guilt.
I tried to reassure him that he wasn’t totally horrible. “Most men with your status end up living on the streets or in and out of mental wards.”
Applauding Mom for giving him a normal life, I commended him on such a good choice in wives. He was sobbing.
“I don’t know, Cindy. All I do is cry.”
“You aren’t lost in the hallway are you?”
“No, nothing that a few days in a mental health clinic won’t cure.” He hung up on me.
Immediately, I called back, “Are you okay”?
“Yes, just sad. I guess you call this grieving. Will it ever get better?”
“Time will help, Dad. Give it time.” Quickly, I demanded, “Are you going to be okay?”
He assured me, “It is just lonely here at the house.”
We discussed selling the house and getting him a smaller place.
“I only want you to know where to find me. I don’t want the kids in search of money to find out where I move.”
Agreeing to his terms, I mentioned, “A new home might help Stacey feel better on overnight visits. That house is hard for her to visit; there are too many memories.”
“If the grief gets too strong, I can jump in the car and get away but Stacey is locked in the memories on her weekend visits.” He understood.
Next, we discussed Debbie. “Your mother told me ten times on her deathbed to listen to you, Cindy. Jean wanted Stacey to be safe.”
“Dad, don’t worry. Debbie won’t move in there. She means no harm to you. I know it! Believe me!”
Finally, my father asked, “What secrets did your mother tell you before she died? I know some were about me!”
Reeling backwards from the telephone, I tried to find out what he knew. Fearing my father knew about the death prediction, I was speechless.
“You were closer to your mother than anyone else. I know, she told you how to help me. I need to know what she told you.”
“Just to pray for you and to take care of you, Dad.”
Returning to his worry about the house, I mentioned, “If you are ready, I can sell it, tomorrow. In fact, I have a contract from someone wanting to buy your house sight unseen.”
“Good! Then you won’t have to work hard to sell this place. You already worked too hard, Cindy. I don‘t want you to have to paint or do more work. You need a rest.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll show you the contract at lunch, tomorrow. I am going out to dinner with some girlfriends, tonight. Cook your own meal today. Okay?”
“Have fun, honey. Don’t worry about me. Enjoy your friends.” He added, “The love I saw you give over these months was a blessing to me and my wife.”
Interrupting, I said, “Okay, I’ll see you tomorrow for lunch.” My father was still grieving, when I added, “If I know Mom, she would want you to go out and live your life until it is over. She wants you to live on for a year, ten years, or a century. As long as you have left, she wants you to enjoy living. Mom told me she had cancer right before my birthday party over a year ago. Do you think that means every July I will weep that she died of that cancer? Of course not, she told me to live on. She told me she was in good hands. Mom wouldn’t want us to stay hooked up with grief. It will get better. You’ll see. It will never be the same. But, it will get better.”
“Maybe,” he responded.
It didn’t cross my mind that his single phrase signaled disaster.
Sunday Morning Mass
Sunday, before mass, I spoke with Father Matt telling him that many of those present at the funeral declared, “What a beautiful ceremony!”
“If funerals can be nice, the ceremony you performed yesterday was wonderful,” I added.
He smiled wide in appreciation.
Entering the church, I looked over for the flowers. Searching the back of the church, I could not find the pink and blue carnations. Dismayed, I sat down. Then my eyes were drawn to the statue of Mary. Under Mary’s feet sat the flower of Mom’s casket arrangement.
The carnations ended up exactly where they belonged. Mom’s flowers were with the Mother of the Master. Leaving the flowers, I felt that they would comfort everyone in prayer before this statue. The carnations reflected the colors of His children left behind in this world.
Later, I called to tell my brother that I left the flowers at church. He agreed, “You did the right thing.”
Monday, I returned to work. The worst part of my life was not yet over. Constantly, I thought about Mom’s prediction. Thinking aloud to Margie, “Maybe, since Dad refused to go to live in Mike’s town, Andrew and you should move in. Then you can watch over him.”
Margie liked the idea of being taken care of while taking care of Dad. Instead of returning to work on Monday, she went over to prepare my parents’ house for her family. Not waiting for me to ask Dad’s permission, Margie pulled down wallpaper and pulled out old carpets. She spent all day getting the house ready for her needs and tastes.
Telephoning me at work, Dad was angry, “What is going on?”
Trying to calm him down, I was peeved at my sister. There had not been enough time to help him decide what to do next with his life.
That evening, I went to talk with him. “You could move into Mike’s vacant trailer.”
“This is my home. I feel more comfortable staying here.”
We discussed letting Margie move in to take care of him. “No! No way!”
“Dad, I’m worried that all this grief will cause you to get lost in the hallway mentally, not physically. Do you understand my concern?”
“I’m okay!” He retorted.
Then we discussed his bills. It was decided that we would go to the lawyer and see what to do next with the estate.
Mom left me some cash in a joint bank account. I decided to pay off some of my parents’ cancer liens. The next day, my father and I met, retrieving this money. Placing it in my account, I began paying off as much of his bills as I could afford. We needed to sell Mom’s car, which had negative equity. The note far exceeded the value.
“I’ll hold money aside to make the car deal work.”
That week, he placed the car for sale. We sold it a few days later for an amount less than the car note. Having enough cash left, I felt comfortable with the deal. My father never closed on the car deal, which I will discuss later.
Life was not easy. I had my father over for dinner every night. Repeatedly, I had to reassure him that we’d get the cancer liens paid and get his life back in order.
“Things would never be the same but they would get easier,” I kept believing aloud.
Exhausted, I found myself asleep for hours in a place where I didn’t even realize I sat or laid down. That’s how tired I was!
Calling my father’s doctor regularly, I feared Mom was right about my father’s pending death. Everyone who knew Dad told me how strong he was being. Something seemed wrong to me. Petrified, I called my brother, often, to whine about Dad.
Now, my long lost sister was on her way from Key West. This event would cause Dad even more grief and confusion. My father had a history of mental illness. Trying to determine if he needed to be committed, I discussed his state with my brother and younger sister.
“I think you are overreacting, Cindy. It is just grief,” my brother responded.
Next, Margie told me that we had the chance to move her in and help him. She was confused and grieving. “With Mom gone, we are no longer a family,” she said, trying to convince herself.
Luckily, I understood her grief and overlooked her conduct. However, I felt hopeless and fatigued beyond repair.
Sunday, February 17, we went to my brother’s housewarming, Valentine’s Day party. Dad was very disoriented but he tried to be a part of the small talk. We drove him to this party so he wouldn’t stay home alone.
Time to relax at my brother’s party. I tried to do other normal party things like taking pictures for posterity. I chatted with my brother’s wife’s relatives about Mom, Dad, and Stacey.
Meanwhile, in the back of our truck was a package for my brother. It was Mom’s ashes. One day about two weeks earlier, while picking up my mother’s death certificate, they handed me the box with her ashes in it. Unnerved, I threw the box in my trunk.
Returning to work, I told Ann, “I have my mother in the trunk of my car!”
Uneasy, we laughed hysterically. Everyone in the computer lab looked up. Therefore, I repeated my remark. The faces of my co-workers went the gamut from ‘she’s crazy’ to ‘I wish I had her courage.’
After the barbecue lunch at my brothers, he and I escaped to my truck to get Mom’s ashes. His intention was to scatter her remains in a National Forest area. I hid this box in a garbage bag in the back of our truck. For weeks before that, Mom had been in my garage.
Recalling Mom’s babbling on the day Susan was teaching Margie how to do the saline, “Cindy, put the package in the garage and give it to the package man!”
“But, you don‘t have a garage! What are you talking about?”
“Do it! Do it!”
Mom kept ranting and raving about this unknown package. Her outburst perplexed me, “Put the package in the garage!” Now, as I stood there in my brother’s yard handing him her ashes, I was staring at the package man, my brother.
“I love the package man,” Mom said.
Staring into eternity, I walked back to my brother’s new home. Then I dismissed the thoughts about my mother’s last week and went back to visit with my brother, the package man.
The stress of incorporating Stacey into my home forever was catching up to me. Running two households, I was overworked. A low-grade fever returned to my body.
Telling Dad I needed some days off, I mentioned, “I just want to sleep.”
“Take time to get better. I am okay.” Dad admitted, “Having me to dinner every night is hard on you. I want you to rest.”
We dropped him off without dinner that night.
Monday, my father and I met for lunch. He kept saying things about Stacey and life. “It is hard. I feel bad that the burdens of my bills and my world are on your shoulders.”
My favorite phrase became, “Don’t worry about it.”
Talking with Dad triggered another memory. Back in November, I received a strange call from one of the Hospice nurses. Going over to my parent’s house, I found my father asleep and almost dead to the world. He didn’t arouse easily. I stayed with them the rest of the day, finally, he woke up. After Linda left, my parents discussed his condition. Dad was more than tired; he was mentally exhausted and probably ill. Earlier I made him an appointment with his psychologist. He had no choice in the matter.
When Mom was alive, she tried to help my father cope with the idea of death. She begged, “I am sane, Ed. But, I am scared. It must be worse for you. Please, listen to Cindy! Go see your doctors. Do it for me!”
In November, when I talked to the chief psychologist, he mentioned, “I am amazed that your father has not revealed your mother’s health problem. I had no idea that his wife is sick with cancer and on her deathbed.”
I informed the doctor of my father’s mental health state, “When my father was a teenager his dad died in his arms from a stroke. His father was on medication for a heart condition. Instead of running for the medicine, my dad held my grandfather screaming for help. His mother arrived too late. My grandfather was dead. My grandmother blamed Dad for the death. He never forgave himself. Now, my mother has cancer. Dad thinks it is his fault again. He is blaming himself for not giving her the right amount of pills or something. It is not his fault. We won’t blame him if she dies. All us kids know Mom has cancer. However, Dad is locked in guilt.”
As my thoughts returned to February’s grief, I felt very bad for my Dad. I tried to convince him that he was not to blame for Mom’s death, “Mom asked us to live on. Forgive, forget, and love each other was the message from Mom.”
My lecture was ignored; my father was locked into a secret plan. He failed to listen to my consoling words.
On the Monday after my brother’s party, I was visibly ill. Making stew for my father’s dinner, I asked him to come get his share but not to plan on staying to visit. Picking up his portion, Dad returned home alone.
Trying to feel better in a very stressful period of my life, I was not totally aware of my father’s needs. I couldn’t be there for him the way his wife was. Much to my dismay, I found out later that my father was getting lost in the hallway at his home as he searched for my mother and his life.
The RN Arrives
The night shift Hospice RN was on her way to confirm the death and do all the tasks that needed to be done now that it was over. As I stood in the kitchen, the nurse on duty reappeared in the kitchen doorway. She wanted the clothes Mom would wear for the funeral. At this point in time, she was wearing the red Mumu that I saw in my dream weeks earlier. Tonight, she was out of bed walking to Heaven.
I went down the hall with the nurse right behind me. I turned right into the master bedroom to retrieve the garments for my mother to wear to the funeral home. There on top of Mom’s dresser were her green slacks, a Christmas sweatshirt, the wig Dad gave her for Christmas this year, and the slippers that had torn up her feet when she became swollen from the toxins in her system.
Handing the shoes to the nurse, I muttered, “At least, she left with her legs still attached to her body. Over four years ago, she almost lost her legs to diabetes.”
I had to smile to myself as I again pictured Dr. P. One day this week, I caught Mom talking to her guests from Heaven. I stopped her conversation to ask her what she was talking about. She quickly responded with a high pitched, giddy voice, “Dr. P.!”
“What about him?”
With the anxiousness of a happy child, she questioned, “Don’t you think he is CUTE?”
I responded yes asking, “But what does that have to do with dying?”
Weeks later, I found a book in Mom’s belongings with notes all through it. The book is Love, Medicine, and Miracles. Beside the passages about miracle cures with confident doctors was Dr. P.’s name. If he was her cancer specialist, would she have survived? She thought so.
Walking back to the kitchen, I left this nurse to prepare my mother for the undertakers. A Hospice RN arrived who I had not seen before. She was the RN nurse on call. As she entered the house, they told me that I could go view Mom now. I had seen her less than an hour before her death. Deciding that was enough for me to take, I declined their invitation. Luckily, I had ushered Dad back to bed so he was not underfoot when the undertakers arrived.
There was knocking at the kitchen door where I sat with the nurses. They had finished flushing the morphine and preparing my mother’s body to leave. Upon answering the door, two men in dark suits entered the house and shook my hand. Their hands were surprisingly warm, in spite of the fact that they were funeral representatives. In all other ways, they looked and felt their part. They discussed how to get my mom to the wagon and decided to take her through the front door. Not wanting to walk Mom to the door like I did a year and a half ago in the hospital, I elected to stay in the kitchen. As quickly as the undertakers left that is how fast the Hospice people left. However, the nurses did not leave before a short conversation.
We talked about how my mother always wanted one of her children to become a priest or nun. “That makes a person special in the church to bear a religious heir. She wanted to be special through one of her children, and all the time she was special on her own. Maybe, I’ll write a book about all these events I witnessed.”
They promised to read the book as they offered me titles of life after life books that I could read.
Then, I was alone with Dad. I walked to the living room window in time to see the hearse leaving. I whispered, “Good-bye, Mom.”
Sitting down on the couch, I waited for my brother who was due soon. It was a little after 4A.M. when the car pulled up into the driveway. Exiting the same door they took our mother through and meeting Mike in the driveway, I spoke immediately, “Mom said you are always late.”
My brother commented that when he was late for curfew he always brought flowers as an apology. Mike added, “I guess Mom knew me well.” We decided to clean up and let Dad sleep until daybreak.
Putting her nightgown and bed sheets in a plastic bag, Mike placed them in his trunk so our father wouldn’t have to deal with all this trauma. I went to the refrigerator to throw out prescriptions. The one I bought in protest had never been opened. The seal was intact.
I thought, ‘I told you so! It wasn’t the morphine! God’s Will is more powerful than any drugs! She was talking to God or the Master.”
As day broke, we decided to take Dad to breakfast. I placed a call to my sister, “Meet us at Shoney’s Restaurant.” We awakened our father and got him ready. Informing my brother, “Dad should not be left alone in this house in the days before the funeral.”
My brother agreed, “Once the business is taken care of, I‘ll make him tag along with me. I‘ll keep him with me until the funeral.”
We thought Dad should move closer to my brother so he could watch over him permanently.
At the restaurant, we sat by the window. The sun rose high over Florida. Sitting by the window and watching the Heavens, I ate breakfast. The elevators to Heaven were coming through the sparse clouds as the sun came up that day. This time Mom would not be coming back from her doctor’s appointment. I remembered all the fear in my heart every Tuesday when she was late from her chemo treatments. All that didn’t matter today. The skies were high, the clouds were few, and all the elevators came down to get those ahead of her in line. Mom left with them this time.
My husband had a manager’s meeting at eight o’clock. So he decided to leave for work early Wednesday morning. I woke up and asked him to drop the kids at the YMCA program, which they attended before and after school. He protested that he was already late and that would make him later.
His project was freezing its software and his lists of tasks were long. I commented that the bosses would understand in this case. He sarcastically reminded me that my mother had been on her last three days for a month, now.
Pleading, “This time it is real because it is the day God told her she would leave.”
It was 6:30A.M. when he left me to the task of getting the kids ready and out the door. I figured that they would go quicker if I offered a Burger King breakfast. I toyed with the idea of going to my parent’s house and having Dad take them to school. Wanting to be there between 7 and 9, something inside told me not to bring the kids over to my parent’s house.
Breakfast should have been quick but I was with the kids. Nothing in their psyche makes them do things quicker for the enticement of going to school afterwards. So there I sat in Burger King totally frustrated at everyone in my immediate family. Complaining to the counter girl, who had kept up with the cancer event in my life, she just smiled back at my imperative behavior. In spite of it all, I didn’t want the kids to know why I was rushing and nagging at them. In order to cope with today’s possibilities, I needed them at school.
Dropping the kids at the YMCA by 7:45A.M., quickly I rushed to my parents’ home and dashed through the kitchen door. Dad was sitting at the kitchen table facing the entry. It was around eight o’clock in the morning.
Quickly, he alerted me, “I have some bad news.”
He was not in on the secrets because it was too much for him to take. We certainly wouldn’t let him know Mom said he was next in the line going to Heaven. I rushed down the hall to find the nurse pacing and flustered.
She was ranting, “I knew not to wake your father! I didn’t wake him! I tried to call as soon as I got here. All I got was your answering machine. Then, I tried to reach your sister. I knew we weren’t supposed to wake him up for this event! The night shift nurse woke him around six. My shift doesn’t start until eight. I wasn’t here and tried to call you when I got here. I knew we weren’t supposed to arouse your father while he was asleep when there is nothing he can do.”
Grabbing the nurse’s arm, we continued down the hall. “Is she in the coma?”
“Yes, by the notes and what I could determine it started around six or six-thirty this morning.”
“Is she fully comatose?”
“Yes, she was fully comatose somewhere before 8A.M.”
I looked at her like a parent. She was like a child sure that they’d be placed on restriction for disobeying their parent.
“Don’t worry about it. It’s not like she didn’t warn us. She told us she was leaving on Wednesday between 7 and 9. Now, we know she meant the morning not the evening.” I smiled at this nurse, and she calmed down. “What do we do now? Should I flush the pump?”
The nurse continued, “When I got your answering machine I knew I’d see you! I knew you’d be here by eight to flush the morphine pump!” She paused, “Yes, you better do it. This coma could last days. I have a call in to Susan.”
I set up the saline and needles. Angry, I thought performing this task today was the hardest thing I ever had to do in my life. Pretending I was okay, I spoke to Mom telling her what I was doing. For the first time since this all began, she didn’t react.
In fact, her breathing was scary to me. It would stop for long periods of time and I’d ask, “Is she dead?”
Then, the breathing would resume. It was the loudest snoring. You couldn’t get away from the sound except to go outside.
By now, it was near nine in the morning. Calling Margie at work, I asked her office worker to get her to the telephone carefully. She knew what I meant. The doctor’s office was my mother’s general practitioner. They all knew my mom had cancer and was dying.
Margie’s voice answered, “Hello?”
Quickly, I said, “Mom’s on the roof and I can’t get her down.”
Margie squealed, “Oh! God! I am going to kill you for telling me this way.”
Giggling to ward off fear, I asked, “How else do you say it over the telephone? She went into the coma this morning. Mom was right! She was right! She is leaving.” I trailed off.
Margie’s conversation became jumbled. She had staff meetings she needed to attend.
“Comas last hours,” I reassured her.
Expecting to see her sometime in the afternoon, Margie arrived minutes later. It seemed like the twenty-minute drive from her office only took five minutes today.
Next, I called my brother and got his answering machine. I telephoned my aunt. Then, I reached Helen who had just returned from prayer group.
Finally, I called Charlett who had the list to call, in case of funeral. Three weeks earlier, I stayed up all night writing that list.
“You look like death warmed over,” Charlett informed me the day I delivered that list. Today, she would wait to find out when to place the funeral calls.
Then I called my husband; he came by at lunch with a look of shock on his face. How do you say you are sorry for doubting someone’s word? How do you retract the hours to allow your wife to be with her mother in the minutes before a comatose state? He had no words.
Staring at him, I said, “Oh! Well!”
Secretly, I knew it was better that I was not there. I would have tried to grab Mom back from the gates of Heaven. She couldn’t have left in peace.
Susan, the Hospice RN, arrived later. Upon meeting Susan in the living room, I simply stated, “I told you. It is Wednesday. She left this morning. I consider the coma being gone.”
Another nurse and her daughter were in the driveway a few minutes later. I sang out, “Mom is gone! She went into the coma at around seven this morning.”
The smiles across their faces were enormous. Finally, this nurse said, “I almost called before my shift to see if I even had to come. I knew something was up this morning! I knew it!”
They went in to check with their own eyes.
The telephone rang while we were in mom’s room. I had called my doctor to renew one of my own prescriptions. The nurse that spoke with me knew my mother from years ago. “It is all over except for the wait,” I informed this lady.
My brother called around 5P.M. He said he’d be here before seven. Even though he didn’t arrive; I went out to pick up my own prescription.
On my way back, I dropped in on Craig to let him know it was almost over. When I got back, I was alone with Dad and the nurse. Margie went to college at night. She decided not to miss class tonight. It was just an excuse to leave before she saw the actual death.
Worrying that Mike had an accident on a back road, I called his home. Sandy apologized, “Mike couldn’t take the bad news. I wouldn’t let him drive in his condition. He is passed out on the couch.”
Sandy said they would be coming in the morning. I was peeved because he was supposed to be here for Dad. Now, I would have to stay alone and all night.
At 9:30P.M. the telephone rang. Stacey was on the line, “Cindy, this is Stacey. Julie made me call you. We want to know did mommy die, yet?”
I held my breath. They needed to sleep, and I needed them in school the next day. With measured speech, I said, “Mom is alive.”
She repeated this message to Julie and Jenny.
In the background, I could hear Julie screech, “ALL RIGHT!”
They got the message they needed and promised to go to bed. This was the first call Stacey placed to my parents’ house in over a week. The last time, Stacey talked to our mother who said, “I am too tired to talk long.”
On the extension, I heard Stacey say, “Okay, then put mommy on the line.” Stacey quickly corrected herself, “I mean Cindy. I want to ask her something.”
It bothered me to have her hear Stacey call me mommy even if by mistake. However, when I talked about the incident with Sister Ann at the church and my boss, they agreed that the child needed a new mommy.
“Let her decide in her way who that replacement should be,” said Sister Ann.
My mother probably felt relieved that Stacey was making the correct transition.
There I sat on this Wednesday night waiting for a break. However, Dad is a night owl. He can stay up to the wee hours of the morning. I kept trying to coax him into bed so I could leave. He was not going to budge.
The nurses changed shifts at midnight and cleaned the discharges up that Mom was having. At this point, I hadn’t reentered her room since early evening. I stayed in the kitchen with my father. The graveyard shift nurse came in to talk to me.
“A week ago, when I last saw your mother, I was sure I’d never see her again.”
Filling her in on this week, this nurse was amazed but not totally. She’d been a Hospice nurse for a very long time. She didn’t scoff at a word I said.
Finally, Dad retreated to bed. It was 1A.M. I went down the hall to remind the nurse to call me if Mom died.
“Call me first and let me wake up my father.”
I was leaving to check on my family. Then I walked over to my mother who was dead to the world. “I am going home to take a shower and a nap. “ Then, the lie flowed, “Mike is on the way. He has two container of water ready! You know him; he is always late!” I bent over her and said, “Goodbye. See you.”
Then, I kissed her. If she wasn’t breathing, I would have been sure she was dead. She was ice cold. That is the last time I saw my mother at all.
Arriving home, I took a hot bath. My husband was still awake so I filled him in on her status.
“I want to take a nap but wake me before dawn so I can be with Dad the minute he is up.”
Then I lay down and began to drift into slumber. However, the telephone rang, “Cindy, this is Hospice. Your mother just passed away.”
Waiting on an expected death is like having a baby only in reverse. You know the baby is going to come, you just don’t know which day or hour. With death, you know the person is leaving, being reborn into another world, but you just don’t know the day or hour. Now, we know which day and at what hour. Mom was right, as usual. She had taught us all how to die in peace and love with her Maker. I saw her kissing his hands while on her deathbed.
The full impact of what I saw had not hit me yet but my outlook in life changed forever by this death. I, too, did some teaching. My parents’ weakest child had mastered life against all odds and had delivered Mom over to the Master. Pleased with me, He scooped me up in His arms and began to carry me through everything that happened next.
Leaping out of bed, I began, “Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!”
Pulling on some street clothes, I told my husband to tell the kids I left early for work so they would go to school. Then I called my sister and my brother. I reached Andrew; he relayed the news to Margie. I informed my brother’s answering machine, “Call at Mom’s house but wait for me to get there. It’s a little after 2A.M. Don’t return this call for half an hour. Mom is dead. I am on my way to Dad.”
The road that winds out of my neighborhood was rigidly straight that night. Amazingly, I drove to the house without hitting one mailbox on that curvy road. I flew through the kitchen door. At 3A.M., the call came in. My brother was on the way.
Unfortunately, Dad answered the extension. I dropped the telephone receiver to rush to him. I tried to cut him off at the passage to the hall running around to the wrong door. He exited the other bedroom door. As I knocked at the bedroom door by the kitchen, he was already in the hallway that led to her room. His door was locked when I tried it so I escaped to the hall. Grabbing his arm, I told him the news. He went down the hall undeterred to see for himself if Mom was truly dead.
I went back to the telephone and gasped, “He knows! Dad is up!”
“I am on my way!” The conversation with my brother was over.
Before Susan arrived the nurse needed to change my mother’s diaper and bed sheets. She solicited my help.
Soon, I remembered the first time my mother had a mess that I had to clean up. She could still move around a bit. I cleaned as much as I could, and she maneuvered to do the rest. However, I had to change the bed sheets, and no one was there to help me. So, I helped my mother to a chair where she moaned and groaned in agony from all the movement.
I chastised her with, “Pray to Saint Jude or something!” For Catholics, Saint Jude is the patron saint of miracle cures and hopeless cases.
What I was really saying was, ‘I can’t stand to hear you in pain, so stop it!’ After all, she hadn’t been able to walk in months. My mother complained about her suffering often. I was not mean- just tired.
It was great when the Hospice aides finally arrived. Each shift, Mom received a sponge bath and a clean diaper. Never had she seen such pampering. Not since she was a baby.
Today, as we removed the diaper, a very awake mother said, “What’s on fire? I smell smoke.”
Petrified that the house was on fire, I made a mad dash out of the room. Looking around, I couldn’t find the smoke.
Upon returning, the nurse smiled commenting, “She smells her own urine. It is so strong now. It smells sulfurous but it is not smoke.”
Relieved, I continued to service the Hospice aide. Every time, I thought of fire or an emergency that would require a quick exit, I was reminded of how helpless Mom had become. It was frightening and very overwhelming. However, I knew if that emergency ever arrived, we’d find a way to drag her to safety.
Afterwards this nurse left to eat her dinner, and I stayed in the room. It was too close to Wednesday. Mom began to raise her hands to Heaven again. She was talking. Unlike times when I could interrupt her chanting, this time her mind was locked into the other world. It was as if I wasn’t there as her arms were held high to the left hand corner of the room. For a fleeting moment, I resented that she was on the way out of my world, and I despised the angelic singing, today. This time, I was a bit resentful. It was my turn to be angry.
Finally, Mom turned her attention back to me. We talked about the salmon. She grinned, “Yes, I ate delicious salmon at age ten.” That was all she said.
I began to remember a sermon one Sunday about God’s children being the salmon of the Earth. “It is easier to give up and float down stream as a salmon. However, that means death to the promises of the journey’s end. The sinners give up.”
Refraining from speaking aloud, Mom could hear my thoughts by now. “The salmon that keep swimming upstream against the current of sin will reach their original spawning ground. They will reproduce their good stock of heirs who will continue their traditions. Then, once back to their roots, their spawning ground, the salmon will give up their lives because their mission in life is complete.”
I could hear this sermon from ten years ago echoing in my ears. My mother was back to her spawning ground, and she was done producing on this Earth. Leaving me behind to keep fighting the current, someday, I would return to this place from my own death.
In the meantime, she was leaving her greatest possession behind with me. Worrying the most about Stacey, Mom wanted us to have the chance to taste the Heavenly salmon. Knowing she left Stacey in the correct place on Earth to taste that salmon, she revealed a plan to me.
She simply said, “I’ll be back for you.”
Shaking my head in true amazement, I noted, “I don’t doubt it.”
Mom was notably weaker. All this entertaining was hard on her cancer-ridden body. She wanted ice and to be cooled off with wet face towels. I was chuckling as I passed through the living room. As I entered this room, I saw Susan with another nurse.
“You should hear all she has been saying to me.”
The nurse said, “These past few days we should have had a tape recorder so that people could hear all that your mother said.” Then, she added, “You should have written it all down so that you didn’t forget a word of it.” Neither nurse knew how clear a memory I have. I do not have photographic memory. However, I have “photographic ears.”
Actually, I was born legally blind. To enter kindergarten Dr. G. performed milestone surgery on me. He took my eye out and partitioned the muscles. Since I always had weak sight, I compensated with my ability to recall what I heard. I remember crashing through many walls that I didn’t see in time. However, I never lost track of anything I heard.
On college exams, I could bring myself back to the day of a particular lecture and hear the lecture verbatim. I could hear every inflection and mimic aloud the exact voice patterns.
Many people who hear this story about Mom spoken aloud by me can hear the exact rhythms in her speech. Mimicking her style of speech, I make spectators laugh as I recount these events. Through their conversation with me, people feel burdens lifted as they receive the message she was delivering. It is a message mostly about love and the non-ending condition of the inner being.
Looking right at these nurses, I reprimanded, “We don’t need a recorder. We have me. I am quite smart you know?”
They answered simultaneously, “We know.” I was perplexed as to how they knew because I never quoted any great philosophers. I have never explained an algebraic formula to them. I rarely brought up my professional status. I didn’t read hard words from Funk & Wagnall's dictionary. In their presence, I mostly wore jeans and a T-shirt as any unpolished kid would. So, how did they realize I was smart?
One nurse added, “How wonderful that you are close enough to your mother to be able to translate her thoughts.” She continued, “Many times these past weeks, I have not understood her speech. She doesn’t have her teeth in and her speech is slurred from the morphine.” She turned to Susan, “But this child gets every word. She understands every word.”
Susan said, “I knew she was a bright child the moment I met her.” In my usual take-aback way, I returned their smiles.
It was decided that it wasn’t necessary that we have a tape recorder available because we had me. Continuing back to Mom to give her the ice I was carrying, she was quieter. Much quieter. We just stared at each other. Then, she reiterated her messages, “Now, I am on the other side of the line. I can‘t come back to help you, here. There is Julie, Jenny, Stacey, and John.” Like a sudden revelation, “Oh, and there you are with them. Now, you take care of the children.”
I nodded in acceptance as Susan and the nurse entered the room. Susan checked Mom’s vital signs then we left the room together. Once in the living room, Susan spoke, “There has been a change in your mother’s color since my last visit. She is paler.” Then she warned, “Her heart is still strong and her breathing patterns have changed but not enough to warrant a retreat on Wednesday.”
“She will be gone Wednesday; you are wrong.”
In spite of scientific fact, my mother would be gone tomorrow. Today, I knew God’s word was stronger than morphine and could bring change in our lives. If He told her she would be leaving on Wednesday, who were we to doubt Him?
Finally, Susan told me of similar stories where people were close to predicting the hour of their death. However, then, she added that possibly I mistranslated the prediction. “Quite possibly, she said that she was leaving next Wednesday.”
“No, “I broke her lecture, “She said she was leaving on Wednesday between 7 and 9 OR she’d have to wait another week.”
“Like I said, maybe, she said she would be leaving next Wednesday, a week from now.” She went on to explain my mother’s condition.
Then, Margie appeared. Susan took time to discuss the signs of approaching death with us. We got a lecture on the breathing changes that would occur before the coma and death. She told us that short of a bleed out, Mom had more time left than a day, in her professional opinion.
Next, we talked about Mom’s behavior. She said she’d seen people raise their hands to praise their Maker. Mentioning candidly that most raise them to the left, Susan figured that this meant Heaven opens to the left.
In the middle of our conversation, the Hospice nurse on duty said that the anti-nausea medication was low and so were the diapers. In fact, there were no diapers left. There was only one bed pad left as well. I was chosen to go pick up all these things.
“Are you sure we need it? She is leaving tomorrow.”
Angrily, they told me, “Cindy, go get these things, please!”
Halfheartedly, I drove to the wrong store, calling them back for better directions. Many times to be sure a prescription can be filled; the Hospice people call many pharmacies. They forgot to mention which pharmacy had what I needed. Going to the store where they filled the prescription last time, I was lost.
Margie answered the telephone. I asked her if I was about to waste money when Mom was leaving tomorrow. We giggled, and I went on to pick the necessary things.
As I paid out $27, I thought, ‘This prescription will never be opened.’
I couldn’t find bed pads. So I went back to the house for further instructions. This time Margie left with me on the journey to waste money on products our mother would never use. Margie knew that I was right. However, to please Dad and the nurses, we were about to waste more of my money.
Upon our return, Susan left and Margie’s husband wanted to leave, too. So Margie could stay, I offered to drive her home when I left. Alone, Andrew went home, and we stayed.
One of the Hospice nurses had told us an eerie story about an old woman she had taken care of, “It was late so I went in to check the very quiet woman. As I entered the room, I saw a glow just above her body. As I turned on the light, the older woman, who was alive, looked startled. This old lady told me she’d been outside her body. Within minutes this lady died.”
It became apparent that in the hours we spent driving all over town and talking to the Hospice people that my mother had become unusually quiet. It was near 10P.M. when the nurse, Margie, and I raced down the hall to determine why this lady, our mom, was suddenly so still. There was a low intensity light on in the room. Finding her alive, they changed her diaper, opening the package of bed pads just purchased. Placing one under Mom was hard because she was barely conscious and not really responding.
Then, they spent ten minutes or an eternity trying to awaken her. I stood back simply watching them. Finally, Mom responded to their pleading to wake up. She looked around quite groggily. Then, she tried to talk to Margie but her speech was measured. She was having difficulty speaking and breathing. The nurse gave me an all knowing look. Without words I responded that I knew what was happening.
The coma was hours away, and this Hospice nurse was conceding victory to me as well as my mother. She knew I had known the secret and known it correctly.
Looking at her, without words, I said, “I knew it would be tomorrow. After all, the message was from God.”
Finally, Mom asked timidly, “Is Cindy in the room?”
Advancing to her side, I noticed that she had shortness of breath. She kept trying to speak. Stopping her futile attempts at speech, I assured her, “I know; I know.”
She managed to say, “Cindy, I...am...sorry.”
After a lengthy pause, I blurted out, “You never asked for cancer! Don’t be sorry!”
She attempted to get her feelings to me, “I...am...sorry. I...” The pauses between words were unbearably long. Margie and I feared she would not complete her speech. Then, Mom continued, “...can’t remember.”
“Remember what?” I pleaded. Then it popped in my head, “The words to the prayers?” I aided. She nodded in compliances. I began the “Our Father” and then the “Hail Mary. “ When I got to one part of the prayer of the “Hail Mary,” I said it strongest, “Holy, Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, NOW, and at the HOUR OF OUR DEATH.” The prayer was for now because it was approaching the hour of her death. Then, we told her good night. She nodded, and we left.
The tears were on the brink of falling from my tear ducts. I had a massive headache as I fought to stay strong. This time I was at the door with her but her stretcher was not heading for an operation. Her guide was pushing her through the gates of Heaven. Thus, she couldn’t return. Meanwhile, no one was paging Dr. P. for surgery. This was the last awake mother I would see in my lifetime.
On the way to Margie’s apartment, it was decided that I’d check on our mother on the way to work. Unless it was over, I’d stay until nine. If she was still not in a coma by nine thirty then I’d go on to work. If she was in a coma, I’d call Margie at work. In fact, either way, I’d call Margie.
“What will you say?” She questioned. “How will you tell me over the telephone?” I had never had to spread news of a death in the family. I had never had to watch a loved one die. I wasn’t really sure how you handle such occasions.
So, I quipped,” I’ll simply say Mom’s on the roof and I can’t get her down. ”Instead of being morbid, we were hysterical. I raised my head towards the Heavens. It was a clear, still night. I was sure that tomorrow I would place that call to Margie, but I was not afraid. Margie left the car. I watched until she arrived safely to her apartment. Looking up to Heaven, I saw a crystal clear scene full of pristine stars shimmering as my heart released my mother to her destiny.
The reason we laughed so profusely was that Dad had a joke he told often. There was this family with two boys. The brothers were many years apart in age. The eldest was getting married and moving away. To comfort the younger brother, Timmie gave the baby brother his cat. The cat was quite old and died suddenly. The younger brother called his married brother who lived miles away. When the brother answered the telephone the younger brother blurted out, “Timmie, your cat is dead. I am sorry.” The eldest brother reeled back in shock and told the younger brother never to do that again. “Prepare me for the shock. Start by saying that the cat is on the roof and I can’t get it down. Then add, ‘the fire department can’t reach to the cat to help it down.’” He added, “Then, tell me the cat jumped and the vet is looking after the cat. Later, tell me the vet had no luck and the cat died.” The younger brother seemed to understand the way to give the brother bad news in the future. A few months later, the younger brother had news of another death in the family. He called Timmie and said, “Timmie, Mom is on the roof and I can’t get her down but don’t worry because the fire department and the vet are all here. And, I think she is going to be okay.”
Later that night, I called my brother telling him that Mom knew he was going to be late. Mike couldn’t cope with the thought of death. I wondered how he’d cope with the ashes that he wanted to sprinkle after her cremation.
Late Night Telephone Calls
I was awakened by a late night telephone call. It was my brother returning my call. He was calling to find out how everything was going, really going. I told him about the call from Tommy and the sleep of death.
He asked if Dad needed him, yet.
Our plans were to have him help our father through the ordeal once we knew death was on the way. I informed him that I’d called him on so many false alarms that he should call the nurse on duty, get her opinion, and then call me back. He said that he had a suitcase packed for a month and could arrive in an hour if he took back roads.
I was unsure of what to tell my brother since I had beckoned him to our parent’s on so many false alarms. This time, I didn’t want to decide. Thus, he called the Hospice nurse on duty.
This nurse was still at the house. She explained that our mother still had some life left in her, and he could wait until morning to come by.
“Don’t wake Dad up if death comes in the night.” He gave her his telephone number. “When you need me, I can fly down back roads and get there in less than an hour.”
My brother defied any policeman to try to stop him if he was on his way to help his father. The nurse smiled through the telephone and assured him that our father would not be disturbed. This message spread through the changing shifts so that all those on duty knew the procedure to employ when Mom decided to leave.
Calling back, he reassured me that he had time to get here even though his workload was heavy tomorrow.
“I’ll try to come by after work Wednesday because, for some reason, I left my schedule free from Thursday to Monday.”
We agreed that I would handle things until he could get here. Since he was the chief breadwinner and owned his own business, I knew his immediate family came first.
“I love you,” became a phrase I heard from everyone including my brother, both sisters, my grandfather, and family friends. It took the place of good-bye at the ending of our conversations.
Tuesday morning, when I went to check my mother before work, she was resting and still alive. During the sleep state, her eyes were still ajar. Walking up to her, I flushed her morphine pump with the saline solution. Then, I tiptoed out to work.
I had not seen much of my husband so I planned to go to lunch with him instead of visiting at noon. I informed the nurse on duty of this fact as I exited the house.
In her giddy way, she offered this consoling phrase, “You deserve a break. Go! We will be fine. I will call you if we need you, today.”
Either Monday or Tuesday, I met my director in the hall again. I gave him a brief overview of these past few days. “If she is right, I won’t be in on Wednesday.”
Encountering my supervisor in the hall, he pulled me into an empty conference room because he knew I was upset. We talked as I remembered the last time in that conference room. I was reprimanded for “selling real estate” on company time. Repeatedly, he reassured me that he had never seen me act anything but professional. This boss tried to give me sympathy, today. In spite of my innate ability to see the brighter side of things, there I was in sorrow feeling alone.
Returning to my desk, I watched the clock. The rumors in the halls were about layoffs and departmental reorganizations. In fact, my real estate accuser-enemy was blaming his failures on everyone else. Holding a grudge about the real estate lie, I was glad because his days were numbered.
Usually, I defend the underdog and look for the lighter side of life. My tendency is to go out of my way to point out someone’s good qualities. However, today, at lunch, when my husband confirmed the rumors, my soul screamed out, “Yeah!”
Every time he was turned in for a true transgression of his duties, this co-worker turned me in to my boss for talking to people in the halls or on the telephone.
After lunch, I ran to my friends’ desks and chirped, “I can’t wait to see what happens to him!”
We all agreed that he deserved to be demoralized. Then, we began to joke, “Want to buy a house?” The question was loud enough to make multitudes roar with laughter. This time I was causing a work stoppage but only because so many had him on their bad list.
At the end of the workday, I did what I had done for the past month. I sent a status report to my supervisor with a courtesy copy to my teammates. Then, I sent my immediate supervisor a reminder. The ALL-IN-ONE computerized memo read something like, “Mom says she is leaving on Wednesday. This is Tuesday. If she is right, I won’t be in tomorrow. Thank you, Cindy.”
On the way out I flew by Ali’s desk to tell him the same thing. He was a good friend and talking with me about my mother helped him deal with his wife’s cancer death. Talking to him gave me strength. He told me to call and let him know. He wished me the best. Then, I left for my parent’s house.
Once there, I called my aunt and told her the status. I told her that my daughter, Jenny, was seeing angels. She was a religion teacher at her church. She responded, “Sometimes, when it takes a long time for someone to die the devil knows it is about to happen. He sends out dark angels. So, God sends out his troops to protect the innocents. That is why the children involved can sometimes see these angels in our presence. They are there to protect the babies.
Then, I went down the hall for one of the last times.
The telephone rang when I got to my mother. It was one of her friends. She cried her goodbyes to me then spoke to my father on the extension in his bedroom.
My mother was very still. I commented, “She is tired from all that entertaining she has been doing since Thursday.”
The Hospice nurse agreed, “A call is in to Susan, the RN on this case.”
Usually Susan only came once a week. However, we had seen more of her lately.
I Don’t Like Mondays
I couldn’t wait to get to work to talk to my friends about the predictions. As I stood in the computer lab talking to Ann, others began encircling me. I told them about Saturday and Sunday with my mom.
Some co-workers were just curious while others stood in amazement. Few could totally figure out why I was not crying as I spoke.
There was one friend who had lost his spouse to cancer. We became good friends. He sat and listened to my stories comparing them aloud to his own wife’s death. As he cried, I comforted him with words of faith.
When I arrived at my parents’ house after work, the Hospice nurse was perplexed. My mother had been talking about people named Betty and Tommy all day. I knew exactly who they were. Betty was my mother’s only sister. Tommy was her only brother. The age difference was large between Tommy and Mom. When he was a baby, she was like a mother to him. She was still talking about her family as I entered the room.
They were playing a game in her mind. Repeatedly, she chanted, “Now, you see me. Now, you don’t. Now, you see me. Now, you don’t.” Intermittently, Mom called out the names of her brother and sister.
Observing this game, I asked, “Who are you talking to?”
She was facing the window and could see the sky. Today, the sky was baby blue with very few clouds. It was a crisp, clear winter day. The sky was quite beautiful, and she was seeing it as if for the first time.
“Ooooh, isn’t the sky beautiful, today?” Her hands were outstretched to the Heavens. Indeed, it was the kind of day that fills the soul with peace. We shared a warm feeling. However, the atmosphere was just brisk enough to be invigorating. Finally, I agreed that her view was lovely. When I told my mother about Ali, she smiled. In fact, she smiled a little more this last week.
Craig and I met in the halls at work that particular day. He was a longtime, family friend. During our discussion, I told him my mother was leaving on Wednesday.
“Then, I’ll drop by after work to pay her a visit.”
As I walked toward the bed, the front door bell rang. Craig arrived. I was not sure where my dad was. The nurses were changing shifts. Therefore, I ran to get the door. Upon returning to the room, we heard complaining to someone.
“Where is Tommy?” My parent demanded.
“In Tennessee,” I answered.
“Why don’t you let him in? You let Edith in. Why won’t you let Tommy in?” Mom began questioning quickly.
“He is in Tennessee, but I can find him. I can ask him to call. Should I ask him to call you?”
As I picked up the telephone to call my aunt for help, Craig moved to the right side of the bed so that she could see him. I told my aunt that my mother demanded Tommy’s presence. She assured me that she would contact her Dad and have a message sent to Tommy. Then, she talked to Mom and reassured her that Tommy would call.
Mom worried aloud, “I am leaving between 7 and 9 or I have to wait another week.” Possessed, she rambled on about loving everyone who missed saying good-bye to her.
She began telling Craig he had a good family. I had to rephrase her sentences because they were becoming jumbled. The Hospice nurse was in the room this time. She commented that I must be close to Mom to be able to translate her speech. “She hasn’t got her teeth in. I have a hard time understanding her at times,” the nurse added.
Craig commented that he wears dentures, too. That’s when my parent broke into some new rambling about babies and how they are born without teeth. “But, we still love them.” She began comparing herself to a baby. “I love you, Craig, even if you have no teeth. I love you like I love babies.” Mom went on about her love for all people.
Then, she did the most unusual thing. She demanded a book from me. It wasn’t just any book. “I want the book over there,” she motioned to a place in the room where there was just empty space. Complying with her wishes, I got this mysterious book.
“This book?” I asked timidly.
“Yes,” she confirmed.
Call it intuition; I carried it as if it were open. Somehow, I knew the book was open. I placed it under her face as she pointed, “See! Right there! It’s my name!” With terrible fear in her voice, she started screaming, “Oh! Oh, no!”
She pointed, “See! See! Right there, it is your father’s name.”
I questioned her for more details, “What is this book?”
“The Book of Life! See there is your father’s name near my name. Here, you take this book and give it to Craig. You live on.”
My mother motioned for me to give Craig the book. He complied with her wishes and took it from me. Then, she began melodic singing, again. Raising her hands high into the air and to the left, she sang out, “Pray for Ed and Jean Meyers. Pray for Ed and Jean Meyers!” Over and over again, she repeated that my father, Ed, was right behind her, Jean, in line.
Escaping to the living room, we found the previous shift nurse finishing her daily reports. “Do you know where Dad is?”
The nurse mentioned that she sent him out for a prescription, but she was a bit worried. “He has been gone hours.”
Craig gave me an all-knowing look as we muttered about what my mother had just told us. I said good-bye to Craig and returned to a much calmer mother.
When I called my husband, he informed me, “You father took the three girls out to feed the birds and play. Then, they went out for ice cream.”
Finally, Dad returned. My father arrived back home hours after the prediction that he was, also, near death. He hadn’t heard the proclamation. As he stood in the room where Mom observed the book, he was unaffected.
Looking at the nurse, I was relieved to see him home alive. She whispered, “Never tell him what she just said. NEVER!”
It was instinctive. I would never utter a word to him about her prediction.
My mother said to Dad, “Leave the room! I can talk to you anytime.” Once alone, she informed me, “I am leaving between 7 and 9 because, if I don’t, I have to wait another week.”
Putting the complete message together, I asked, “Are you telling me that you are leaving this Wednesday so that you don’t have to wait another week?”
“You got it!” She drifted into slumber. I left her to a peaceful sleep. She entertained non-stop since Thursday but her time was drawing near. It was time to sleep.
About 7P.M., from the living room, I could hear voices. Going to her room, she told me plainly that her mother was back. Along with other invisible people, they were making plans for Thursday.
My mother’s Aunt Dorothy was one of the guests. At least twelve years ago, Dorothy died of bone cancer. Back in November, her husband, Bob, had a massive heart attack. Although he survived, my mother still worried for him and believed she saw his deceased family members standing near her deathbed.
Suddenly, mom blurted out, “Oh no! Oh no! It is a bad sign.”
“What is a bad sign?”
“Patricia, Patricia, someone just died?”
“Who is Patricia?”
“I don’t know but she is just a baby in the church. Someone just died!” My parent tried to explain.
“Why is it a bad sign?” Having the nerve I asked.
There was no room to speculate because immediately she informed me, “I am closer to the front of the line of people headed for Heaven.”
As she slept, I left for the living room to watch television. I hadn’t watched much television in these past few weeks and didn’t watch tonight, either. It was turned on and I just stared. Once she woke up, my mother’s chanting could be heard over the sound of the television.
Leaving down the hall, my mother noticed my presence, questioning, “Is that old lady in bed with me dead, yet?”
Approaching her bed and looking in amazement, “What old lady? All I can see is you.” Continuing to search for the old lady, I added, “No, Mom! I don’t see a dead lady in this bed. I only see you.”
Admittedly, the chemotherapy had taken most of her hair. Therefore, she looked older than her years. My mother lost other relatives to cancer. Remembering her cousin lost his life to brain cancer five years ago, at the time, I heard her say, “At the funeral, my cousin looked older than his own father did.”
I knew what she meant because she looked so old and tired. As I stood puzzled at all these happenings, she continued to point at herself as if she was stationed above, “I mean that old lady. Is she dead, yet?” Clearly, she was pointing at her own body.
“Then, that is a good sign,” she reported as the telephone rang.
It was my Uncle Tommy calling from Tennessee. He asked if she would know if they talked. I assured him that unlike some terminal patients, she was quite aware of who everyone was. As more than one Hospice nurse commented, she will likely keep all her facilities to the end. Mom is not going daffy like other patients do on such high dosages of morphine.”
Sure enough, my mother recognized Tommy’s voice. “Oh, good, they let you in! You’ll have to talk. I can’t talk much. One of us is dying. I don’t know who but it is someone in my room.”
Exiting to the living room, I listened in on the extension. Tommy and she spoke of loving each other. Eventually, she told him to do all the talking because she was dying.
Afterwards, I talked to Tommy. Assuring me that he would come for the funeral, he added, “I didn’t come sooner because I was told she only had three days to live and all.”
Today, we were somewhere around the twenty-eight day and still counting. Just then, I heard a screeching in my soul. Panicked, I maneuvered to get off the telephone running to Mom. The nurse was just leaving and told me my mother was sleeping.
Questioning, quite stunned, “She is? Positive that I heard her holler in pain, “How could it be? How could Mom be sleeping?” The painful scream was hers but no one else seemed to hear her. I knew her brain was hemorrhaging or something. I could feel it in my soul.
Sure enough, she was quiet when I reached her so I left still numb from the experience. Moments later, the nurse went to recheck Mom. Returning to the living room, the nurse had a strange look of fear on her face. “Who was it that called her?”
This nurse told us many times that my mother was ready for Heaven but someone or something was unfinished. “She might be waiting for someone,” this nurse would venture to guess. Tonight, that someone arrived. For the first time Mom was in the sleep of death. “Who called? Who called?” This nurse demanded.
“My Uncle Tommy.”
“That’s the one! That’s the one! Come here, let me show you!”
We went down the hall to find her asleep. Her eyes were ajar. “The sleep of death,” the nurse explained. “Stay close to the house because it is happening. Your mother is ready to leave.” Mom overheard our whispers and woke up.
“I am at the doors of Heaven, again. I have passed over the waters and am at the doors of Heaven.” My mother wanted to sing and pray.
“Margie is on her way. We can do that when she gets here.”
She wanted to know why Mike, my brother, wasn’t there, “I told him to bring two bottles of water. I need them, now.” Telling me she was on the other side and couldn’t come back, Mom kept waiting for me to understand these messages.
“Where is Margie?” Mom asked, again, “Where is Mike?” I informed her that Mike was home asking should I call him. She simply shook her head and noted, “Mike is always late.” She asked where Debbie, my older sister, had been. I told her Debbie was in Key West but had telephoned often. She told me to tell Debbie and everyone who was late that she loved them.
In her final moments, my mother admitted she even loved Debbie. My soul screamed out, “YES! Way to go, Mom.”
Repeatedly, she said, “I am on the other side of the line and can’t come back to help you with the kids. “ Pointing in the air, “Now, I am here. There is the water between us. So, I can’t come back from this side of the line. Now, you take care of the kids. There are the kids! Now, there is Julie Hanson, Jenny Hanson, Stacey, and John.”
My mother told me a secret about a bride and groom. We should all throw rice at the bride and the groom. Or, was it throw ice? Ice had become her lifesaver. When she was parched, we’d feed her ice. We’d put it on her feverish body. It was refreshing to her. Thus, she wanted the bride and groom to have ice thrown on them.
While she revealed other secrets about the future, I repeated them back to her making sure I got them right. I was like a parrot trying to make sense of it all. One of her heirs will have a baby from Heaven.
The name is Mary. Another will have a son named John. One will marry again. This time happily. To keep these predictions from being forced into existence, I will not tell you exactly whom she attached to each event.
Continuing, Mom insisted that a person named Margaret or Mary was related to this cancer episode in our life. I thought my mother meant our Aunt Mary, who died from cancer at least ten years before that night. This lady was really a very elderly cousin that out of respect we called aunt. Wondering about the significance of Patricia and Mary, I had to find Patricia. The same persistence in my soul that made me long for the Holy Water (from Lourdes) caused the search for Patricia to begin.
“Who is this person named Patricia?”
After this conversation, I went to the rest room. Upon reentering the room, Mom wanted to know, “Was there ice in the bathroom? Was there ice in the bathroom? Does the bathroom have ice?”
Booming back at her, “Come on! You just like to hear yourself talk! If I went to the kitchen or living room, I ‘d probably come back to hear you question about the ice being there.” Ice became her thread of life. We fed it to her by the bag full in these days. “You just like your own voice”
“Right!” She admitted.
When Margie finally arrived, I was too tired. Therefore, I left her to sing and pray with our mother and the nurse.
According to Margie, they talked about another baby from Heaven named Regina. They talked about salmon that Mom ate at age ten.
“It tasted so good, like fish from Heaven,” Margie retold this event mimicking mom‘s voice inflection and gestures.
Reaching in the air, she caught a heavenly salmon and wanted my sister to tell Stacey and me to eat and enjoy it. Obviously, she was still worried about the two of us.
On my way home that night, I saw a friend’s light on, so I knew she was awake. Stopping the car, I knocked at her door. As I arrived, this friend was just preparing tea. She offered me a cup of herbal tea. Usually, I turn down exotic teas but I was ready for company.
Sitting down to sip the tea, I informed her, “The end is nearer today than ever.”
I recounted these activities including the sleep of death. Asking to use her telephone, I called my aunt. I told her, “Mom was waiting for Tommy to visit her.”
“If she leaves Wednesday, the funeral will be scheduled for Saturday.” As I hung up the telephone, my friend sat amazed. Then, we hugged as I left.
Upon arriving home, I called my brother and left a message on his answering machine, “Mom said she is leaving on Wednesday between 7 and 9. So, decide what you need to do. She is still asking for two containers of water for her journey. I don’t think she is leaving to go shopping at the mall. Call me if you want to talk.”
The kids were still awake. I had told them their grandma said she was leaving on Wednesday. They were full of questions. Gently, I steered the youngest from the kitchen to her room. On the way past the fireplace, she pointed up and asked why all the angels were in our house.
“I don’t know why, baby. I guess God sent them.”
Jenny showed me her family picture drawing done at school, today. “Look, I added Stacey and John. Is that okay, Mommy?”
When I asked her who John was, she said, “It is the brother I wished I had. The angels told me he is real.”
Then, we both cuddled in her queen size bed and fell asleep.
Sunday - By Who’s Calendar?
At the doors of church, Sunday, I told Father Matt about the delivery demands, the invisible man in the room with us, musical chairs, and Wednesday. He reacted with a very large smirk on his face as I left.
After Mass, they held a parenting class. Since the kids attended Sunday school, I stayed to listen. I ended up sitting down next to Helen. She had been praying for my mother since the day she delivered the Lourdes’ Holy Water. Again, I reiterated the stories of these last few days including Mom’s Wednesday prediction.
“You mother is a character. Your father is, too. In fact, you all have a sense of humor.” Helen, who faced her own mortality, continued. “I pray every night for her peaceful death. Now we know it will be Wednesday. That’s so terrific! That’s so great! You guys are so funny! You need to write this all down. It is so unbelievably good. It is all so unbelievable.”
We giggled as the lecturer began her presentation.
After church, I dropped my children at our home and went to see my parents. Only my father and the Hospice nurse were there. I went on that traditional walk down the hall to Mom’s room. She was awake and complaining that God was taking too long to decide to take her. I asked her how her day was going.
My mother confessed, “I have been to Heaven and back!”
“Why did you come back?”
“No one would let me in as I knocked at the door.”
Venturing to guess, “It isn’t your turn yet.”
We talked about the waiting room. It was agreed that “Doctor God” would call her into his office when it was her turn. Only the Hospice nurse heard us talking. As my mother began her journey to the next world, Dad started fleeing to his grotto in their back yard.
My parents lived on five acres. In the heavily wooded backyard, my father etched out a path into the woods and set up a clearing or grotto. In bad moments, he wandered back there. Later on that day, I found him out back whacking a tree with the end of an old swing pole. He was aggravated by the Hospice nurse or something. His anger was taken out on the tree stump. Today, he was sure I would not be taking his wife to the shopping mall nor would he be taking her on vacation. She would not be getting better, and he knew it. However, he was stuck in a stage of grieving, “If I only would have done this or that...maybe.”
Finding my father, I asked him out for a coffee break. He answered, “Maybe later.”
So, I went back inside. When I walked in the house, the Hospice nurse was in the kitchen. I found my mother in her room alone or was she? Her arms were raised up and to her left as she chanted.
My mother was singing, talking, repeating, “Yes, we love you. Yes, we love you. Yes, we love you, the Man. Yes, we love you. Yes, we love you. Yes, we love you, the Man.”
The deliveryman was in the room because she kept calling to the “package man” as well. He was there to prepare her for her trip to Heaven. He would be her guide. She sang as I stood in the door thinking it sounded angelic.
I guessed, “They must talk like this in Heaven.”
Approaching her, she broke out of the chanting to tell me not to be afraid of all this stuff. I was not afraid and told her so.
She began taking off the sheets and lowering them to the ground as if to use them to shimmy down out of her bed. This action was a part of her great escape from this prison bed. It had been three months since she walked. Mom was ready to get out of here.
Then her hands began to fly just like Saturday. Only this time, it was not a butterfly but a magic carpet ride she was taking. She kept telling me not to be afraid of what she was about to do. I don’t remember any fear.
Suddenly, my mother looked past the package man who stood to her left. She reached high to the left and grabbed a hand. Since I was on her right side and no other human being was present, I could only imagine the hand belonged to God or Jesus or her guide the deliveryman.
As she fondled and kissed this unseen hand, she noted aloud, “Yes, you gave me my eyes to see; my nose to smell.” Dropping the hand, she was touching her body parts like a child does when they first learn the words to describe them. “You gave me my ears to hear. Yes, I am still here,” adding as she grabbed her body. Again, she took the hand and began to kiss it.
Then she cried out, “No, please, don’t leave. What? Oh, okay! I’ll see you on Thursday.” She broke right into melodic praising, “Please, package man, tell Him to come back to me. I want to go with Him.”
Heavenly conversation continued, “Yes, we love you. Yes, we love you. Yes, we love you Master.”
Today, the man who kept coming to her had been named. He was the deliveryman, her guide to Heaven. On that same day, the Master had arrived and taken her last confession. Though I could not hear His voice, I could hear her responses. The Master had told her that He would be greeting her permanently on Thursday.
She turned to me, “I am leaving on Wednesday. If I don’t leave by then, I’ll have to wait another week.”
Her date to revisit the Master was Thursday. This would be her judgment day. I fled the room in search of the Hospice nurse.
There was a shift change taking place. Thus, I told two nurses, “Mom says she is leaving on Wednesday or she’ll have to wait another week.”
They just smiled and said my mother was sure entertaining me. These nurses felt that she had plenty of life left in her. They expressed that maybe she meant she is leaving a week from Wednesday.
Reprimanding them I repeated, “She is leaving on Wednesday.” As I spoke, my mother continued talking and chanting.
Reentering her room, I didn’t want to miss a moment of this revelation. She asked where my brother was.
“I can call him if you like. He is home. Want me to call?”
I employed the nurse to hold the telephone for her as I dialed the extension. Upon reaching my brother, I listened in on their conversation. “Now!” She demanded, “I want you to get two containers of water ready for my journey. Not one! Not three! Do you understand?”
Of course, we didn’t but Mike answered in the affirmative.
“Get those two containers ready for my journey. Two, do you hear me?”
Again, he responded, “Yes.”
“I want you to come get Cindy.”
Jokingly, he questioned, “What do I do with her once I get her?”
“Take her to your home!” Undaunted, “Take her for a walk! I don’t need her anymore. Take her away! She needs a walk. Will you take her for a walk?”
“Here?” He inquired.
“Okay,” my brother told her he’d get the two containers of water ready for her journey (to Heaven). He did like Margie had done promising to take care of me.
We chatted a bit after she hung up. He hadn’t seen what was happening and conjectured that it must be hard for me to sit and wait for her death.
“Not really. I will be okay.” I proceeded to tell him about her Wednesday prediction. He offered a walk. I responded, “We can take that walk later.”
As I took a walk back to Mom, I heard her talking to someone. The nurse joked that she talks to all these people in the room. She told us there were a hundred people in the place and that they were sick people waiting. As the soul detaches from the body, it probably encounters other souls on their way to Heaven. Hundreds of souls were crossing her path on her journey. She wanted ice. Ice for them all.
She wanted me to get everyone ice.
As I pranced to the kitchen to get her ice, I sang the song, “Ice...Ice...Baby...too cold.” I rephrased it, “Ice...Ice...Baby...to go.”
When I returned, she made me give ice to the multitudes in this room. All the sick people got mock ice. She discussed the bottles of water with me. Mike was bringing her two. Repeatedly, she broke into chanting about love and the journey she was entering on. Next, I left to take my dad out for a cup of coffee.
My father tried to help me be strong with the notion that Mom was dying. I held back tears. He was dying, too. I could see it on his face. It was more than he could take. I had called the counselor for help but he rejected his counselors.
At the same time, he was trying to gain strength as he held my hand, and we cried. He spoke, “I know you love my wife. For that I am grateful.”
In his words, he apologized, “I am sorry for not loving you sooner. You were never my favorite daughter but in these past four months the crossover has taken place. I finally love you.” His words did not shock me because I was used to his mental illness. “I asked your mother what will I do without you? Your mom just repeated, ‘trust Cindy! She will help you.’”
He promised to help me, “I want you to have all the great things in life. I had a good child. I am proud of you, very proud. You love Jean. She loves you. I am to trust you.”
Dad held my hand but I didn’t get kissed. Mom did kiss the Master’s hand that day.
I arrived at my parent’s house later on this particular Saturday. As my mother let go of this world, I stayed home more. Arriving at 3P.M., I remembered back three or more weeks earlier when her doctor spoke with me. “Your mother has about three days left. At the most a week.”
He was not on target. However, Mom was about to reveal God’s plan to us.
When I arrived at their house the nurse informed me, “Your mother has been up all day and is finally asleep.”
Plopping on the couch that many times was my makeshift bed; I watched a VCR tape, Going My Way. It was one of those religious movies that my mother always had a vested interest in. As I watched, I asked myself, ‘why not? Why couldn’t miracles and messages be as real today as in Biblical times?’ I was sure God could do whatever He wanted.
Just then, the telephone rang. It was Father Matt checking in on us. I gave a health report on my mother as well as an update on our status and thanked him for calling. Basically, people called to see if my mother was still alive or if we needed their moral support.
As I hung up the receiver, I remembered a conversation about giving Stacey First Communion before her mother’s death. Then, my mother could attend the ceremony. However, along with the church elders, we decided that it was a bad move because Stacey would relate communion with death. That was a paradox. After all, if Jesus hadn’t died like He did His life would have been a lie. Then, we would not be practicing communion rites at all.
Again, this spiritual questioning caused my inner being to decide that God works in this world. In spite of out sophistication beyond primitive man and Biblical times, He remains in control.
As I watched a second VCR tape, Ben Hur, Margie arrived with her husband, Andrew. He watched a friend die of leukemia as a pre-teen. Thus, he avoided the hallway. However, my mother woke up and demanded all our company. More and more her conversation resembled proclamations.
Entering the room, she spoke, “Now, Cindy knows where I am going. Ask her! Ask Cindy! She is the only one that knows where I am going.”
“Heaven,” I interjected in the middle of her rambling.
“Right!” She announced like a teacher to a school-aged child. Mom heard Margie’s dog causing her to demand Andrew’s presence in this room. Then, the funniest things started occurring.
Mom began playing, “Now, Andrew I want you to sit in that chair. Move that chair!” She motioned to another one. Margie complied. “Now, I want you, Margie, to sit in that chair.” She flagged me down, “Cindy, you sit up there by the wall.”
Up by this wall hung a picture I painted in younger years. There was a shepherd holding a lamb and two children playing near a river. Today, during her game, I was placed near this shepherd artwork.
“Now, I want you to switch chairs.” She directed Andrew and me.
“Is this musical chairs?” I mused.
“Right!” She continued undaunted. “Now, I want you and Margie to switch chairs.” She changed her mind. “No, do it right! Move back to the other chair, Cindy. Now, face the wall.”
We told her we complied with her wishes. I kept whispering to Andrew, “Mother may I, yes you may,” as her game continued.
My mother explained that she was asking us to do a formula of events that if performed properly would help her leave. I thought it all looked so silly that I did not contain my laughter.
“If anyone were watching this family facing this inevitable death, these onlookers might think this family had gone insane,” I whispered in a voice only God could hear.
However, this game caused the first laughter I heard in this house for months. Incredibly, it was my own voice I heard. As for Andrew, he was given permission to carry on as well. The two most afraid of death were hysterical like school kids who hid the chalk in the eraser the teacher used or the snake popper in the desk drawer.
I remembered a conversation with my mother. It was about purgatory. As a child, I told her my religion teacher said we could pray people out of purgatory and directly into Heaven. By the number of prayers we prayed for departed souls, we could push them quicker into Heaven. I used to pray and play musical chairs with the souls in purgatory. I would line them up in chairs in this waiting room in Heaven.
Then, I would say to God, “Okay, with this prayer move the last soul to chair number one. Now move the middle soul to Heaven with my next prayer. With this prayer, move that soul to that chair. Next, move this first soul to Heaven.”
When I revealed the game to my mother, she asked what I thought God did. We decided that I moved plenty of souls to Heaven prematurely over the months I secretly played this prayer game. She felt all those souls were up in Heaven thanking the child that played musical chairs with them. Today, these souls were encouraging this game again. This time my sister, my brother-in-law, and I were in the hot seats while Mom was in the nearest chair to Heaven.
My mother continued today’s version of the game moving us close than away from Heaven. “Cindy, move to that chair by the corner. Now, switch chairs Andrew and Cindy.”
Immediately Andrew and I complied with all the rules, and like any playmate she changed the rules as she went. She made up the story as she spoke. We laughed outrageously. We all chanted that we’d performed the latest maneuvers. However, our mother told Margie she was cheating in this game. Margie was facing her not the wall but the last command was turn to the wall.
By that point, Andrew and I were hysterical. Andrew understood the jest and laughed openly. The Hospice nurse entered the room reprimanding us for our disrespect. Meanwhile, virtually unaffected, Mom continued with her fun.
Suddenly, my mother summoned us to her bedside relieving Andrew. He rushed back to his dog outside the room. He left quickly, very quickly.
At that point, she began talking about the man behind Cindy. “She knows where I am going, Heaven. “
The revival meeting began in earnest. It was similar to the Baptist type I picture in my mind. She started flinging her hands into the air, up and down and all around.
“Like a butterfly,” the nurse, Bernice offered. This lady replaced Linda when she went on a leave of absence. “You are making your hands drift like a butterfly in flight.” She dared question in the manner that I had been doing. “Are you flying, Mrs. Meyers?”
“Yes,” her response was quick. “Now, everybody, do this with me.” We began pretending our hands were flying butterflies, too. She was just getting warmed up. “Now, everybody gather around. I want the speakers who speak to speak to the speakers who speak to the speakers who speak.” The laughter erupted again.
The Hospice nurse gave us a disapproving look. The moment passed and my mother continued, “Now, everybody sing!”
We sang “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands, “Let There Be Peace on Earth”, “Amazing Grace”, and ended with “Mickey Mouse.” The last song is significant to us. One day, when I was young, we found a bird stranded without its mother. It could not fly. We tried to save the bird’s life but failed. We got a shoebox and constructed Popsicle sticks into a cross digging a hole for the burial ceremony. My older sister, brother, and I gathered around the gravesite with a handful of playmates. To show reverence, we decided to sing.
The Baptist neighbor suggested “Amazing Grace.” Catholics in that era didn’t know that song by heart.
The Jewish neighbor decided on a Hebrew song, which awarded him perplexed stares.
Then, Debbie, my older sister, recommended “Ave Maria.” Only Catholics agreed on that funeral hymn suggestion.
Finally, we decided on a song all children knew. Our parents heard the song sung and their laughter occurred as we chimed, “M... I... C... K... E... Y…, MOUSE.” Their echoes spread through the neighborhood. Though Margie was not even born when the bird’s funeral occurred, she heard Dad retell the event many times. Thus, we chanted our funeral song, today. This time Bernice although perplexed sang along.
My mother’s hands flew the whole set of songs and she looked like an energetic bandleader. She was in rare form, “Now, everybody pray!”
We recited the “Our Father,” the “Hail Mary,” and the “23rd Psalm,” and then ran out of ideas. Margie mentioned that she didn’t realize I knew that Psalm by heart.
I reflected back on my first year in college being left on a commuter campus by my older sister. It was way past time to pick me up. The wind was balmy and made me feel good to my soul but that night was very dark as well. For no apparent reason, I was frightened. All of a sudden the Psalm came to mind. I had only read it once but I memorized it. It helped the wait seem more peaceful. It had that same effect today.
Mom’s hands kept waving although the rest of us stopped being butterflies along with her. Suddenly, she demanded to be raised from the bed. The man was back, and he was behind my right shoulder as usual. She asked us to raise her and get her out of there. Everyone, except me, started trying to pull her weak body up. I was at her right hand holding it but not pulling her up.
Glaring at me, “You aren’t helping. Who are you?”
“Oh! Cindy! Pick me up, throw me over your right shoulder, and I’ll be in Heaven,” my mother demanded.
The nameless man was back. I tried to pry his name out of her. I knew who He was but no one else did. As suddenly as He arrived to break into the songs and prayers, that is how quickly she blurted out, “I am leaving on Wednesday.”
Spellbound, dumfounded, or a little of both, I just stood there looking into her eyes. They were wide open as she spoke to us.
“What day is today?” Margie inquired.
The man had apparently left because she tuned into our questions. “It is Monday!”
Margie almost told her it was Saturday but remembered not to help our mother count days. Instead, she asked, “How do you know it is Monday?”
“I don’t know what day it is, what day is it?” Like a flustered lost child my mother demanded.
We had been warned by Hospice and each other not to help our mother click off the days, hours, or minutes left in her life. We were supposed to help her live while she was dying. The unspoken rule was to make whatever time was left as enjoyable as possible. So, Margie continued more cautiously,
“Whose calendar are you going by?”
My mother really had no concept of time by this point in the cancer. We could see the tumor in her head bulging out from behind one of her ears. Constant questioning made her mad. The painkiller had effects similar to laughing gas as well. If you ever had laughing gas you know how frustrating it is to think or talk straight. Your brain knows the correct response but your mouth gets wrong messages. Due to the cancer epidemic sweeping her body, the morphine was at a very strong dosage and it was causing this confusion for Mom.
“God’s calendar!” She reproached Margie for daring her.
“So, you are leaving on Wednesday?” I tried to get to her point.
“You got it!” She responded.
Without a doubt, I knew two things. One was that my mother saw people from the other side and that these two worlds were sharing openly in that room. Secondly, that the man behind my shoulder gave Mom the key to the gates of Heaven. She was to leave and open the gates for her passage on Wednesday.
“Who told you so?” I asked for benefit of the others present.
“God told me,” she confirmed. Continuing as she turned to me once more, “Who are you again?”
“That’s right.” She added, “I am staying here for you.” My mother stared deeply into my eyes.
I was being tested for my inner strength and again it flowed. “You aren’t allowed to stay when God calls you. Please, go! Get out of here!” I didn’t want her to leave but she was already gone, her heart and soul just didn’t know how to quit. I didn’t look away this time as we continued our conversation.
Like a child scolded by their parent, she listened to me begging to stay with these words, “I have to go?”
Referring to the man that always stood behind me in this room, I answered, “Yes, if He comes again, leave.”
“I want to take you with me,” she injected as our eyes were still engaged.
There seemed to be an eternity in the pause that followed. I was good at acting courageous but the migraines were getting unbearable. “I can’t go. Who will take care of the kids?”
“That’s right. Okay, I’ll take Stacey, too,” she retorted remembering that now I had three children in my home.
Thinking about a time a few months back, Mom told me Stacey wanted to die with her. It took me since November to help Stacey realize that she was allowed to live. All I could do was worry about that child even more than myself and the loss I was facing. My friend who kept all my secrets was leaving me, and I couldn’t go on this journey with her. I had tasks left to do here on Earth. ‘Absolutely not, Stacey can’t go either,’ I reprimanded her in my mind.
Finally, I regained control of my heart pleading, “Don’t do that to Stacey. She can stay here with me. It’s not time for her to go. Stacey is a kid. Let her play while she is young.”
Mom looked at me a bit forlorn but continued in an excited mode, “Okay, then you can go.” As if she’d forgotten the first part of this conversation, “Just take a bucket of ice. Put it over your head. You’ll get cold like me, and you can go.”
In spite of the nurse’s disapproval, I giggled. Then, I thought, ‘what an oversimplified view of how to die!”
Mom added, “You can’t go?” I shook my head no. “What about Stacey?”
“She is safe with me. Remember you always thought I was weak. I am not. I am the strong one. Stacey will stay with me. You can go; we are okay.”
If my mother could cry she would have right now. In fact, I told her she could cry. Instead, she reported, “I am staying for you.”
“Stop, it is too painful. Please, go!” I reasoned with her. She stared into my eyes past reality and into my soul to see if I meant those words. My soul kept whispering, ‘Go, get out of here, I will be okay the next day. Go, get out of here, I will be strong enough. Go, get out of here, the Man is waiting for you.’
“Well then, I’ll miss you, “she conceded as if she had heard my thoughts as well as the spoken words. My mother had always told me you don’t miss people left behind once you are in Heaven; I let it ride without correcting her, this time.
Then, just like the host of that television show ‘Family Feud,’ she chirped, “Good answer! Good answer! All good answers!”
I heard the echo of the Hospice nurse’s approval in my ears. Bernice nodded adding, “Just right!”
My mother had my permission to leave. Now, she could choose the day. She told us repeatedly it would be on Wednesday. I didn’t doubt it. Again, we kept the world’s calendar a secret.
Later, I told Margie and everyone else, “We don’t want to force her prediction to come true so we are not going to help her count the days to Wednesday.”
For a few minutes, she became quiet. Then, my mother started announcing and proclaiming. “Let all the speakers that speak listen to my speech.” She sounded like she was reading a scroll like the messengers did in Biblical times. “Now, you all just arrived except Cindy.” She spoke to my family and the Hospice aide, Bernice, “Cindy has been here from the beginning but you just arrived. Now, I don’t need you anymore so take care of Cindy. Now, go home, I don’t need you anymore.”
By this point, Margie was chanting, “Okay, I’ll take care of Cindy. All of us will take care of Cindy.”
Mom continued her spiritual revival but it was coming to a close, “So, good night and goodbye! Good night and to all a good night.” Then, my mother closed her eyes saying, “Now, I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake. I pray the Lord my soul to take.”
This was a strange prayer for us to hear because we are not Protestant. However, it was apropos for this time in her life.
We left for the living room. The nurse told me the story of her husband’s death. He told her he was so sick he was leaving. Then, he did an extra-long prayer time with his children by his bedside. That night, he left her. He was only in his forties. She believed people could predict their own deaths. Adding, “They are given the key; and then they are guided by the Holy Spirit choosing the time to unlock the door.” Bernice said that some people show you the days they have left by how they play with your fingers or their own fingers. “They count down the days five, four, three, two, one, and then they leave.”
This nurse showed me with her hand. A closed fist signaled death. She told me her grandmother did the finger countdown to her last day. I believe Bernice was as sure as I was that my mother knew Wednesday was truly her date of departure.
“We shall see! Watch her hands!”
Thank God It’s Friday
On Friday, my brother stayed with Mom so I could be a computer programmer instead of a nursemaid. I was in the middle of the most transitional period in my life.
I called him from work and unlike the day before she was quiet. He told me that she said she was leaving soon. Mike added, “When I asked her ' where?’ she didn’t want to scare me and said, ‘shopping.’” We jested and taunted each other about whether there were shopping malls in the sky.
I remember when I was a kid and was taught that Heaven was whatever you wanted it to be. I wanted it to be a big carnival. Like any kid, I wanted to go to that twenty-four-hour party atmosphere. Secretly, I wished to die. Thank God He is too smart to listen to children’s wild dreams of Heaven. He didn’t answer my prayers for my own death.
That Friday evening, she summoned us all. Stacey was with me because we were all going to take Dad out for a reprieve, a night out with his remaining family. When she summoned us, Stacey flew down the hall to greet her mother. Way ahead of me, I couldn’t stop her in time. That same look Jenny had at Halloween was on Stacey’s face. This child had just seen near death and was fleeing back towards me.
I told her to wait in the kitchen with my husband. However, our mother demanded Stacey’s presence. My sister was forcing Stacey back down the hall towards our mother. Obviously, Margie had no intuition about this child’s fear. I quietly reprimanded Margie for making this child return to this room. Mom kept telling Stacey to hop in bed with her. The look of her face was a definite, “No!”
However, Margie lifted Stacey up on the edge of the bed. Mom acted like she needed to make a big announcement so we gathered around the bed. My eyes fixed on my niece’s face as I began a plan for her escape. My brother had children so he understood my unspoken signals and messages.
Thinking about another time, his oldest son came bopping into the kitchen just in time to deliver Mom’s turkey dinner to her. He took the plate from me, generously serving her. However, when asked for a hug, Ryan backed up. It wasn’t that the children were retreating from Grandma. Their problem was that this woman looked sick, old, and unlike her usual self.
“Stacey is going to go play now,” I interceded.
“No, stay. I need to tell you all something.”
We gathered to hear the latest proclamation. This time the grandiose message was simply that we should stay with her, forever. “Stacey’s just a kid. She needs to play. Let her go,” I pleaded.
After some futile attempts, I finally coaxed her into letting Stacey leave to go play with her friends. My begging worked. I motioned to my brother to take her out before my mother changed her mind. We were all hungry and running late for dinner. It was already seven o’clock. Finally, I got my mother to allow us to go out to get a bite to eat. She gave into my will, and we all left for a steak dinner at the best place, Cattleman’s.
After dinner, my husband drove Stacey to a girlfriend’s house to spend the night. The girl was one of her classmates who luckily lived in our neighborhood. Thus, my niece adapted quicker to her move. Meanwhile, our two children were with Grandma Helen for the night. The rest of us went back to visit Mom.
By now, it was apparent to all of us that she was leaving, and we were staying behind. This was the first night of many dinners with Dad. The goal was to help him cope with the loss about to occur in his life.
Man Behind My Right Shoulder
Susan read many books about life after life. In my parents’ living room, she told me a story about two children who had angel friends. One of the children died young. Before the death, the other child was told not to mourn but to remember their secret angel playmates.
We talked about omens. From the time my parents adopted Stacey, I told my mother, “When Stacey turns ten if she wants to live with me, she’ll be welcome. That way you can get a break from raising children.”
Now, at age ten, I received Stacey into my home permanently. I never consciously imagined I picked the right age for my niece to join my family.
“Then, at my sister’s wedding four years ago, I felt this awful feeling. I knew I was going to raise my older sister’s child. The worst part was that I felt my mother’s death four years ago.” Susan listened intently. “One night about six months before my mother discovered the initial cancer, I watched a cancer show. Grabbing my chest, I flipped the television off immediately. I knew my mom had cancer. I kept asking her if she did breast self-checks. She never did but answered in the affirmative, “I trailed off.
Susan explained, “These images are from God to prepare us for the future but most people tune the messages out.”
I blurted out, “I used to work with this guy named Roy. While leaving the pediatric doctor’s office with my little one, Jenny, we met. He had just been to the family practice doctor in that building. We talked briefly. He muttered something about going in to the hospital for tests.” Susan calmly listened. “My husband told me weeks later that Roy had pancreatic cancer. A few months later, I had a dream that Roy came to me saying it wasn’t that bad to die.”
“The next day, on the way to K-Mart department store, I saw a hearse. My heart said good-bye to Roy.”
I reported these facts quickly. “Days later, nonchalantly, my husband said that he forgot to tell me that Roy died. Peering at him bluntly, I answered, ‘I know.’” My husband thought someone else told me. The truth is that Roy told me himself. That is to say, God let me know the fate of this man through images.
Susan knew it was going to be a loss for me when death came. She spent extra time talking to me and trying to find out if I had the art of putting on a good facade. She must have wondered if I had unusual inner strength to draw upon. Unsure of my true state, this nurse kept sending Hospice counselors to find me. I counseled them instead of the reverse.
After all, Roy told me it wasn’t that bad to die. Mom told me it never really ends; you just go somewhere else. They were all teaching me about the afterlife. In return, I was teaching the Hospice people about fortitude and faith. The one person in the room that stood back in church apologizing for not being as strong in faith as the rest those present was now teaching. I showed them all how to believe the words they prayed, “Thy will be done,” not mine.
Margie was still in with our mother while Susan and I talked. They were having a discussion about pretending.
“How do you know I am sick and not faking it?” Our mother questioned.
Margie explained, “The test results prove you have cancer.”
They were facing reality. Then my mother drifted into slumber.
“Now is the time to release your mother so she can die in peace,” Susan recommended. “Each of you shares different relationships with her. Say your unique goodbyes. Do it soon.” She warned. The living room’s lighting dimmed as night approached.
Later, I walked in to say goodbye for the night. My mother was talking to a man. She told me it was a male. I asked His name. She told me she had not been told His name yet. I asked her where He was. She told me He was right there, right behind my right shoulder.
He hadn’t told her His name but I knew who He was. Jesus was here to receive her into His Father’s house. She didn’t have to reveal His name to me; my instincts told me His name. I wanted her to speak it aloud so that the nearby Hospice nurse could note it. Despite my best coaxing efforts, He remained nameless that night.
Upon arriving home, I spoke with my brother on the telephone. Telling him it was almost over, “I spent the whole day with Mom. Since December, I missed too much work. Even though my bosses are great about it, I feel indebted to work and to make up lost time.”
He volunteered for the Friday shift. It was his turn to say good-bye to our mother.
Sunrise, Sunset- Swiftly Fly Days
A telephone call interrupted my disenchantment. Evidently, Mom held my sister hostage. My sibling needed me to rescue her from her own mother. From what I could gather on the telephone, they were not having an “I’ll be gone to Heaven soon” conversation. I dashed out the door, hopped in my car, and sped back to see my mother.
When I arrived at my parent’s house, the nurse and Margie definitely were being overpowered by my mother’s strong will. Mom felt if she got in a chair on wheels, she could get out of the house. Her home was like the hospital. It transformed into a prison, a holding tank until death. My mother figured if she got out of bed that she’d escape the consequences. I raced down the hall to hear her demanding ice.
“What do you want to do with the ice?” I asked, peeved.
“If I put it on my body, I won’t leave,” she responded back.
“What?” I demanded sarcastically, “Cut it out!”
“Leave for where?” Margie questioned.
“Cindy knows. She knows where I am going. She is the only one who knows. The rest of them just patronize me,” my mother complained.
We talked about God’s waiting room, and how it is like a doctor’s office. You have to wait until your name is called, then you see Doctor God. My sister thought we were having a strange conversation but she decided to stay with us all day. We knew the end was approaching. As I calmed my mother, she went to sleep. Then, suddenly, someone in the room awakened my mom. It was her mother. This time Inez was not alone. There were others with her.
“Auntie, Auntie Dorothy!” Mom exclaimed while reaching forward.
Dorothy died from cancer about twelve years earlier. Mom claimed that Dorothy and my deceased grandmother were in the room. Margie scolded her for such nonsense.
“What are they here for, Mom?” I interrupted my sister’s doubting Tom dialogue.
“They are coming for me.” She motioned in the air as if to say, “Come here.”
I closed my eyes tightly while chanting, “Go with them! It is time. Get out of here.”
Then, she proclaimed, “It never really ends, Cindy. You just go somewhere else. God is taking too long to call my name.” My mother added, “There are many people waiting to go. Many sick people.”
Margie reprimanded us, “Stop making up such stories.” Then, she blasted me for playing along.
However, I felt my spirit moving when my mother was with these unseen people. We were not alone. I reprimanded Margie back. By then, my eyes were opened and fixed on my mom.
Just as Margie doubted it, again, the light in the room flickered on and off as Mom pleaded, “No, please! Don’t go!”
A few minutes later, she mentioned, “I was knocking at a door. They won’t open it for me.” She told me the door was closed to Heaven.
Calming the fear, I reassured her, “They’ll all be back for you.” I soothed her, “You need your sleep. You need the rest. Just sleep.” She slept less than soundly when her chatter began again. This time she was demanding a priest to come visit her in this hospital home because she said, “If they don’t come soon, the priests and nuns will miss me. The priest needs to come fast.”
The person who rejected the healing of the sick ministry was now demanding it. This ritual is a Catholic tradition that used to be called the last rites before death. The priest blesses the person, takes their last confession, and sends them off to Heaven. Due to her suicide, my grandmother never received a Catholic delivery that fact haunted my mother.
A couple weeks earlier, as we made funeral arrangements, I argued with my father who wanted a cheaper burial cost. He wanted to skip the funeral mass to save one thousand dollars in transportation and casket rental costs.
In front of my aunt, I debated with my dad, “Mom wants a full rites funeral mass because her mother was denied that at her funeral.”
In earlier days, the church refused to bury a suicide victim. My aunt and mother never got over the lack of a Catholic ceremony.
As I remembered that argument, Mom repeatedly demanded, “Tell the priest he needs to come here fast.”
“Which priest should come deliver you?”
“The black-haired one,” she responded.
Quickly, I called Father Jim, who was not available. Informing the secretary of my plight, she had Father Jim call within the hour. Returning to her bedside, I told my mother, “A priest is on the way.”
Mom still thought he would be late, “Everyone will miss seeing me. I will be gone, soon!” Then, her babbling began.
“Like a vacation, you are leaving on a vacation. Like your mom did,” I coached her. “Remember, you told me you got through you own mother’s death by convincing yourself she was on an extended vacation? Now, she is back to take you along on her trip.”
“Right! Right! Right!” She applauded my dialogue with her own speech.
“You had a long, hard life; and your job is done. Enjoy your vacation. I will miss you.” I struggled, “While you are in Heaven look out for me down here.”
“You betcha!” Then, there was an extended pause. Finally she bellowed, “Cindy, it never really ends! You just go somewhere else. But it doesn’t end. It just changes. Tell everyone who arrives late that I loved them. It is about love. Love really never ends. It just goes to another place. Do you understand?”
When the priest arrived, she demanded, “Does God love me? I want to know. Does God love me? Does He, does God love me?”
“Of course, He does,” Father Jim responded as I stood approving their conversation from the other side of the bed from him. “God loves us all.”
“I love God. I love Him. Does God know I love Him?” Mom rattled off. “I love everyone. Cindy, if they don’t get here in time, tell everyone I loved them.” She demanded repeatedly of Father Jim, “Do you love me? Who are you, the priest?” He acknowledged who he was as she continued without interruption or hesitation. “Okay, Father, do you love me? I love you. I love everyone. Let it be known that I love everyone.” Her speech became like a proclamation. “Do you love me and does God love me?”
“Yes,” Father answered without embarrassment or farce.
My sister and I observed this healing or anointing of the sick knowing this time it was actually her preparation for her delivery.
“Do I love you?” Mom was full of the same question about love.
“I hope so,” we all responded this time.
“Yes,” she exclaimed. “I love everyone. Do you think everyone loves me? I love everyone.” We all just smiled.
Then, the priest finished his rites over her deathbed and prepared to leave. My mother prepared herself for her delivery to the next world. In turn Margie and I prepared our hearts to let go and allow her delivery to take place. This event must be what God means by us coming to him like children.
I walked Father Jim to his car explaining how she was demanding her delivery. Speaking briefly, he ended with, “Even the most faithful among us gets scared of death when it is our turn. It is the fear of the unknown. It is normal. I see it often. They are not doubting God. They are doubting themselves. “
Upon reentering the house, I found the telephone ringing. It was the Hospice R.N. I told her my mother was greatly agitated, telling her about visions. She explained that we were in the beginning of our last week. She saw these behaviors many times. Susan promised to drop by later in the day. Arriving at 4P.M., she decided that the agitation could be caused by pain misplaced to the brain. With permission, she increased the morphine and recommend that we flush the morphine pump more often to keep the flow smoother. She began training Margie this time telling her to flush it once per day using saline solution.
Meanwhile, my mother demanded cokes, orange juice, water, and ice all day. Her low urine output sped up. Everyone pointed out her lack of vomiting, which resulted from being able to hold down and pass liquids through. It is not uncommon for a dying person to have a precious, short, false recovery period.
As we prepared the saline for her pump, she demanded, “Give me the saline! Give it to me! Cindy, did I get the saline, yet?”
“Mom, do you need the saline?” I questioned.
The fear caused a sort of euphoria for us as well. Thus, things our mother said and did make us giggle.
“Yes, it makes me feel sooooo good!” Then, Mom spoke to Susan. “If I take the saline, will I live?”
“It couldn’t hurt,” she answered in a matter of fact fashion.
“I want a coke! She requested, “If I drink a coke, will I live?”
“It couldn’t hurt,” Susan confirmed.
The bargaining had begun. My mother had passed through the three weeks of denial and was aware that she was dying. She bargained to live.
All of a sudden, the unseen deliveryman arrived. Mom spoke anxiously, “You need to take the package to the airport.”
The message was that she accepted her own destiny and her deliverer had entered her room. He was poised to fly her away.
See You on Thursday- It’s a Date
On Thursday, I walked in to my parents’ house to greet a very reserved Hospice aide. We talked in their living room. Then, I went down the hall.
In the room, Mom was babbling about Margie. I figured she needed to have an, “Are you going to be okay the day after?” conversation with my sister.
After a short visit, I left for Margie’s apartment. Due to her night school schedule, my sister hadn’t seen our mother in this euphoric condition, yet.
“You know the nice thing? She doesn’t barf anymore either. Her vomiting is shutting down, too,” I informed Margie. “Remember how every other sentence you had to hold the vomit pan under her? I talked to her a long time last night and no vomit. Not once!” The lack of regurgitation was such a relief that I wondered why I just now noticed that fact.
Margie took a detour to my parents’ house as I went on to work. Entering the plant, I saw my director. Again, he asked about my mother.
“She is shutting down. It is almost over.”
He reprimanded me for being at work.
“I’ll go if she needs me but I have a job to do, too.” My director and I met years ago when we were fresh out of college. We became friends. Thus, his comment emanated from that friendship instead concern as a boss.
I must have looked bad that day because many co-workers stopped me to talk about their parent’s deaths. One girl told me how heartsick she was because she missed the chance to say good-bye to her mother. This sprite, energetic girl had make-up running down her face as she reprimanded me, “Forget work! Your mother will be gone soon. I’d go be with her.”
My mom was past needing me; I was letting go of her as well. Many terminal patients give up things of this world slowly. For my parent, it started with giving up simple pleasures such as watching television and was ending with letting go of companions as well as loved ones. The ones loved most are the hardest to let go. Thus, terminal people may even deter encounters with relatives or friends. It helps them transition to death. My mother had her harder moments curtailing my visits so that she could heed the call of her Maker. For now, it was best for me to go on with my life by staying at work. Besides, many times in these last months I wasn’t visiting my mother as much as I was there to help a very lost father.
As a consequence, he called me at work often. Hospice nurses telephoned me to express their concern for him as well. All these interruptions got me in trouble with my supervisor. This boss thought these calls were real estate related because I had just left that profession. As my father and I discussed paying his cancer bills, often the conversation deviated to talk of selling his five acres and the house. It was decided that he would unload that house after Mom died.
One day, I was unjustly accused of selling real estate on company time. Unless I was Wonder Woman or people enjoyed house hunting at midnight, I doubted my accuser aloud, “When might I find time to sell real estate?”
With all this heartache, for the first time, I felt the loss of my mother except she wasn’t gone yet. In healthier years, my mother would have heard the absurd accusations. Of course, she would have taken my side. Overcoming the accuser’s insensitivity, I kept playing a song in my mind, which examines my link to my mother. The song is, “You and Me Against the World.” Fighting tears, “For all the times we cried I always felt that God was on our side.” Now, one of us was leaving and one of us was being left to carry on. I knew that the memories alone would pull me through. Mom would want me to hear her saying, “Think about the days of me and you; of you and me against the world.”
Armed with faith, I remained resolved in my belief that God hadn’t abandoned us. Even though from the outside looking in, it appeared that we had lost a major battle. I knew God would take care of me through all this sorrow. My mother was dying; there was no stopping destiny.
I remember a conversation with another friend, an active realtor. As she sat an open house on one of my old listings, she invited me over to fill the empty moments with conversation. We talked about missing people once they are dead. She told me stories of her dead relatives and her own personal fears. I sulked about my pending loss. However, as this friend reminded me, “You will never really lose your mother because she’ll always be in your heart and memories."
Those memories helped me get through all the events that came next.
In the hospital waiting room almost a month before this, my father and I sat awaiting a death verdict. As we waited, each absorbed in our own thoughts of Mom’s suffering in one of the emergency cubicles, Dad began recalling a vacation he took with Stacey and his wife last summer.
Stacey needed a break from reality. They visited Sea World, Cypress Gardens, and some other places. They rented a cheap hotel room actually enjoying the ordeal. However, this trip was a warning sign. In her heart, my mother must have known she was sharing their last vacation.
Once during a fight, through anger and denial of the cancer, Stacey screamed, “You will never give me a great vacation like the one I had last year because you are not my mom!”
‘She’s right,’ I thought. I could hear that television show with dinosaurs acting out human feelings. While pounding on another parent, the baby repeats, “Not the mama! Not the mama!”
Therefore, I found it funny that of all the things to be remembering in the emergency room, Dad reminisced about that very same trip. “When your mother gets better, we’ll all need another good vacation like that one.” He continued, “When your mother is better will you take her shopping because she just loves to shop even if she comes home empty handed.”
My father didn’t seem to have a clue that there would never be another vacation like that one for Stacey, Mom, and him. I drifted in and out of my own memories, so I waved or nodded okay. It appeased him, and he quieted down.
Today was almost a week since my mother announced that she wasn’t leaving because she hadn’t finished shopping. When I arrived to their house, Dad was troubled because my mother thought she was being held hostage and that he was imprisoned, too. Immediately, he asked me to go to talk to her. I marched down the hall to speak with her.
When I appeared in the doorway, she shot a piercing look into my eyes and motioned me closer. Suspiciously, she searched the room with her eyes, “Get me out of here!”
“Get you out of where? You are at your home in bed.” Unlike most of the family, I confronted her with reality. I reminded her of her terminal illness so that we could talk honestly about love and missing each other.
The fact that we moved her to a hospital bed on Saturday caused her confusion. Now, she thought she moved from her home as well. Mom’s realities were in half, and she didn’t remember the day we switched her. It was done for the Hospice nurses’ sakes. My mother’s back was deteriorating, and these nurses could no longer manipulate things to clean or change her. Plus, mom wanted to sit up in bed. A hospital bed was the only solution. It took coaxing that day but mom agreed to this change. However, today, her incoherent state helped her forget Saturday’s move.
“Remember we moved you to this hospital bed? Look around you. You are still at home.”
“But, all these strangers are here,” she complained.
“They are nurses. Remember? They help you around the clock. In order to leave the hospital, the doctor required their assistance.” I questioned while explaining.
“Oh, right!” She conceded regaining some of her memory.
My thought drifted to Saturday. We moved the daybed my mother used to my home. Stacey needed her bed back. Until then, my niece slept on a modular chair that converted into a bed. However, she wanted her own room at my house. My niece accepted that my house was going to be her permanent home.
One memory led to another. I contemplated the day I took Stacey to Chilis Restaurant to discuss her fate. Somewhere on the winding road out of our subdivision, I spoke with measure speech,” Do you know what cancer means, Stacey?”
Unlike my mother in her glory days, Stacey is not much of a conversationalist. Many times, my mom lectured rather than chatted with me. Or, she’d drone on about a problem bothering her. I could accept Stacey’s lack of dialog but the diminishing speeches from my mother were almost frightening.
“Really? It means our mother could die. Do you realize that?” I prodded for more than a yes.
“Yeah.” Wishing I could be a mind reader for a few minutes, I debated methods for this discussion about death. How do you talk with a ten-year-old about this topic? Meditating, I remembered that Stacey’s school and Hospice counselor failed to drag conversation from Stacey who remained closed mouthed on the subject of her mom.
As I watched kids on bikes dart on this winding road, I continued, “That means you will need a place to live. Do you want to live with Aunt Margie?” Maybe, a ton of questions would get me further ahead on this one-sided conversation.
“No, not really,” she responded as if she thought about this idea. Stacey had made up her mind, already but I had no clue what her solution was.
“How about Uncle Mike? Do you want to go to live with his family?” My list of names continued with first line relatives.
“No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, Dad can’t raise you alone but you can live with us. Then, you can be with him on weekends, would that work?”
“Maybe.” I began wondering what maybe meant. Did it mean yes or was there another alternative on Stacey’s mind?
“Do you want to live with Debbie?” I held my breath because this was her natural mother, my eldest sister.
“No, I want to live with Mom,” she retorted.
My mother was all Stacey knew as her mom because she raised her from infancy. My parents legally adopted her at age two. In fact, when my niece first babbled, “Mama,” Mom wrestled with the idea of what was right for this child to call her.
I explained, “A parent is the one that raises you not the one that births you.” On that day, my mom became my niece’s mother, too. Approaching Stacey’s pending loss, I tried to discover this child’s feeling about a replacement parent.
“If mom dies, you can’t go with her. You are still a kid. You are allowed to play and have fun. Your life is not over. You must live on. So, do you want to stay with me instead?
“That’s okay,” she answered with a matter-of-fact air.
“Then, that’s decided. You can live with me forever if you want.”
At this point, I remembered one evening at my dinner table. My daughter Julie led an excited conversation about our houseguest. “Stacey is still spending the night here. How long is she going to be with us?”
“Maybe forever,” I interjected. Julie seemed pleased with my response flashing a huge smile her cousin’s direction. That same look appeared on Stacey’s face as we exited my car at Chilis Restaurant.
As I meditated on these events, my mother looked at me. My mind wandered back to the day my husband and I fixed up our den to be Stacey’s new bedroom. Behind her back, we moved in the daybed then demanded she return from a girlfriend’s home immediately. As we entered the den, I chirped, “Voila!”
Once she got over her happy shock, I took her to find a matching dresser. That same day, I brought her to see her mother alive in the hospital bed. I didn’t want Stacey to think she had the daybed back due to a death. Visiting her dying parent, Stacey and Mom stared at each other. My niece appeared petrified. Finally, my mother motioned us to leave, adding, “Take Stacey shopping!” She implied that I was not to bring this child back to visit her anymore. It was too hard on Mom thinking about leaving this ten-year-old behind. She needed to cut the ties but that was near impossible to do.
As my thoughts drifted back to today, I notice my mother realized she was at her home. The only thing new was the hospital bed. The paranoid look fled her face as we chatted, mostly small talk. She dropped phrases here and there but, for a change, I was the wordy conversationalist.
The next day, after work, on my way down the hall, the nurse on duty encountered me, “How is my mother today?”
That afternoon, this lady mentioned, “You mother put the Hospice staff on alert.” This word, alert, stunned me momentarily. “We are no longer allowed to let her sleep through your visits.” Time remained critical. In our minds, we knew death approached but our hearts didn’t want to give up the ghost not even three weeks past the doctor’s prediction that she’d die within three days. “You are to wake her up as soon as you arrive!”
Many times in the last weeks, I checked a sleeping mother then left to do my daily chores. However, today, that routine ended. Starting immediately, Mom stopped sleeping in my presence. In fact, I never woke her up. When she heard my approach, she automatically awakened herself. She knew it was me by the rhythm and sound of my footsteps. Just like people recognize voice, she learned to distinguish walking patterns and accompanying sounds.
As I entered through her doorway, she rolled a bit toward me. I reached out and held her hand. Many times, I told her if anyone could beat the odds against cancer’s death it could be her. She was so strong willed. Today, our conversation suggested gracefully losing this battle as I asked her how she felt.
“I feel weird,” she stared at me perplexed.
I knew her system was shutting down, and she was backing toxins into her system. Usually people don’t survive a week once this occurs. It causes the person to sleep more and more as the rest of the body shuts down. The RN explained these facts time and time again to calm relatives down. Often, as I ease dropped, she explained the signs of approaching death to various family members in this way, “They go into a euphoric state because the toxins give them a drunken feeling. As the brain closes down, they seem to have less pain as well. Drifting into a coma, the body releases its energy. Some call this the soul leaving the body.” Once while talking to my brother, Susan added, “You mother taught you all your life how to live. Now, she is teaching you how to die.”
On that particular day, I was mad because I felt my mother was stuck in bitter denial. She seemed to reject death and Heaven. She discarded everything she taught me about God, and I was heartsick. Thus, it was my turn to teach, “You feel weird? Do you feel dizzy or like you had too much to drink?”
“Sort of,” she responded as the Hospice nurse ease dropped this time.
“Are you sick? Do you feel any pain?”
“No, not really. I just feel weird.”
“Well, I guess that’s because you will be in Heaven soon,” I proclaimed. It is weird how I detached from reality in order to announce these sorts of things.
“I will?” She questioned and agreed simultaneously.
Remembering what Charlett discussed with me, I talked about her leaving this world and how I felt. ‘This conversation could be our last.’ I thought continuing. “Yes, your body is shutting down. You are getting ready to enter Heaven. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” she held my hand tighter. Fighting tears, I peered at the ground.
“Are you okay with that idea?” I demanded.
“I am if you are.”
“I am if you are,” I echoed.
She needed to know, “Will you be okay the day after?”
Again, I looked away, “I think so. I will miss you.”
I will miss you, too.” She agreed.
“Will you watch out for me from up there?”
“You betcha!” She declared quickly.
“Then, I guess that it is settled.” I heard Charlett’s approval as I added, “I love you.”
“I love you, too.” My mother added quickly, “I’ll be back for you.” Repeatedly she questioned me about how I would be about her death because she worried about my emotional state.
I responded, “I think I will be okay but I can’t be here the actual moment you die. I don’t think I can take the actual dying part, but I’ll be okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“I think so!” Meanwhile, I thought, ‘who can be sure how they will react?’
“Will you be okay the day after?” She prodded.
“I think so. I think so.” I muttered.
I talked with her about losing this battle with cancer. In spite of it all, I knew God was on our side. I didn’t totally understand why He was taking her life or why her road had been so treacherous. However, I just knew there was a good reason or a God reason for all this misery.
After that, other family members took turns saying good-bye to her. As I drove home, a few things came to my mind. First, I thought about how many more weeks, days, hours, or minutes she had left to live. Then, I wondered how my family was doing without their mommy. Finally, it crossed my mind that my husband never reprimanded me for drifting in to check on my children and him these past weeks.
This was the beginning of my last week with my mother. It was weird Wednesday.
Call from the Worried
The Hospice Counselors and nurses wanted us to believe that cancer was not all bad. It gives you time to talk and make peace. Sudden death is worse. I couldn’t think of anything worse than four months of acute pain, vomiting, and suffering.
I was dead tired as I entered my own house one day. My family was somehow surviving my absence. All my non-work, waking hours were spent at my mother’s bedside. My house was a mess; something that usually caused me stress. As I picked up some trash, the telephone rang. It was my mother-in-law. She was surprised to hear my voice.
Remembering her cancer is in remission, I told her all the bad news, “I hope you get hit by a truck! Do you understand what I mean?”
She lost it on the other end of the line. Finally, my mother-in-law responded, “There was a time we thought she would make it. Oh, Cindy, I am sorry.” The phone clicked to silence.
Without further explanation, she knew what I meant. Once you have been through cancer, you realize the pain of slow death is worse than sudden encounters. I don’t care what Hospice people preach, slow death is more stressful for everyone.
After I hung up the telephone, I pulled myself up into bed and suffered all night. During those hours of darkness, all my husband could do was listen to the muffled sobs and feel the erratic vibrations as I gasped for breath at uneven intervals.
That night, I remembered my grandfather. About four years ago, he was in danger of dying. He was scheduled for quadruple bypass surgery. My grandfather made the relatives track down my mother and her sister. He talked to them about their natural mother. He told them what a good woman his wife, their mother, was. It was a forgiving time as they discussed their mom who had committed suicide.
Never having met my natural grandmother, Inez, I knew her. She was one of my inner voices of conscience. Though my grandmother died before my birth, I felt she knew me.
The relatives who loved Inez automatically love me because they see her in me. What they don’t know is my secret. My grandmother is one of my guardian angels. That is why my mother always used me as her mom, her confidant. I was the link to her past.
As my thoughts wandered before sleep, I remembered a conversation between my mom and her dad after his bypass surgery. She told him she wished she could trade places. She wanted to take his suffering, healing him. For the man who raised her, she was willing to sacrifice.
I felt the exchange take place as my soul jumped screaming, “No! Be careful in your prayers and wishes.”
At the time, I didn’t realize the bond to those who raise and teach you could be so strong. Even I had bid for more days for a loved one. After all, I volunteered eight years for her from my life. Four years ago with her father, I didn’t understand Mom’s wish but I understood it, today.
The Holy family
I had another recurring dream. There was a dull light in the corner of my bedroom. It illuminated a picture of a mother holding her child. They delivered a message, “We are pleading at the right hand of the Father.” I knew that the prayers in Heaven were for my mother. They were preparing her way.
By now, it was January 9, 1991 and my husband’s birthday. On the way to work, I did my usual routine stopping by my parent’s house, talking to the Hospice nurse, and checking on Mom. When I arrived, the nurse on duty told me my mother woke up and wondered why she was still alive. She informed this lady that this was the day she was supposed to die while insisting a month had passed since she left the hospital. Actually, it was less than two weeks since she came home.
“She better not die today and ruin my husband’s birthday!”
My mother never really liked my husband but he had taken over the care of her child, Stacey. Now, she owed him some respect.
I informed everyone, “Don’t help her count the days.” Nor were they to tell her the calendar dates. “We don’t want her to count out the month she has left to live.”
After telling that particular nurse the plan, she smiled and I left for work. Seeing my director in the hall, he asked, “Why aren’t you with your mother? Isn’t she near death?”
“My project is scheduled to complete January 15. I have a couple of problems in the software left to solve.”
“Take whatever time you need to be with your family.”
My husband and director were leaving for Boca Raton on business. They would be driving, and were concerned as to where the nearest airport was in case my spouse had to make a hasty return. We chatted a bit more. Then, I informed my boss that my mother thought the doctor told her she would die that very day. We laughed as I told some mother-in-law jokes. After that conversation, the day remained uneventful.
My husband left on his business trip, and Mom survived many days past that jaunt. There were many false rumors that she was near a coma state. Various Hospice nurses informed Dad that this could be the day, and he’d call me confused. I’d call my brother, sister, and aunt. We’d all rush to her bed and nothing.
After this happened a few times, I informed every Hospice nurse, “Don’t burden Dad with her approaching death.” Adding, “Call me if Mom is in a coma or dead.” I’ll be the one to inform my father. Short of him walking in on one of these events, contact me first.”
Dad couldn’t bear all these false alarms.
As a consequence, the kitchen at my parent’s house took on the appearance of party time. We’d come to his rescue staying hours in the kitchen visiting. Finally, one day, my aunt called us all together to discuss putting Mom out of her agony so that we could all get on with our lives.
“They can just put her into a morphine sleep then she can coast right into death,” plead my aunt.
Sometimes, the nurses couldn’t help my mother when she became uncomfortable. The extra doses of morphine would already have been used up when “Break-through pain” would rack her body. I would flee out of earshot so I wouldn’t feel her agony. Tonight, remembering those hours of hearing my mother complaining, I feel mixed emotions. I couldn’t stand it anymore but in some ways death still seemed worse.
The other siblings had not experienced the suffering to this degree. They couldn’t understand Aunt Betty’s pleading. I wanted to see the pain gone so that I could rest. Simultaneously, I didn’t want to lose my mother. It was a problem that seemed unsolvable.
Meanwhile, Margie was mad at my aunt for butting in. After arguing, she left the table for a walk. Lighting up his pipe, my brother, Mike, followed her outside.
My parents lived on five acres in an area of dirt roads. It is a very quiet neighborhood and very dark due to the lack of streetlights. While Margie and Mike wandered the streets, my aunt expressed her feelings to my father.
“The kids only have opinions. She is your wife. You have the final word on this matter.” Speaking swiftly, “I can’t sleep while my sister suffers. Regardless of your decision, I can’t stand it anymore. I won’t come to say another good-bye after tonight.”
Betty wanted peace for herself and her sister. Who could blame her? The reality was that Aunt Betty was due for her own follow-up cancer tests this very month. What if the pain in her joints was breast-to-the-bone cancer! The same disease that was killing her sister could be consuming her as well.
However, Margie doesn’t empathize well. Thus, my brother was outside calming her. Finally, I left the table, too. Joining my sister and brother outside, we discussed calmly the ‘what ifs.’ It was a bit windy but still unseasonably warm. ‘Mom isn’t dead yet. The weather has been mild this year, and she hasn’t developed pneumonia,’ I ventured to think.
Speaking up, “I understand why Betty is asking us to put Mom in a morphine sleep state. She doesn’t want her to be so sick. However, I had to be the one to tell her that the cancer had recurred! And, I had to be the one to tell her she was terminally ill! I refuse to tell her we will be putting her to sleep!”
“It sounds like what you do to a dog!” Margie exclaimed.
“Maybe, we should ask her what she wants,” my brother reasoned.
Aunt Betty mourned when Mike said, “We are going to ask her. We can’t just inflict this mercy of sleep upon her.”
Betty went down the hall to talk about this plan with Mom. Returning to the kitchen, “My sister wants out of this suffering as much as I want it for her. Let me know what you decide. I cannot keep coming.”
While the rest of my family went down the hall, my aunt and I hugged in the driveway.
On my way back through the kitchen door, the Hospice nurse stopped me, “Are you really going to put that lady into a false coma state?”
“No, we are going to talk to Susan, the RN. Too often lately, mom had ‘break-through pain.’ She needs more morphine.”
After my response, this nurse was relieved.
As I entered her bedroom, I remembered two months earlier when my mother stated, “I will never get back to the master bedroom bed.”
Tonight, I believed it. I stood at the edge of the room thinking about people at church who would say they were praying for my mother. Always, I quickly responded, “Don’t pray for her as much as you pray for Stacey. Already on her second mother, Stacey needs your prayers. She is the one left behind again.”
My thoughts continued; I remembered my own petitions to God. Praying for Stacey, I offered eight years off my life if He would give more time to my mother. Stacey is being abandoned a second time. However, this mother is not leaving gracefully. She is fighting to survive. It was a Thursday night and T-minus two weeks. As per my instructions, no one was counting. In fact, no one helped count off her last month of life.
My thoughts were interrupted when our mother began to anxiously call us all closer to her bed. She wanted Dad present, too. Once we were all gathered, her glorious announcement began, “A month ago,” she began retching.
For four months, projectile vomiting racked her. By this point in time, we were all tired of watching this illness progress. The Hospice nurse gave my mother some anti-nausea drugs, which didn’t seem to work. “That drug is useless,” I whispered, unafraid of the nurse’s reaction to my comment.
However, she became a little calmer and continued, “I want you to know that the doctor is wrong. I am not going anywhere. The rumor that I am dying is false.”
Margie and Mike immediately kneeled at her bedside as if they were in reverent prayer. They kneeled and began chanting their approval of this miracle. This revelation was that she was not dying, after all. She hugged and kept speaking to them, “I have shopping left to do.”
Both siblings broke into rambling about how she would be taken to the mall by them. She could use their credit cards. They would facilitate her shopping.
“Anytime you want, Honey. Name it,” Dad sung repeatedly.
While this spectacle took place, I fled the room. My mother was rejecting all the religion she taught me as a child. I was mad at her. I was angry about it all. I began to cry somewhere in that long, dark hallway. My sister came to tell me it was all right to feel bad. After all, at the hospital, weeks ago, Father Matt told her crying was okay. However, her permission was to grieve because she’d miss Mom. On the other hand, I was upset because the same woman who told me the miracle of childbirth was creating one more person that would see the face of God was now turning from His face. I was confused.
Margie and Mike coaxed me back to the room. My brother tried to explain, “Cindy feels bad because she delivered both bad messages to you, the one about the cancer recurrence and the one about you dying. She thinks you are mad at her for having to tell you all the bad news.”
Mom held her arms out to me. Whispering something about missing her, I let her know I didn’t buy the miracle idea. As she held me, the image in my mind of the baby being held by the mother returned. Together, we were pleading for mercy; this cancer was unbearable.
Finally, she spoke, “I am staying here for you.”
With all my knowledge and wisdom, I said quietly, “You are not allowed to do that. You can’t love me more than God.”
“Then, I’ll miss you.” It was agreed that we’d miss each other. It was about a week before the real miracle began.
Meanwhile, there was a song on the radio that I loved because it was turned around in my life to have spiritual instead of secular meaning. It was the postman song by Stevie B titled “I’ll be Your Guide.” Tonight, the letter was in the mail, and we were a week from the special delivery package. I could find my peaceful spot in that song.
A few weeks back, my mother told her cancer counselor, “I always find peace in my family and the Holy family.”
The Holy family is Jesus’ parents and Himself. That night, the exchange in her bedroom was very close to the example of the holiest family. It was an exchange of pure, unconditional love.
Conversations about Death
My aunt and I talked one night about the signs of approaching death. I revealed to her that Mom had a telephone call from a nurse named Inez. It wasn’t a nurse at all. It was their deceased mother.
My aunt told me that my mother told their father, “Fred Astaire was just here for a visit.”
My parents were once good dancers. They won many contests in their youth. My mother used to say that one of her criteria for choosing a mate was that he knew how to dance. My father fit that bill. Now, close to forty years later and unable to walk for well over three months, a great dancer was visiting her bedside.
Did Inez call? Did Fred Astaire visit? These things were not as important as what they meant. What we decided was that my mother was closer to Heaven each day. She would soon be dancing with Fred Astaire. Dancing in the clouds with her mother, Inez.
I told my aunt about my recent dream. “It was so weird! Mom came to me through the passage to the kitchen. Meeting in the doorway, ‘I’ll go get Dad so he can see you walking again, ‘I offered. She motioned for me not to call out for him. She hugged me and left. She was wearing her red Mumu.” By the end of my story, my aunt was unreachable. She was sobbing in dead silence.
“You know, I keep seeing a light over your mother’s bed in my dreams,” she said more composed. “Oh, dear God! The end is so close! I just hope it doesn’t last too long. She is suffering so much.”
My aunt and I were not the only ones having visions. A good friend from work had a strong desire to reveal a dream to me. One day, she sat down at my desk and began telling me her story.
“I don’t know how to say this to you without you figuring I am strange,” Ann spoke in measured speech. “I had a dream about your mother last night. Well, I didn’t actually see her but it is a message about her.” She stared at my face trying to determine if I’d guess she was full of wild imaginings.
“What was the dream about?”
“After waking up to take care of my son, you know that stage right before sleep really starts? I was just to that point, when I saw a door in front of me.” Very cautiously, Ann watched my every move wondering if I understood her intentions. Bravely, she continued. “The door began to open and this incredible light came from the door. It was so bright. The message is, ‘your mother is going straight to Heaven.’” She finished quickly then added, “Do you think I am nuts?”
“No!” Ann and I chatted about God and messages. She realized I was open to God’s plans and sure her message was genuine. “She wants to dance again. She will in Heaven.”
My aunt and I shared other telephone calls about the approaching death. Ann and I shared many conversations, too. As a consequence of my openness to other’s ideas, I began meeting many people who had lost relatives to cancer. Along with my relatives and Ann, all these new friends grieved with me before and after my mother’s death.
During this time, God sent many signs of His presence. Children are open to His messages. There are some side stories about three girls most affected by my mother’s cancer that I would like to share with you. The three children live in my home; they are some of her grandchildren.
One is Jenny, age five. During the last days I spent with my parents, she spent time with the angels in my house. She told me these angels were all over our house, and she wanted to know why they were telling her things. These angels told Jenny she had a future brother.
The second child having visions was Julie, age seven. “Grandma is coming back from Heaven for a visit during my birthday party!” She claimed. Julie had other experiences, which will be discussed later.
The third child has seen my mother dancing with my father in the kitchen of my house. Stacey is more reluctant to tell her stories about visions. She is ten. These stories show you what we do to God and His messages, as we grow older.
Bless the beasts and the children because they are more open to the reality of the two worlds, Heaven and Earth.
Many times before this stage in the dying process, Susan told me about the two worlds opening for a short time as the soul passes. She believed as a Hospice nurse that all things are possible. With all these visions before and after this inevitable death, I began wanting to see the ‘miracle of afterlife’. Instead of dreading the walk down the hall to her bedside, I began rushing to my mother so that I wouldn‘t miss seeing the soul pass as my mom left.
As with any terminal illness, anticipation caused many calls to come into my parent’s house. People were curious about her condition and wanted to say their goodbyes. I would tell them the latest news about Mom’s condition sharing my growing strength with them.
“It’s like having a baby. You can be sure you are in labor but still you cannot predict the minute the child will be born. So there you sit during someone’s labor awaiting the miracle of the birth. Dying is the same except that this time the labor is to leave this earth not to enter it. No one but God knows the hour,” I informed these callers while reconciling death in my own mind.
Often during our telephone calls, my aunt taught, “The angels are sent out to protect His people when the two worlds open to pass a soul.” She continued, “Watch for the signs and messages from God.”
Flip me to the Ground
January and December were unseasonably warm. I was glad because my greatest fear was that my mother would get pneumonia. It was bad enough to be dying. At least, it should be a peaceful death.
Standing outside my house, I talked with neighbors about my mother’s condition. One lost her mom to breast cancer. Tears were in her eyes as she relived the experience with me.
Another neighbor, Helen, suffered breast cancer about two years earlier. She shared this occurrence with my mom. After the school bus took her child to school, she jumped in the car and drove over to the crowd that was developing around me. She was on her way to church and prayer group. She showed me a container of water promising to come by my parent’s house later.
Finishing the sidewalk conversation, I left for the house. Feeling a little better, I felt this overpowering need to pray with my mother. After Linda left the room, I sat down talking to Mom.
“Do you want to flip me to the ground?”
This conversation was our first since my bout with walking pneumonia. What I really meant was, ‘are you mad at me for believing you are dying?’ Quickly, Mom nodded yes.
“I will be okay. I will take care of Stacey. She will be okay, too. Mike has Sandy. She will help him through this ordeal. Margie has Andrew to take care of her. Debbie has Bob. I’ll watch out for Dad.” Rapidly, I unloaded this message. “Do you want to pray?”
Staring at me, she motioned to pray. “Our Father,” I shook. “Who art in Heaven,” somewhere about here every other word was followed by a deep gasp for breath.
Muddling through this prayer and the “Hail Mary,” my mother physically reached out to me. “I am staying here for you. I am not leaving.”
With fire in my eyes, I retorted, “You are not allowed to love me that much. If God comes, you have to leave. Stop loving me so much!” I was perturbed because she taught me never to choose anyone over God. “You are not allowed to choose me over God,” I scolded.
As I fled her room, Linda grabbed my arm. “You know you have just done a loving act?” Then she turned to my mother and told her it was hard not to love Cindy. “She is so loveable, right?” Mom nodded in agreement.
Just then, a car pulled in the driveway. Helen arrived. I met her in the yard. She asked, “What prayers does she prefer?”
“She seems to respond to the ‘Our father’ and ‘Hail Mary’.” Being Catholic, she agreed those were good prayers. I took her to my mother’s room where we sat down to pray and talk.
Helen began, “Do you remember me, Mrs. Meyers?” My mom smiled which meant yes. “We shared cancer at the same time. I was just finishing treatments when you had your operation. Remember?” My neighbor was not sure that Mom knew her and was trying to get a connection going before they prayed.
How could my parent forget the woman that spoke to her on the telephone the day after my mom’s mastectomy? The woman on the other end of the line delivered words of faith and hope that after treatments Mom would live on. By the end of the conversation that day, Helen feared never seeing her own children grown up. This woman trusted God but she still wondered about her own destiny.
On the day after my mother’s operation, I witnessed their conversation about trusting God’s Will and living His Will. They widened each other’s faith commitment as they discussed the uncertainties cancer brings to life. That is the day they shared a faith in a loving God. Today would be Helen’s last personal conversation with my mother. In spite of cancer’s return, these two women shared faith, hope, and love.
“You have two girls,” my mother finally spoke up.
“Good! You do know me,” smiles were exchanged. “You know what I brought you? I brought you some holy water from Lourdes. I carry this bottle with me. Some of my relatives were in Europe when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Breast cancer like you Mrs. Meyers! They brought me this water, and it healed me. So, I want to share some with you. Is that okay?” Helen was nervous but it was really brave of her to face my mother. After all, as her child, my mother is my reflection if I develop that same cancer. However, for Helen, my mom was more than the possibility of her own fate; she was reminded that caner can recur. Admittedly, my neighbor is much braver than I am.
Slowly, Helen opened the bottle of water. The holy water arrived. True healing could begin for Helen, me, and my mother. This lady made the sign of the cross with water on my mother’s forehead. Then, she prayed.
“Our Father,” Helen’s eyes shed their own water.
This time it was Helen that my mother reached out to hold. We had come to comfort the dying but the dying had, also, comforted us.
As they prayed, I thought of my Aunt Betty who had gone through a personal battle with cancer. It was hard for her to watch her sister. The mirror was held too close to Betty therefore she was unable to face the image projected. In fact, more than once in this ordeal, the RN from Hospice called to comfort Aunt Betty. For my aunt’s sake, Susan reviewed peaceful cancer deaths as opposed to the treacherous ones my relative witnessed in her past. She tried to alleviate the horrors my aunt remembered from her memories.
At this time, the healing from Lourdes’ water was a prayer for a peaceful death. We requested a lack of fear of the unknown part of death. This holy water performed its cure.
Helen and I left my parent in Linda’s care. We visited in the kitchen with my dad. He was stuck somewhere between 1960 and 1970. Being her first visit with my father, Helen enjoyed his old stories. However, I worried because he was fleeing faster and faster from today. While the rest of the world was somewhere in early 1991, he was lost deep in the past.
Meanwhile, Helen told cancer stories about her relatives already dead. She commented on my mother’s strong faith and Dad’s love for his wife. Then, she left for her own daily rituals and problems. After that, she kept track of the cancer through me.
After Helen left, my mother and I discussed healing. “Sometimes the answer is no,” I explained remembering a sermon on unanswered prayer.
The priest said, “When I hear someone say that their prayer went unanswered, it is because the answer is no.”
It appeared that we were getting. “No,” for a response.
“We had a miracle when your legs were saved. Maybe, we are only entitled to a certain amount of miracles in a lifetime. Possibly, our limit had been reached.” Adding, “It doesn’t mean God isn’t on own side. It just means no, this time.”
Mom understood me even if my own wisdom was beyond my level of comprehension. The holy water was already working; my fear of walking the hall to see death’s door had been replaced. This holy water brought healing to one of us in that room, me.
It’s Pizza Party Time
In November, a very close friend of mine went to the hospital with me to see my mother. Back then she said, “Your mother looks more angry than sick.”
Charlett encouraged me to be hopeful and to pray for a miracle. She buried her father after a battle with cancer. This woman survived two brain operations. She faced mortality in her own life, and she inspired me to believe in the probability of extended life for my mother.
In the moments of panic about the death verdict, I called Charlett. She picked me up and drove me to meet my family at the hospital. During the car ride, she encouraged me to be honest and discuss the inevitable death. This wasn’t a change in faith but rather an acceptance of God’s Will. Charlett walked me up to my mother’s hospital room.
Upon arriving, we found my father and sister. Noticing Mom’s eyes were shut, I motioned for them to follow me. As we walked to the family waiting room, I decided the best way to deliver the news.
‘There goes that migraine I get when I try to be strong,’ I thought. Until cancer hit my family, I never suffered headaches. Now, daily, I lived with a headache the magnitude of a migraine.
Seating my family in the sunny room that Ryan and I went to at Thanksgiving, I proceeded to tell them what the doctor told me over the telephone. I talked slowly, wheezing and coughing throughout the story. “The doctor says she is dying.”
Margie’s eyes hid behind a waterfall. Even though she told me two months ago that our mother was in her last year of life, the reality struck.
“Mom was in there telling us that you left town to avoid her!” Margie blurted out adding, “She is mad at you for leaving her now.”
“I’ll go see her to let her know I am still here.” I responded, “Aunt Betty, the church priest, and Mike are on their way to the hospital.”
Returning alone to her room, I found her eyes were open. From the doorway I chirped, “So what’s this I hear about me leaving town to avoid you?”
Mom had a look on her face like a child would have if they had hidden their mother’s favorite broken vase. Hoping not to have this vase found, she smirked as I approached her bed.
Gently, I reprimanded her, “I am sick and was home trying to get healthy. I called you many times to tell you why I could not visit. Don’t you remember?” I paused at her bedside and in my conversation. At this point, Mom had a huge grin on her face. I finished my lecture on loyalty, “Remember I almost cancelled a trip to Europe for your sake? So why would I leave now? I just stayed home to keep from making you sick.”
My greatest fear was that my mother would get my virus and complications of pneumonia would set in. Then, she would be on a respirator to breathe, and it would be my fault. It is funny how when a doctor says someone is dying you still worry about these living types of things.
“I want to go home,” she finally mustered up the courage to mutter.
“We are arranging it. I have some calls to make to Hospice and to get an ambulance or patient transport vehicle.” We smiled. Then the hard part came. “Do you know what is happening?”
“Didn’t the doctor tell you?” I was so mad that I was going to have to be the one to tell her she was dying, Why was everyone else ‘whimping out’ on me? No one followed me back into her room. They were leaving this painful task up to me. However, I was angrier with the doctor for deserting us and abandoning his job of prognosis to me.
“Let me go home! I have a stomach virus, “she whimpered.
My colon twisted in fits but I was trying to stay brave. Positive I would double over in pain and fall to the floor, I grabbed the edge of her bed to stay in balance. “You have cancer. Don’t you remember?”
“I do?” She acted quite surprised. There was a pause that seemed to last an eternity while we just stared at each other. Finally, one of us spoke, and Mom asked, “What does that mean?”
I kept hearing Charlett’s counseling in my mind, “Someone has to be brave enough to discuss the fact that death is approaching. It’s hard but you’ll feel bad if you don’t say good-bye correctly.” By now, Charlett was downstairs on her car phone trying to get Hospice and the patient transport service arranged.
Leaning over the bed, speaking carefully, “You were barfing, right?”
Every time, I saw my mother spit up in these past months, I fled for help mostly because I wanted an excuse to retreat from the suffering. I’d exit the room looking for help even when the help was already nearby.
“Yes! It is a stomach flu. That’s what they told me,” she admitted to regurgitating episodes.
‘A step in the right direction?’ I thought. Asking, “That’s what who told you? Who told you it was just a stomach flu?”
“Linda.” Linda was the cheerleading Hospice nurse who believed in miracles and wanted her new friend to live forever. This nurse was trying to help us but my mother was clutching her fantasy right now. Someone had to mention death. We needed to say our goodbyes properly. Linda’s job included helping my mom enjoy her remaining days while the family’s task was to say our farewells.
“What does the doctor say?” I was trying to find another source to confirm what I needed to face with her. Desperately, I hoped she already knew. Would my question cause the truth to be released?
She muttered, “He won’t let me go home.
I told her I talked to her oncologist and that she would be going home soon. “It will be tomorrow before Hospice, the ambulance, and the doctor will be ready to let you go home.” Sad is not a strong enough word to describe her mood. “You need to be patient.”
“Don’t leave me here one more day!” Then, my mother let me know she trusted very few people. Promising to make calls and arrangements in front of her, she knew I wasn’t lying about going home. I told her that her son was on the way. I informed her that the two of us decided to get twenty-four hour Hospice care.
“The doctor won’t let you go home without it.” In fact, he suggested Hospice house if we couldn’t get it all arranged in time. Now, came the bad news, “Mom, do you know what is going on?” I procrastinated but in my thoughts I heard Charlett scolding me.
“No! I have the stomach flu but I’ll be okay” she insisted.
Sarcastically, asking, “What are you vomiting?”
“What?” She used a tone of voice on me that was like a kid trying to pretend that they did not eat the last cookie.
Reprimanding her with a cold stare, I prodded, “You know.”
“Blood,” she admitted. I was pleased to be making progress towards honesty but afraid that the truth was coming.
“Just where do you think that blood is coming from?”
Timidly admitting, “I have an ulcer.”
Exasperated and trying not to show it, “Didn’t the doctor tell you?”
“Tell me what?” By this point, the cat and mouse game was getting harder.
“You are dying.” My colon tightened and my heart constricted. I secretly wished she’d vomit so I could flee the room in search of help. No such luck.
She immediately spoke, “I am? Why didn’t the doctor tell me?” I had no response to her question.
The migraine moved to my chest, ‘Why didn’t the doctor tell her? Oh, God! I told her she had cancer again. Now I told her about her own death. Oh, God! Oh, God! Oh, God!”
“When am I going to die?” She acted so surprised that I was perturbed. Had the doctor placed this burden of diagnosis on me?
The doctor told me that my mother could live THREE days or at the most a week. I told the others this and warned them not to be surprised if once we get her home she gives up.
Still the lone messenger in her room, I did what anyone in my shoes would do; I lied. “He told me that you were going to die in about a month.” I couldn’t help this exaggeration of days. Secretly, I wanted her to live. Quickly, I added, “But, he isn’t God. It could be longer.”
Silence, then I began to demand the holy water again in my heart. However, I didn’t really know what my thoughts meant.
“Well, that’s that!” Mom declared, finally. “Now, I don’t trust the doctor! He didn’t tell me the truth.”
I reproached her, “Your doctor didn’t want you to live up to his expectations.” After a short pause, “It’s up to you and God.”
Finally, the rest of the relatives arrived in her hospital room. So, did Father Matt. When this priest talked to Mom, she was more accepting of him. This time, no one threw the priest out of her room. As he discussed death, Margie began sobbing.
My mother’s turn to lecture someone, “Don’t you believe in God?”
Father Matt retorted, “Go easy on Margie.”
After that, all my mom did was stare at me. ‘Oh, no, I delivered her death message,’ I thought wondering if she’d ever forgive me for being straightforward.
Promising to stay with her, I was tired, sick, and hungry. We ordered pizza and tried to have a party. If you can enjoy yourself in a hospital, we did.
In the middle of the pizza party, a patient left. As he wheeled past us, he yelled, “Tootle loo.” We all laughed except mom.
I kept trying to get her cold, distant stare to leave me. So, I’d jest. For instance, I kidded her that I spent her ambulance money on the food, and she would have to stay in the hospital.
My mother tried to talk to us but all she managed to say is, “I’m dying in a month.” All her visitors received that message which replaced her pleading, “I want to go home.”
The next day, Linda and I met at 8A.M. to bring my mother home. Linda asked how she was.
“Great! I am going home today.”
That same day, my father went to the funeral home to make secret arrangements. Later in the day, my brother arrived. Mike and I went to the funeral home to approve the arrangements and pay the deposit. The whole time we were there, we kept getting interrupted by my aunt and the Hospice nurse’s calls. If they could find a drug that usually was reserved for hospital use, I would learn how to administer injections. This drug might help; they promised. In the middle of arranging her funeral, I was being told to hurry home to save my mother’s life with this drug.
My illness was consuming me. My family was placing burdens on me that were causing me to be emotionally drained almost beyond repair. The physical result was I had walking pneumonia and didn’t even realize it.
This was my second battle with walking pneumonia. My first time with this illness was when I was a teenager. During this first experience, I was near death. Facing my own mortality, I had an experience that made more sense to me as I left the funeral home, today. I remember the darkness of that night and then a light. Listening to two voices, I overheard my own destiny. One man was telling the God-like man that I was at the gates of Heaven.
“No, I don’t know why she is here,” the man explained.
The Godlike voice told the other man to send me back. “She has not done the mission of her life. Her job on earth is not done. Send her back.”
Jumping out of bed, I threw the light on in search of the voices and the light. Then, I prayed and went back to sleep.
Today, leaving the funeral home, that dream or event was coming forward to my mind. That past experience was preparing me for mortality. Now, I was ready to take my mother by the hand and lead her to the gates of Heaven. Again, I was going to have to turn back. Although, I knew where she was going when she leaves this world, it didn’t make it hurt less. I felt the way Jesus felt when he heard Lazarus was dead. I cried.
As we drove away from the funeral home, I mentioned to my brother that I needed to rob our mother’s small savings account to cover the check I wrote. I felt guilty to be taking her money. My brother assured me that if a miracle occurred she would understand why we pre-arranged her funeral. Nervously, I made the savings withdrawal. Meanwhile, a big part of me hoped the medication I was going to learn to administer would save her life. However, the reality was causing me to count the money I’d just withdrawn, deciding if I had enough to cover the cost of a funeral.
Leaving the bank, I mentioned that Edith was due back in town to help. The New Year approached. I celebrated with a handful of Hals cough drops, a blanket on my parent’s couch, and a needle in my hand. This drug was given every six hours to calm the vomiting so that my mother could attempt eating.
I wore a white mask over my face to protect her from my illness. I could no longer control the dry, hoarse cough. We could only find a T-shirt for my mask.
Trying to end that cold stare. I’d joke, “Who was that masked girl?”
The haunting gaze from the hospital remained on her face. She barely acknowledged me. I was sure she hated me for giving her the death verdict. It made me ill, very ill.
When Susan arrived at the house the day after the holiday, January 2, she sent me home to rest. “We will take over now, Cindy. The drug isn’t working, and you need sleep. Go home.”
On the way home, I could barely see the road even though the sun was bright. I was sobbing. Meeting an old friend who I hadn’t seen in over six weeks, I told him my mother was dying.
“You wanted her to make it through the holidays. You got your wish Merry Christmas, Cindy. “He added, “You know, she is leaving for a better world.”
Smiling again, the conversation turned to other topics, and he made me feel better for a few moments. That day was the last time I tried to save her life.
Edith arrived again. So, I had the weekend off to sleep and get well. Someone told my mom I had walking pneumonia. Like a mother, she admonished the people around her saying, “Tell Cindy not to come around until she is not sick.” They took care of her while I took care of me.
The Last Hospital Stay
Whenever Mom was in the hospital many of my friends came to visit her. Although they barely knew her, they felt compelled to visit. She asked quite candidly, “Who are you? Why are you here?”
I remember one day; some friends brought a few scarves for her to wear. Their philosophy, “You look better; you feel better.”
One friend rambled on about how much she cared for me and that she felt the need to accompany me to the hospital. She added, “How is Cindy’s mom feeling today?”
My mother flooded the hospital room with tears. The friend left wondering if she did more harm than good. The reality that made her cry was that Cindy was afraid and her friends came to help ease the fear. This idea made her feel bad for me.
Whenever she questioned me about the visitors, I answered, “They are my friends. Coming here is their way of helping me deal with this cancer.”
Then she looked at me knowingly. She was not a social creature. My mother knew that what all these visits meant was that her shiest daughter learned how to express herself. Now, the world came to her daughter’s rescue in our darkest hours. These visits convinced her that I would survive this experience. Even though I’d miss her, I‘d have tons of moral support. The friends continued their visits at her home. Some even brought meals which by now Mom couldn’t keep down at all.
Life with a terminal illness doesn’t get easier. We admitted my mother to the hospital by emergency ambulance on the morning of December 26. Linda called me at 8A.M. My mother had been sick all night and the blood in her vomit was worse. I told this nurse to call 911 and get her to the hospital fast.
I got a babysitter for the three girls and rushed to her side. My first words to Linda were, “She wanted to make it through Christmas. She got her wish.”
We waited for hours for her to be admitted. As fate had it, Dad met Dr. P. in the cafeteria, and the doctor paid his patient a brief friendship visit in the emergency room. It was the last time she saw the man that gave her back her legs. After they confirmed that she would stay, I went home to my children. I felt ill and went to bed. The stress caught up with me.
During the seven- hour wait in that emergency room, while they tried to decide whether or not to admit her, Linda stood by my mother’s side and gave us moral support. In fact, the nurse sat with us her whole shift. She also donated a pint of blood for her patient’s sake. This Hospice nurse knew this road all too well. She was not only a home health care assistant; she was a person who had lost two of her closest relatives to cancer. She buried her mother and father after terminal cancer won the battle. Now, she faced losing a friend she had just met.
The next day, my family went camping, and I planned to stay home and rest. Mom was safe in the doctor’s care at the hospital, and I was extremely tired. Due to my own illness, I was told to stay off the cancer ward.
Telephoning her, she informed me, “I want to go home.”
On December 29, the doctor telephoned me. When he told me mom had three days or at the most a week of life left, my adrenaline went out of control. In spite of my calmness while speaking with this oncologist, the panic struck. I began dialing my sister’s house, my brother’s number, my aunt’s telephone, and the priest. I dialed so fast that I reached all their places simultaneously. During a brief discussion, my brother decided to bring her home. We wouldn’t let her die alone in the hospital. I called Hospice for round the clock care to be set up.
In the middle of all these telephone conversations, I kept getting interrupted by Mom’s telephone calls. Repeated call waiting tone meant she was trying to get through to me. She wanted to go home NOW. Upon reaching me, my mother hollered, “You don’t understand! You don’t understand! I just want to go home.”
Having just hung up from the telephone conversation with her doctor, I understood more than she knew. Hearing my dad struggling with her, I imagined her as she tried to get out of that hospital bed and walk home. They dropped the telephone while Mom whined and fought to leave.
‘She can’t walk. She’ll fall. She hasn’t walked since October,’ I thought. Unable to get my call waiting to release this sequence, I heard all the upset, I was inept again.
“Please, pick up the phone,” I chanted, yelled, and screamed over and over again. The hollering was not helping my already sore throat. Finally, I got my father to realize I was still on the telephone. “Hold her. Tell her I am on the way. Dad, she is dying. Just hold her. I’ll be right there.”
Mom figured if she left the hospital ignoring the doctor’s death verdict, she’d live.
By now the toll of cancer adversely affected my father and me. I tried to hold down a new job and two households. I did maid service as well as being with my parents. When my brother discovered there was no money left in their bank accounts and that I was getting physically ill, he told me to hire a maid. He paid for it so that I could spend more time with my family and less with a dirty bathroom.
My father was dying with my mother. He was stuck in the past; all he did was reminisce. His singing was getting louder. For some people that may sound like he was fine. However, I grew up with my family, and he was getting depressed.
I called my parish for help. Telling them that Mom was dying from cancer, “She needs to talk about God with someone other than the secular counselors from Hospice.”
Father Matt went right over to the house. He tried to prepare her for the reality that Hospice care meant she was terminal. The nurse and my mother threw him out. I called him back and asked him to continue visiting my parents.
‘Help her die,’ I thought. She continually acted the opposite of how she raised us spiritually. She rejected death as being God’s Will. She depended too much on humans instead. She was scaring me.
“How can I die someday in an accepting manner when she is rejecting God so loudly? After all, she has always been so close to God and His Will. Now here she is saying the opposite. I am less religious than her and if she is afraid of death imagine how I will be. If she doesn’t change I will not be able to deal with her death or mine!”
Susan and the Hospice counselor told me it was not a rejection of God or death but that it was denial that she would have to leave Dad, Stacey, the others, and me behind.
“Your mother feels that it is not the right time to die. She knows the task of raising Stacey is not done. Your father is too dependent on her. Your mom knows her death will impact you in many negative ways. You will get all her burdens dumped on you.” Continuing, “In front of you, she is rejecting her own death. It is the denial phase. She will come around to acceptance.”
After this lecture, Susan sent the Hospice counselor to my parent’s house in search of me. They all began worrying about me. My health was failing, and they saw the burden of Dad and Stacey’s care invading my life.
In turn, I kept calling the priest out to see my parents. At times, for no apparent reason and without prompting from me, the priests dropped by the house.
I repeatedly saw images in my dreams. There was a dimly lit mother and child in one vision. Their message was, “We are pleading at the right hand of the Father for your sake.”
During this dream, Mom was walking again, and she was wearing a red flowery Mumu that she owned.
Each time, while watching this vision, I indicated, “I am going to call Dad to see you walking again. Mom would shake her head no. Then, she hugged me and left.
I’d wake up searching and thinking, “We need holy water. The holy water is a part of this miracle. It is the healing water we need. Where is that darn holy water?”
One thing happens to children of cancer victims that does not happen to the spouse. They are not only heirs to physical estates but they are heirs to chance, luck, or destiny. They carry that person’s genes.
They cannot avoid the fact that medically they can follow in the dying person’s footsteps. Part of my desire for my mother to beat cancer was the hope that faced with the same diagnosis, I too could live on.
In fact, I encouraged her to continue treatments long after believing it could work. She knew that all they learned, right or wrong, went to the next generation’s benefit. So, she continued on with chemotherapy long after she really wanted to live.
One day in November, my father was caught in the hopelessness of this disease. My parents were crying. Sitting in the room with them, I cried for the first time since the day I told my mother to call her oncologist because the cancer was back.
“You are my mirror. What if I get cancer, someday?”
Selfishly, I was scared for my own fate. Pain-filled, I had watched her gag for three months daily. Repeating my own mother’s words, “I hear it is painful to die from cancer. I was hoping you would not have lived through this pain.”
Then, I went home wondering where the holy water was.
Leaving Home- Would She Return?
I put a baseball cap on Mom’s head and the ambulance drivers loaded her into their wagon. Stacey sat with her. Driving behind them to the hospital, I shed tears. Luckily, I can cry and not get puffy red eyes fast. When I arrived at the hospital, I pulled my nerves together, and like a well-trained soldier rushed to my mother’s side as they wheeled her to a room. There, I awaited today’s orders. In the room, my pacing began from window to her bed.
She was in great pain in her back and legs. The morphine pump would not disperse enough to calm her. The Hospice number was left behind at home. Hospice was such a new service for us that I didn’t realize I needed their telephone number or the name of the RN on the case. After all, I only met Susan once.
Quickly, I dismissed the initial shock of Hospice being on the case. I knew from college days that this organization was for the terminally ill but my heart still would not believe my mind.
My mother wanted to know, “Who says I will never recover or walk again?” She demanded, “Who thinks I am dying?”
I was left alone with her because my father rushed home for telephone numbers. Fidgeting, I tried to ignore her questions.
“Here,” she said removing jewelry from her body, “take these and put them somewhere safe. Keep them, Cindy.”
Jokingly, I said, “I am going out partying with Stacey after I hock these diamonds!”
My mother told me she wanted me to do just that, “I am in good hands now,” she added. I didn’t know if she meant God’s hands or the hospital’s. Desperately, I wanted to believe she meant God’s hands.
“Get the radiation treatments, recover, walk again, and then flip all the doom and gloom seekers to the ground.” We made a pact for her to do just that. Meanwhile, we discussed the time when Aunt Betty made a promise to bring a faith healer to her sister. Betty thought that was the only cure left. My aunt was sure in her mind that my mother would die but her heart wanted the opposite. The faith healer came to my parent’s house one day. It didn’t work.
Today, my mother remembered that day, “I thought I’d jump right up and walk that day. I kept waiting. Cindy, will I ever walk again?”
“If you want to, I suppose anything can happen. Sure you will,” I assured her. Mom did walk fourteen steps one day but she never really walked again. Each step was torture for her, and it was misery for me to watch the therapist working with her. It was such a struggle and so much pain for so few movements of normalcy.
My mother spent Thanksgiving in the hospital getting radiation treatments. We brought her a little bit of everything including her favorite, lemon meringue pie. She tried to eat as my brother lay in her bed and she sat in a chair. She held her grandbaby, Kyle, and talked to Ryan. I took Ryan for a walk because the look on his face showed he had enough of grandma’s illness.
I remember the first time my five-year-old raced down the hall to see grandma after “chemo” began to take her hair. She got to the bedroom door and began backing up.
“Gr... Gr... Grandma, you cut your hair,” Jenny managed to get out.
We told her it was grandma’s Halloween costume. She told grandma that she didn’t like it and to grow her hair back out. When I noticed Ryan had that same uneasiness, I took him for a walk to a sunnier side of the hospital, the waiting room.
My mother returned home after twelve radiation treatments, we were encouraged. The oncologist said,
“We are killing tumor, which is unusual for this form of cancer.”
We hoped this thing was in remission and so did the doctor. A physical therapist began coming to her house. Meanwhile, we ordered a day nursing assistant to clean Mom and care for her needs. This nurse began wheelchair therapy bringing mom out of her bedroom to partake in meals with any company there. Again, the company was Edith; she was up from Miami for the weekend.
The Hospice nurse, Linda, made my mother talk; I mean real conversation. This nurse believed her patient was special and that a miracle could happen. She became a family member, which was not good for her to do. Linda told me time and time again that Mom could make it. By this point in this episode with cancer, I was ready to relinquish my cheerleading role. This nurse took my job of encouraging my mother to flip her doubters to the ground.
Things got easier for a while. My brother had set up maid service to give me a break. Dad had company and help from the Hospice home health care assistant. Life became hopeful or, at least, tolerable. However, the cancer villain was taking its toll on my father. He wrote some notes about giving up and locked himself in his room. Linda called me at work for advice and help. He, to put it mildly, was burned out from his wife’s constant care. The dreaded thing was happening; Christmas was approaching.
Linda spent those last days with her patient trying to help each moment produce enjoyment. In fact, our city sent Santa around on a fire truck throwing prizes and candy. Hearing sirens and rumors of Santa on the way, Linda stood outside the house waiting. Her plan was to stop Santa and ask him for a special gift. He obliged her wishes walking to my mother’s bedroom window. He tapped on the window to get her attention. This nurse will never forget the last gift Santa gave my mom. It was a huge smile.
I completed my Christmas shopping early. I had done all my parents’ gift purchasing as well. Everything was wrapped and set in my mother’s view as a positive reinforcement to make it through Christmas. We spent Christmas Eve with my family. It was pathetic to say the least. However, our mom tried to be a trooper. Watching her grandchildren for her last time, Mom opened her gifts. The pain was so bad; we put her back to bed.
All she did for days was vomit. She had been spitting blood for a few days. Death was approaching. The blood in her vomit was a bad sign. I stared at the Christmas tree knowing she would never share another Christmas with us.
I spent a good part of Christmas day alone with my mother. During this time, it was hard for her to keep any food down, so I prepared a bland meal for her of spaghetti noodles and hot pretzels. She tried to make me happy by eating a few bites. However, her headaches were getting worse because the cancer was taking over her brain.
“Will I ever walk again? Cindy, please, help me sit up. If I can sit up, I can try to walk.” I pulled her body to a sitting position but she fell over to the other side. Her Christmas day was a disaster.
To make it worse, my father made her lay in bed in a new position to avoid bedsores and to relax the painful side of her body. However, she hated the view and the window blew chilly December weather at her bald head. Upset, she was unable to walk away and fix her bed her way. I was flustered trying to help her. Mom was miserable on her favorite holiday. I called for reinforcements. Margie and her husband, Andrew, came over helping me move the bed away from the window.
After an argument about moving Mom, Dad left in his car. Meanwhile, her head ached so I looked for Tylenol. It was a far cry from a Merry Christmas.
Linda, the Hospice nurse, called on Christmas day and knew it was not a pleasant day for us. Dad returned. This nurse scolded him. “Give that lady anything she wants! It’s Christmas day!”
Linda cared too much, and it was apparent to us. She was there not only for her patient but also for my father and me. The rest of the onlookers began to resent Linda’s take charge type of caring. They thought she was misleading Dad and me with her desire for a miracle cure. However, for the two people closest to the everyday reality that Mom was dying, Linda, like Edith, was a Godsend.
At this point in this cancer ordeal, the rule became that everything should be done to make Mom comfortable and happy.
Edith came many times from September through January. She spent her vacation days making meals for Dad and cleaning up. She tried in vain to get her best friend to talk, to laugh, and to cry.
All mom did for Edith was say, “I love you.”
Edith forced her to get tests and set up an appointment for one minor operation. She became a pro at arguing with medical staff to perform a procedure, “TODAY, so that we don’t have to make a second ambulance trip!”
By this time, all medical trips were by patient transport methods or ambulances. Life was changing quickly. The money was running out. Conversations with my mother were getting shorter. She abandoned television and most of her pleasures in life.
During one of Edith’s trips, Mom had a tube inserted into her veins for direct access chemotherapy. The oncologist never restarted these treatments. However, the catheter was used to administer morphine and glucose so the operation was not totally wasted.
Mom did love Edith. During one of her visits, we had a makeshift birthday bash for Edith. It ended in disaster as Dad irrationally scolded the kids for giggling, laughing, and playing in the house.
“Get out! Leave! My wife is terminally ill,” he hollered.
In our minutes alone, Edith and I discussed the reality that was being ignored in front of my mom. We talked about our friend who was dying.
“It is going to be over near Christmas.” I confided in Edith, “I have had that fear for over a year now.”
We knew I was right, in spite of our hearts’ desires. Edith told me that she would be here for me whenever I was in need. Even today, she continues to carry out that pledge of undying friendship to me. She has been my second mother since my birth. My mom encouraged that relationship.
By now it was mid-November and Thanksgiving was days away. Again, a call came to me from my younger sister, Margie. The test results were in from one of those days spent outpatient. Mom was going to be admitted for radiation treatments. Rushing to her side, I set up the ambulance ride.
Arriving home, Dad thought aloud, “Don’t you trust me to take care of my own wife? You had no right to set up a hospital stay without my permission.”
“The doctor set it up! I followed orders!”
I didn’t want to be the first to say the cancer had spread rampantly so I told Dad to leave the room. After all, I was the one who carried the trauma of telling my parents that the cancer had returned, and I did not want any new burdensome messages to give out. He left for the kitchen. I followed a few minutes later.
“Dad, the test results are in.” I was relieved to see him understand the unspoken part of my message.
He calmed down so I could return to her room.
My mother was staring into eternity. Turning to me, she said, “Well this is it. I guess I am going to die. You know the worst part is that I am going to miss you.”
I wanted to reprimand her. After all, Mom taught me that in Heaven you do not miss people on Earth. Now, she was telling me the opposite. The recurring migraine headache returned. It had been over a year since I began pretending I was not afraid of the dark cloud that hovered over our family. Now here I was fighting off a migraine headache while I tried to control the tears.
The Healing Begins
All mom wanted was a hot pretzel from the shopping mall. I went shopping for some new clothes with my husband and began insisting irrationally that we bring a pretzel to her. My husband’s mother survived cancer, and he did not realize why I was acting as if she was in her last days. It was mid-October, and Christmas was near. I had to give her whatever she wanted even if it was 9P.M. I began verbal insistence on purchasing the pretzel.
“Look, the kids are tired. She probably isn’t even up. Let’s just go home,” My husband offered between my quickened speech.
It didn’t matter that the kids were whining or that it was past bedtime. The last thing I wanted to be told was that Mom was probably asleep already. She asked weeks ago for a hot pretzel and she’d have to wake up to get her wish.
My husband took us home, but I stayed in the car. He got out and took the children into bed one at a time because they fell asleep on the way home from the mall. Alone, I delivered the hot pretzel that by now was lukewarm. Arriving at her house, I noticed my sister’s car in the driveway. I popped through the kitchen door and clopped down the hall to my mother’s room. She had been moved to Stacey’s bed because it had a rail, and it was easier to get in and out of that bed. Margie was in the room with a very wide-awake mom.
“Pretzels,” I chirped, glad that I had brought more than one.
Stacey, Margie, and Mom followed me to the kitchen. My mother walked very slow and looked frail for her two hundred pounds. Upon entering the kitchen, I noticed she was losing her hair in clumps. The first round of chemotherapy a year ago had only thinned it, but this round was destroying her hair.
“You are going bald,” I joked.
She looked up from her seat and over her pretzel as if to say, “What’s it to you?” What she said aloud was that she needed a wig like my husband’s mother wore at Jenny’s birthday.
My mother-in-law forked over the wig as soon as I told her that Mom had made that comment. It was the cancer that had brought them closer. They kept track of each other. Many times they discussed the possibility that one or both of them may die from their cancers. However, it was suddenly a reality, and my mother-in-law shared my mother’s load whenever she could.
Every Tuesday was “chemo” day. Dad took her. She went straight to bed upon returning home. I would call and get an update. We counted down the sessions. “Okay, that makes four sessions- only eight more to go.”
This time, except for the excessive bedtime, she appeared to be handling the chemotherapy better. She was not vomiting like the last time.
“Thank God,” I announced too soon.
It was nearing November. Stacey would be turning ten, and we wanted it to be special. We decided on the children’s Polynesian Luau at Disney. I made the reservations for Stacey, a friend, my two children, and three adults. As the day approached, it became apparent that my mom would not be attending. I decided we could videotape it for her to see later but the event would proceed. I invited my sister to come using my parent’s reserved slot.
Dad began to bow out of the activity, too. It was Stacey’s birthday and neither of her parents would make it to her party. They adopted her when her natural mother, my other sister, gave her to them. She was two months old when they took over her care and by age two her adoption was final. Stacey knew no other parents. Without them joining us, the party went on as scheduled. In spite of the circumstances, the relatives attending this function enjoyed themselves. After the party, I dropped Stacey home. She hollered nasty things at mom about her sickness and her constant barfing. This child was locked in the stage of grieving called anger.
By now my mom didn’t go a day without vomiting at least one of her meals. Stacey was getting angrier with violent outbursts like that night. I left her there knowing in my heart how much my mother was hurting. It wasn’t just physical; she was dying emotionally, too. This child she had cared for was being vicious. I was old enough to know regrets, and I worried for Stacey’s wellbeing.
The next day, she talked with me about Stacey’s rage. “Your Dad is very angry, too! Take Stacey home with you until I am better.”
My mom had been bedridden since October’s end, and it was almost December. Every day, she was going to walk the next day. She constantly consoled herself with the idea that when she got rid of this backache she’d walk again. The pain went the length of her back and down her legs. She blamed it on her lack of exercise.
“Tomorrow, I will feel better,” she constantly hoped.
We all wished it could be true, but it became harder and harder to believe. By now, my husband kept warning me to prepare for the worst. He wanted me to get all my ducks in a row for the inevitable, death.
It’s July – Why Not Cancer?
I spent weeks planning my thirty-third birthday. The invitations were sent. Mom always told me if you want twenty people to attend a function invite twice that amount. Therefore, every person I knew was invited to come to my birthday bash. The goal was to have a crowded house. However, an event that changed my life was going to blind me to the joy of my own birthday celebration.
Aunt Betty went in for breast surgery due to a cancerous lump. A few days before my birthday, Mom came into my office to announce this fact to me. I looked up from the telephone and saw my mother prancing to my desk. She informed me of my aunt’s upcoming operation.
Without pause, I mentioned, “These things tend to run in families. You should get a mammogram done immediately.”
“The test is already scheduled.”
The results of the mammogram came back days before my birthday. My mother tried to hide her upset. However, my plan was to leave on a family vacation immediately following my party. Unable to keep her secret, she grabbed her telephone and called me. During this conversation, she announced that the lump in her breast was almost definitely cancer. She needed to know when I’d be back, so she could schedule her surgery.
I was on a portable telephone and began to pace the floor as we talked. Five years earlier, my mother almost lost her leg to diabetes, and I was sure a doctor in the health cast news could cure her. A year before today, she announced that her foot ulcer was healed to the point that the doctor had left the room in tears. Dr. P. wasn’t sure he could save her foot but he had. Now, just a short year later, our faith in God was up for another test.
Pacing and grasping at hope, I reminded her that her leg had been saved. “It is not necessarily a bad thing. God saved your leg, which you need to walk. Now, he is taking a part you don’t really need.”
Remembering people who have lived after cancer surgery, we discussed how far medicine had come.
In my silent periods on the telephone, I was gently reminded by my memories that my mother-in-law had been a cancer victim. Three years earlier my mother-in-law announced she was having an operation on Monday just like President Reagan had had for his colon. She made her outburst at a small, family gathering for my thirtieth birthday. The conversation went quickly into a name for the baby I was carrying at the time. Luckily, that party was small, family, and intimate. It didn’t completely stop the celebration for me. After all, it was my mother-in-law, not Mom.
This showstopper was my mom. Even though I knew my mother-in-law was still in remission, I thought all night about my mother’s upcoming surgery. I kept thinking, “She is going to die near Christmas. It’s her favorite holiday.”
Every Halloween was followed immediately by Christmas music and decorations in my younger years. I am not an avid collector. Pack rat describes a person opposite from me. Until people discovered I learned to love Christmas collections from my mother, no one ever knew what kind of gift to purchase for me. Now, my heart wouldn’t stop telling me that she would be in misery and dead in her favorite time of year. Fear paralyzed me because it was July already. December comes quickly after the summer.
The night of my thirty-third year in this world was party time. At least fifty people arrived with covered dishes. I found my way to two people whose mothers survived breast cancer. My party centered on conversations with them. The rest of the people probably didn’t notice that the hostess was distracted all night. My only mingling was during the cakes cutting. I drank three wine coolers and lost my sense of correct sentence arrangement. That’s how I made it through. Close friends commented on the three drinks I had because I never drank more than two wine coolers.
My mother was at the party. She pranced around and entertained everyone. Therefore, when I announced at the PTA staff meeting a few Tuesdays later that my mom was ill, one of the board members, a party guest, sat in disbelief. She questioned, “Did you just find out?”
“No, I’ve known since my party.”
“But, your mother was there and happy. I had no idea!” She exclaimed.
As indicated previously, after my birthday party, my family left on a trip to South Seas Plantation somewhere on the West Coast of Florida. It is surprising that this trip was one of my favorite vacations because I called my mom every day to see if she was still alive. Most of the time, I was somber and pensive. In the quiet periods during that trip, all I could think was that my mother was dying. Even though I knew many cancer survivors, the image that Mom would die near Christmas chased me.
On the morning of my mother’s operation, I raced to get to the hospital. I found her room and sat with my sister, my father, and her. The sun was so bright that the day was filling the room. The clock roared as it clicked off the minutes. Two thoughts filled my silence. One thought was, ‘Would she survive?’ The other worry on my mind was, ‘Would my brother make it from his home to the hospital on time to kiss Mom before the operation?’ As they put my mother on the stretcher to bring her down to surgery, I stood at her side. The others left to the family waiting room. I felt compelled to walk her to the doors beyond which I could not enter. My face was burning as it became flushed. If they could break from severity, I’d have broken my facial muscles as I whispered good-bye. Turning away and fighting back tears valiantly, I developed a migraine that lasted until I saw my brother approaching, “You just missed her; she is in surgery. Mom knew you were coming. Good thing you called.”
It is funny that I heard Dr. P.’s page to surgery moment after she left for her operation. He is the man who saved her leg from amputation due to diabetic ulcer. Next, we waited close to a century in the family waiting room.
Finally, the doctor performing this surgery arrived. “Mr. Meyers,” he addressed my father, “It indeed was cancer. As discussed, I performed the radical mastectomy. The nodes looked good, but I took four for pathological testing to be sure. Your wife will be in recovery for a few hours. Why don’t you take a break and come back at 7P.M.?”
When we returned, she was so groggy from the general anesthesia that she didn’t enjoy answering the questions that my father and siblings posed. I suggested we leave her in peace and come back the next day or as our schedules permitted. She looked relieved that we were going.
A few days later, my mother told me that the look on my face before her surgery made her desire to live on. “Stacey and you give me a reason to survive. So, I am going to take chemotherapy and live to see Stacey graduate from high school.” Stacey is my eight-year-old niece who was adopted by my parents. At this point, Mom took hold of a reason to live.
There were many setbacks during the six months of chemotherapy and that first year. The area of the surgery got staph infection. Her diabetes caused the complication. Next, my mom lost her hearing and the family doctor told her the cancer must have spread to her brain. Early tests did not prove this theory to be true and some of her hearing did return at a later date. However, the worst trip back to the hospital was six months later.
My husband and I got a trip of a lifetime. The company was sending him to England. I was going, too. Our mothers volunteered to help with our two children so we could traipse through Europe in peace. A bad feeling filled my soul; my mom was going to be hospitalized soon. In my mind, I kept trying to cancel the trip.
“You seem uneasy about your upcoming trip. Don’t you want to go?” She questioned me about my plans.
“If you are sick, I will forfeit my trip,” was my response.
“I’m fine. Go and have fun!”
For the most part, the trip was a dream. The trip to France was a lifetime goal fulfilled. I studied French and wanted to spend part of my college education in Paris. However, my strict Catholic parents wouldn’t hear of a girl leaving home except for marriage or the convent. So, married, finally, I arrived in Paris. Thoughts about Mom fled my mind the whole time I was in Europe. Mainly, I thought of how much fun it would be to return and live here for a few months. ‘What an education that would be for my children! It would be an unforgettable experience.’
Just a few days after I returned home, my father called. He was peeved and perturbed. My mother was sick and refused to go see the doctor. Apparently, he had a V.A. clinic appointment of his own and was nervous about leaving her alone. I had the day off and promised to check in on her.
The first call made to her was a bit nerve wracking. She was in pain and let me know it, but she said she’d sleep and get better. Calling back an hour later, I heard her pick up the telephone and put it back down. Futile attempts at calling her continued with no answer. I threw Jenny, my youngest daughter, in the car and raced to my parents’ house afraid of what was happening. Flying through the kitchen door and calling for Mom with no response, I thought, ‘Oh God! What is it this time?’
After close to a year with cancer and setbacks, you begin to dread the next hospital stay. However, the alternatives are even more formidable. Once at her bedroom door, I found her alive but too sick to get to the bathroom to vomit. So there she sat at the edge of the bed. Immediately, I called the doctor.
Today, the doctor’s office was too busy. They were taking no more appointments. Meanwhile, the children were due out of school and Dad would be home to help me soon. However, in the minutes that surrounded me, I began to think that if this bad feeling didn’t pass I’d dial 911. Finally, the doctor’s office called back with an anti-nausea prescription.
After the telephone conversation, I told Mom I headed to pick up my niece and my daughter, Julie. “I will return with this prescription as well.”
She just waved me away vomiting and moaning from pain. Standing there, a thought overwhelmed me, ‘I love my mother but if this is her future I cannot keep her here on my account.’ Finally, I was off to the school and then to the pharmacy to save her life.
When Dad got home, he began talking her into another hospital trip. She relented the next morning and was admitted through the emergency room. This round at the hospital was diabetic coma, not the cancer. She recovered, and we had some good months from June to September.
Near the end of July, Mom complained of a throbbing in her chest that was getting worse. She had returned to gardening and had taken a fall in the yard. A neighbor pulled her up off the ground. Was the pain a result of that event? The pain was getting worse each day instead of better.
All the blood tests were coming back good and the bone scan done in April was okay, too. When my mother reported the pain to her surgeon, he said it was probably just a sprain and put some heat on it.
After that doctor’s appointment, I went to visit Mom. The cancer treatments destroyed her hair, but it was almost restored. She had it all puffed up. Even though the smell of Ben Gay filled the room, she looked the best I had seen her in a year. So it was hard to believe the cancer was already attacking.
She attended Jenny’s fifth birthday and Ryan’s fourth. Ryan is my brother’s child.
She held her grandson, Kyle, almost the whole day on Ryan’s birthday. My brother’s second child shared my mother’s birth date. His birth was the bridge that renewed their friendship. My brother did his share of rebelling and false witness against his parents. However, my brother was now a parent and he was becoming a son again. So it was providence that the last grandchild Mom held and kissed was born on her birthday.
As the summer faded into a memory, the pain in her chest grew stronger. The family doctor, finally, saw her because the throbbing was unbearable. An X-ray was taken immediately. The thing causing the problem was in the shape of a triangle. We thought that maybe it was a leftover sponge from last year’s operation.
My sister spoke our thoughts aloud, “It could not be cancer! The body doesn’t grow in the shape of a triangle.”
I called Mom, daily, as she went through more cancer tests.
“It is a sign. It is a sign from God. We are about to be a part of a great miracle. That is why whatever it is in your chest is triangle. This shape stands for the Trinity.”
The Trinity is God as three entities. I was as sure of my interpretation as I am of my first name. Except my human will wanted it to mean life for my mother. As a human, I was unable to see death on Earth as any more than the loss of my mom.
My sister, Margie, works for one of the doctors on the case. She knew it was cancer before us. The oncologist was looking for my mother. On that particular day, no one was home. Margie panicked because the cancer was back. Not knowing what to do next, Margie called me at my desk at work. I answered, and she immediately told me that the spot on Mom’s lung was cancerous.
“Find Mom and tell her to call the oncologist for an appointment," She reported to me.
I was without a car. Any other day, I could have jumped in the car and gone. A friend was leaving work early for college courses that afternoon. He drove me to my parent’s house and dropped me off.
When my mom walked in from her lunch date with Dad, she knew something was wrong. “Why are you here? Where is your car?”
“Call the oncologist immediately. He wants to talk to you.”
“I knew it was too easy. I knew I wasn’t going to get off with just a little chemo. What is wrong, Cindy?”
“It’s the cancer. It’s back,” I answered calmly.
My mother got all her courage together then called her doctor who told her the same news. He set her up for a consultation. Upon hanging up the telephone, she looked at me questioning, “Did I sound cool enough? Was I brave enough?” I stared with no path for my thoughts until she added, “I hear it is painful to die from cancer.”
We cried and hugged. She proceeded to call her sister and her best friend, Edith. Acting positive, she decided to put on the wig hat, go the chemotherapy route, and survive. A feeling of ineptness began to fill my soul.
In the days that passed right after the news, I stared at the calendar and wonder what day my mother would die. It was like looking into a cave entrance and not knowing you had already passed the threshold. As I stood inside the cave, all sense of direction was lost, and all I could see was the darkness before me.
Mom had to see a heart specialist because if she could not pass the stress tests the oncologist would not do the next round of chemotherapy. I accompanied her to the appointment with her heart specialist.
Afterwards we went to lunch at Morrison’s cafeteria. Waiting hours to eat, this lunch became very solemn because she couldn’t enjoy the chicken she ordered. Her favorite food was chicken but today she was too weak from the stress tests to enjoy this restaurant.
Looking up from her plate, she said, “I guess, this is when reality sets in.”
I took that to mean she realized how sick she was. It was the burden of knowing Mom was not going to live this time.
Edith called earlier in the week and made plans to vacation at my parents’ house. Therefore, when we got back to their house, Edith was already there. She arrived from Miami and visited with Dad for a few hours before we got back home. After some small talk, I left Mom and her best friend there to talk, laugh, and cry together. Reality was setting in for just about everyone.
A couple of weeks after Edith’s visit, the heart tests revealed that my mother had a strong heart. When
Edith called me for the news, I said, “Mom has a good heart.”
Edith commented, “In more ways than one.” Adding, “I just wanted to know the status before I called your folks. Then, I know how to talk to Jean when I call her next.”
This was the beginning of Edith calling me first while bracing herself in the event of bad news. That way she could call my parents with all her defenses up if the day’s news was bad.
A few days later, I noticed my mother was counting the days aloud. I asked her what all the counting was. She said, “Cancer takes 120 days to metastasize and go through the system. If it has done that I won’t make it.”
Then, she counted ninety days since the first pain in her chest. “Borderline,” she commented. “It depends on how many days it was there before the pain.”
I was the first to admit to myself that it was cancer and that meant probable death. However, I was the last to believe it in her presence.
“Don’t worry about it. Let the doctor tell you when to worry,” I consoled.
This was the beginning of the cat and mouse game where behind her back I prepared for her death but in front of her we talked about positive life reinforcing things. As I dangled my mother by her own tail, I would act like any playful cat. Her health was all downhill from there. I would not wish cancer on anyone.
“I hear it is painful to die from cancer.” It is distressful to watch someone you know fulfill their own prophecy and die a slow, agonizing death.
Foreword- I Will Survive
When I tell people about my recent losses, they just reel back and ask me how I am surviving it. I simply look at them and say, “I don’t know.” While my parents may have left some pennies behind for the heirs to squabble and fuss over, my mother left me the story of her journey beyond this world’s process of dying. She asked me over and over again if I would be okay the day after she left. With all the strength of my soul, I affirmed her question by saying, “I think so.”
In the veil of darkness, at 2:24A.M., on Thursday, January 24, 1991, my mother’s body gave up its last round with breast cancer. In the gloom of night, at 9:15P.M., on Tuesday, February 19, 1991, an emergency call came into my house from one of my father’s neighbors. My father had killed himself.
After a routine mammogram on March 5, 1991, my doctor told me that I had an irregular mass and needed more tests. The tests revealed that it was not cancer, but I found myself thoroughly exhausted. How much can the human soul take?
One day, while at church, I heard a sermon about an African tribal leader who lost his very young son to death. The priest remarked, “At the funeral, this father seemed joyous, in spite of his loss.” Continuing, “When I asked him why he didn’t mourn the son’s death, this leader said that he could not question his God’s Will.”
Through primitive faith, the tribal leader taught the learned priest the meaning of the Sermon on the Mount, “Thy Will be done.”
The missionary priest said, “This leader of men took his orders from God. He didn’t live by, ‘My will be done.’ This man’s total acceptance of God’s Will gave him the inner peace to accept his child’s death.”
This missionary priest told the congregation he wished for faith that strong. As I wrote this book, I prayed for the same strength.
Sometimes events occur in life that do not make sense until we reflect back on them. Some of the things I will share with the reader are translations so that they will make better sense. Others are events exactly as they occurred. Many of God’s mysteries are beyond human words and concepts. Thus, I will interpret ideas into more fluid ones for the reader. Some of the translations were easy enough for me to handle alone. For other communications, I needed a parish priest to explain the symbolic idea to me. In God’s Will, my mother delivered every key for each door God would allow me to access. However, I had to find each door and open it.
The outcome of this story is not just death, but it is a story of peace. In your darkest hours, I hope this book can generate the strength you need to survive a loss. If you need to widen your faith in a loving, caring God, I pray these words can help you. Remembering I lived through it all, I hope to deliver courage as well as faith, hope, and love.
My favorite phrase is, “I am surviving!” And so will you.