The nature of life and death is with us always. Whether it is the incredible joys of a birth of a child, or the agonizing grief at the loss of a loved one, this cycle continues every day. This weighs more on my mind as I approach the first anniversary of the loss of my mom.
Mom was diagnosed with a form of stomach cancer, which was not something easy to treat. The doctors did the usual chemotherapy treatments, but they did not help much. We learned about the cancer shortly before Mother’s Day, 2012, and still clearly remember spending the night before in the hospital while they ran in-depth scans to reveal the true nature of this beast. The following day, my brother mentioned the possibility this could be the last Mother’s Day with mom, but I was sure that the diagnosis would be favorable, and that some of the treatment options would be effective. Mom would beat this, and she would continue on her life’s journey.
With great despair, we learned the diagnosis was not good. The cancer was not only in the stomach, but had metastasized into other areas and they would do the best they could, but the disease would most likely run its course. The first round of treatment utterly devastated her, and was quite painful to see. I tried my best to speak with her on a regular basis or to see her when able, hopefully lifting her spirits, even though it was very painful to hear the effects chemotherapy had on her. The treatments ravaged her body, but not her mind or spirit.
Once the cancer reached into her brain, the end was inevitable. I cannot believe a year has almost past since we were all in the Hospice facility with her. We watched the final process with great sadness, but also with a sense of relief that the pain and suffering would soon be at an end. We shared the many childhood stories one final time. When we were children Mom would have delivered some serious spankings or other punitive measures, but as time moved forward, these adventures transformed into comical stories that we would all share laughs over. As my two brothers and Dad spoke amongst us, I happened to glance over to see Mom smiling. At this point, she was quite bad off and not able to communicate well, but in light of everything, soaking in a final story telling period was lifting her spirits to a better place. I remember telling her I loved one final time and even in her limited condition, attempting to console me. When she first saw Caitlyn and Brian, her two grand-children for the last time she clearly perked up. These are events that will not easily be forgotten.
We all had our moments of goodbye and quietly on the morning of October 3, 2012, Mom gently passed out of lives. The thought that a year has almost passed is hard to believe. Past Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays seem to all run together. Some of my early birthdays are but completely forgotten. I couldn’t name what I got, or what the card may have said. What I do remember is the feelings of love from Mom and Dad. Mom’s legacy of love will endure. It is a reflection of her mom and dad, of the grandparents going down the line. I like to think she is now at peace with my grandparents, great grandparents, and so forth. Residing in the eternal wisdom and love of where she’s at now.
I like to think she watches out for all of us still, and in her memory, I decided to write up a letter to her. Mainly as a tribute to her, but maybe those who have also lost people special to them can identify or take comfort in it. The feelings I have for my mom are certainly not isolated to just me. The sense of loss may be something many people can identify with, and maybe Mom is indirectly helping out those as well. I try to pay tribute to her through my actions in my daily life. I am biased, but I think my Mom is worth remembering for those who knew her, and for those she never met, I like to think she would have been a cherished friend and would have made their life just a little better. When I try to emulate her, I feel I am making the world a little better in my own way. She may no longer be with us in person, but her memory and legacy is alive and well.
It seems like yesterday when we were sitting with you and telling you many times how much we loved you and that we would all be fine if you wanted to find peace at last. You were brave and strong. Cancer took away your physical abilities. It breaks my heart to remember you absolutely struggling to even walk down the hall. It took away your physical abilities, but it never touched your mind, heart, or soul. For this, I am so proud of you and am eternally grateful you were my mom.
I was a little overwhelmed to see how many people came to see you, or to hear how you impacted lives of those around you. There were so many cases where people were completely saddened to hear the news. Many cousins told me that you were among their favorites and were heartbroken. I think it is a rare ability for people to have such a positive effect on others.
The first Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays were hard. I know how much you looked forward to these times. These were good family events at the time of year when the weather was getting much better. I know how much you loved the fall season change, or how annoyed you were when we missed out on some snow. Mother’s Day was hard, so was your birthday. The hardest of all was my birthday. I kept all the cards you sent over the years or anything else that you felt compelled to write. I did the same for grandma later in her life. A birthday should always be special for a mother, and you were always able to make us feel good on those days. I could always count on a call, or special dinner when you lived close by. Although I may not have said it enough, I did enjoy these times. It would be nice to hear your rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ one more time, bad singing and all.
Many memories are lost to time, or as we get older, merge into a conglomeration of sorts. Maybe a good play when I played baseball is a bit fuzzy now. Or a good grade has long slipped my mind and now is lost. The important thing is not the memory itself, but the feelings associated with it. I still remember the feeling of how proud you were when I did well or when Vince or Dave accomplished something. I feel the love of a wonderful mother and father. That is what I will cherish over time and hold onto until it is my time to go. This love is eternal, and though you are gone from our physical existence, it will remain.
This past year has been tough on me, but I am going forward. Your love, and the love of those special to me help prop me up and keep me moving forward.
Thank you for not just being a mother, but being Mom. I could not have asked for someone better for the job, and know that Vince, Dave, me, and Dad all made you proud. I will always try to make you proud throughout the rest of my life and will one day see you again. But hopefully not for some time yet. I am not yet finished with things here and there is no need to rush anything.
Tell Grandma and Grandpa Smith, Grandma and Grandpa Guettler, Uncle Edgar, Uncle John, Uncle Paul, Uncle Dick, Auto Betty, Uncle Larry, Bill, and any others I forgot that I said hello. Keep an eye on Dad as he likes to stir up trouble, and misses you. Keep an eye on Vince and keep the winds calm and the crosswind landings to a minimum when he is flying. Keep an eye on Dave and Jennifer as they continue on their way in life. Especially keep an eye on your two precious gems Caitlyn and Brian. Always keep them heading to the future with focus and good fortune as they grow into adults and start their own lives. Help out all the aunts and uncles as they continue to age with grace and love, especially when it comes their time. Be with them and their families in the time of need now and always.
Don’t forget about me as well. I am happy and content with things, and try to not ask for much. Help Lori and me sell the house so we can move into something a little better. You were not in her life for very long, but she feels as much of your loss as does everyone. I only for your guidance and to help me find the inner strength to be the best person I can and to continue to make you proud. Things will never be the same, and there will always be a little sadness at the thought of your loss. The birthdays or holiday will forever be a little emptier than before.
I love you Mom. You are the heart of the family for sure and will always be so.