On February 2nd, I stood on the front porch of my childhood home when my dad said that we had received the worst news possible. I laughed. Being told that the surgeon who opened up my 56-year-old mother had deemed the tumor inoperable was not my worst case scenario; I thought he was calling me to tell me she was dead. I was pregnant with my second child at the time and brought over my 1-year-old son to raise her spirits. She spent the entire time on the phone with my Aunt Patty, trying to figure out when she was going back to work. My dad and I rolled our eyes. (She didn’t mention overhearing the intern say how sorry they felt for this poor woman who was going to wake up with no hope.)
When my daughter was born, my son spent two days with my mom. She got to bring him to visit me in the hospital; she got to hear him say “mom-mom.” Soon after that, we weren’t even allowed in the house. For the first time in my life, I had to call before I went over.
For Independence Day, my hometown has a mile run followed by the best parade—red, white, and blue floats followed by the baseball teams in the back of pickup trucks throwing candy, with a finale of fire trucks. That year, my dad came alone. My mom wouldn’t get out of bed to see any of us. I allowed myself to become bitter and resentful, not realizing until later that she wasn’t sick; she was depressed.
It wouldn’t stop raining on Sunday, August 14th. I rode with my sister to the hospital to see my mom in intensive care. Stage IV Pancreatic Cancer. I was trying to have a minute with my mom when my Aunt Roe came in, which was typical in my family: no one could ever have a minute alone with someone. Soon after, Father Malcolm appeared.
I was a non-believer. The first funeral I went to was when I was in the fourth grade and it was for my 16-year-old cousin. Eleven years later, I went to his baby brother’s funeral, also dead at sixteen. I spent my teenage life rolling my eyes at anyone who used the words “hope” and “faith.”
Feeling rude if I left, I listened to my mom talk to him. She told him the story about how she only recently returned to Mass. When you have four children who can’t get along through the hour-long service, going to church loses its appeal. When she was diagnosed, I jokingly asked if she was going to find God now. She smiled and said she never lost him.
He asked how she was feeling. She told him she didn’t understand what was happening to her. She was going through treatment and trying to get better, but couldn’t feel better and no one would tell her what was happening. In that moment, I realized my mother was in denial.
Monday night, we had a family meeting and were told she had two weeks.
The next day I got a call at work. My sister said to come to my parents’ house as soon as possible. I cancelled my patients, picked up the kids from the sitter, and headed over. From being carried, her rib pierced her lung. We now had days.
That night, we had my daughter and my oldest nephew baptized at my mother’s bedside. She had accepted her faith and her last act was witnessing their blessing.