As my mother lay dying…

On May 3, 2007, my world as I knew it, was irrevocably altered with the utterance of one sentence.

My husband, Charlie, was between jobs at the time. He’d been unemployed for 6 weeks, and was scheduled to start a new job at Metropolitan Insurance in a couple of weeks. Of course, whenever money was tight, something always broke. This time as we stretched our budget to the point of piano wire thin, the dishwasher’s innards imploded with a CA-KINK the day I received the life-shattering phone call.

I was helping Charlie finish installing the new dishwasher we’d had to buy (oh, good, more debt heaped upon on our already top-heavy Visa) when the phone rang.

I looked at the caller i.d., surprised to see it was my parents’ number. Mom rarely called these days. She usually emailed.

“Hi, Mom, how’s it goin’?”

“Honey, it’s your dad,” he replied in a really strained tone.

I think my dad has called me twice in the 20+ years since I moved out when I was 18. So, I was immediately concerned. “What’s wrong, Dad?”

“Dammit,” Charlie sputtered in the background. He had dropped a screw down inside the mechanism of the dishwasher. An important screw, the one that secured the inside of the dishwasher to the framework of our kitchen counter.  He leaned inside the dishwasher, fishing around in the hole in the bottom of it where all the water drains out.

“It’s your mother. She has cancer,” Dad said softly.

“Oh, my God. How bad is it?” I asked, barely able to speak as new tears dampened my eyes.

Lung cancer. Bone cancer. Cancer and more cancer. Such ugly words to hear on a beautiful, spring day. The doctors gave her two months’ at most to live because it had now metastasized to her liver.

Mom and Nana flew back to West Virginia a week later, which is where Mom was born and raised (and where my brothers and I grew up as well).

I picked them up at the airport. The next day, Mom was admitted to St. Mary’s Hospital, and they did what they could to make her comfortable. People came by to see her in droves, her sorority sisters, relatives from three different states, dozens and dozens of friends.

But some people stood back away from Mom, giving her sidelong glances, just talking to me, watching Mom talk to my son, Rory, who was 21 at the time. But they didn’t actually speak to her, which really annoyed me.

I didn’t want to make a fuss because I know it’s difficult for a friend of 4o+ years to wrap his/her brain around the idea that such a beautiful soul who was only 71 years old was going to slip away from us so soon. But I wanted to shout, “She’s still here! And death isn’t contagious!”

But I didn’t.

Two days later, with Mom’s approval, she was transferred to a hospice facility near the hospital. It was quieter there, and the nurse said it would be easier to manage her pain meds there because it took TEN hours for the on-call oncologist to sign the order to switch her to Morphine instead of Delaudid, which gave her a terrible rash.

Dad had driven from their condo on the border of Georgia and Florida, and the traffic had been sluggish through several construction zones in South Carolina. And an accident had detoured him off I-77 onto a heavily traveled back road in North Carolina because of a lethal spill from a truck of some sort, so it took him two, almost 3 days to get back to WV. He finally arrived her first day at the beautiful hospice house. The next day, Mom slipped into a coma.

She had been unconscious for several days when the doctor warned us that she could go at any time. I tried to say my goodbyes, to tell her how much I loved her and what a great MOM she was, but I couldn’t because Nana Maude (my mother’s mother) was there, complaining the afternoon away…

“And he pees all over the damned floor, stinks to high heaven. You can smell it halfway down the hall,” Nana chirped angrily.

She was talking about my Dad. Nana had moved in with Mom and Dad about 3 years before Mom got cancer, and she made sure everyone and anyone within earshot knew how unhappy she was that she’d had to move in with them after my mother’s sister died in 2004. Nana was 92 at the time and not able to take care of herself anymore.

I was staring at a tug boat lazily lulling down the river as we sat in rocking chairs on the porch off the room where Mom lay dying not five feet away. It was a blistering HOT day, around 90 degrees as I recall, which is really warm for May.

All I wanted to do was wake Mom up and ask her if she wanted to go swimming. If she could talk, I’m sure she’d smile and say what a great idea that was. She would’ve played along as though the grim reaper wasn’t the next name on her dance card.

Dad had gone home to take a shower. We were all pretty weary at this point. Mom had only found out she was terminal 16 days prior.

“Have you talked to Dad about this?” I asked, not that I really wanted to know if Nana had broached the subject of Dad’s lack of aim in the loo.

“Your father…” she began, and then Nana looked at me with those SHARP blue eyes and said, “You know, I didn’t approve of your mother marrying your father.”

I couldn’t speak. I merely gasped, trying to suppress the fireball of emotion bursting at the seams of my heart.

“Excuse me. Need to, the bathroom,” I managed to mumble. I rushed into the ladies room that was to the left of Mom’s bed, practically hyperventilating from trying to hold back a storm of sobs. I sank onto the toilet wept in silence for a minute or 2 until the sobs broke free in clunky bursts. I didn’t want Nana to hear me for fear it would break the denial she’d wrapped herself in. She was convinced God would save my mother. I couldn’t bear the idea of comforting HER should she hear me crying in the ladies room which might destroy that lofty wish.

I didn’t confront Nana regarding those heart-crushing words she’d spoken about my saintly father until years later. And the thing is, my dad is a good man. He was a hardworking individual who retired as the Director of Engineering for Ashland Oil in 1997 after a distinguished 38-year career there. He never cheated on my mother nor would he ever considered such a thing. He was a very religious, very kind person.

He had never mistreated her in any way and never said an unkind word to her or anyone that I’m aware of – though I’m sure there were times he had bruises on his tongue in order to avoid lashing out at Nana when she felt the need to blurt out other mean-spirited comments.

For the 411 on why my Dad was such a KEEPER, check out this post: about how Dad rescued his family from homelessness at the age of 10.

My parents were happy, and they loved each other very much. And there was enough turmoil with Mom’s illness without having to deal with Nana’s bullshit.

Nana had said some awful things over the years, but I had no idea that she didn’t “approve” of my parents’ marriage until that moment.

And then…

Less than 24 hours later, Mom was gone.

And I’m sure Nana didn’t realize by negating my parents’ marriage, she was, in essence, saying she’d wished I’d never been born. I realize that’s a little bit existential for her feeble brain. But that’s how I felt at the time…

And there you have it, the beginning of the end via one sentence:

Your mother has cancer. 

And try as he might, Charlie never did find that screw that fell inside the drain in the new dishwasher. I kind of took that as a sign that things were falling apart, and no matter how hard we tried…things would never be the same.

And I was right as will be revealed as the saga goes on…:)




4 Responses to “As my mother lay dying…”

  1. […] home (see  or   as to why my beloved Grandmother caused my blood pressure to increase to heart attack levels), […]

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