It’s been two and a half weeks since my mom died. I’ve had a little time to get used to the idea that she’s gone. However, the last thing I do at night and the first thing I do each morning is rehash the experience in my head, to convince myself that it truly happened. I’m afraid Bill thinks I have lost my mind.
I go over the details, endlessly. My mom called me on October 21, a Friday, to tell me that she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I was sitting here at my computer, writing, when the phone rang. My dad was on the line, too. They were optimistic– they knew she was facing major surgery and a year of chemo, but they were ready for the challenge.
The following Monday my sisters, my dad and I went to the doctor with my mom, where we all discussed her treatment and prognosis. Mom was admitted to the hospital Tuesday morning and the surgery went well. Wednesday she suffered a sudden pulmonary embolism and died.
To say that we were shocked would be an understatement. Hours earlier I had sent out an email to my mother’s friends, advising them that the surgery had been a success. Less than a day later I was making a call asking one of her friends to begin the grim task of notifying everyone that my mom was dead.
I suppose that with any death there are questions. Some are easier to answer than others. The hardest question I’m facing now is why she was taken from us without warning, with no time to say goodbye.
There’s no denying that my mom had a bad cancer. I know that caring for someone with cancer, or any other debilitating disease, is stressful and emotionally overwhelming.
Many people tell us that the fact she went quickly, and without suffering, was a blessing. Intellectually, I know that she departed this life in the way she wanted. She cared for her mother for many years, and didn’t value longevity over quality of life. It’s true that she didn’t suffer, and our memories of her are good ones– we’ll remember her laughing, or working in the garden, or opening birthday presents.
But who’s to say that way was best? If she had survived the surgery and begun chemo, and the year had been a hard one, as it surely would have, I have to think that the experience would have brought our family closer, much in the way her untimely death has. Had it played out that way, the same people would be telling us that at least we had some extra time with her, to care for her, to tell her goodbye, and to make sure she knew we loved her. The extra months would have been “a blessing” as well.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve talked with many people who have lost close family members. Some had a sudden, stunning loss like ours. Others nursed a loved one for months, watching them slowly deteriorate.
These people understand the conundrum. They understand the value of getting to say goodbye, but don’t minimize the emotional toll of watching a parent or spouse suffer and die. They understand that labeling this particular manner of death “a blessing” is too easy.
You can’t have everything. We were spared the sight of watching her in pain. In exchange, we have no choice but to hope that she knew what was in our hearts. That she was a great mother. That she taught us well. That we’ll try to never forget to write a thank you note, or take flowers to someone who’s sick. That we’ll travel and hang out with friends and family while we’re able to enjoy them.
The question of why she was taken so abruptly is one without an answer. As with anything, I suppose you must take what life gives you, and look for the good in your situation. So I choose to be thankful for the circumstances surrounding her death, and I have faith that the things that were left unsaid didn’t really need saying at all.