I have had words swimming around my head for quite some time. It's been a while since I've actually sat down to write and I've been craving it. Not sure how this will go, but I have to let it out.
I won't forget the call I received about my Mom. I was driving with two friends, and another friend following in her car, to South Florida to the Skydive Ultra. I was so excited to get to Skydive Ultra, it was going to be full circle from where my love of skydiving was born, one year ago at the same event. It was going to be my first even since my skydiving accident and we were having the best of times driving. Laughing, talking and enjoying the company. My sister called and it all changed after that. I literally dropped my friends off at the next exit on I-75; we were probably 100 miles from Clewiston and about 125 miles from my house. My friends were wonderful, we emptied my car of people and things and I drove back to Tampa to try to catch a flight to Connecticut that day. I had to get there before my Mom was too far gone. I wanted her to be able to see that I made it back to see her that ONE last time. I landed in Hartford and got settled into my rental car. I turned on the radio and the song that is playing is Tim McGraw's song , "Live LIke You Were Dying". I looked at the radio and said, you've go to be kidding me. It was like a message from my Mom telling me that it's going to be okay and to keep on keeping on. While she didn't like all my activities, I believe that she lived vicariously through them. She would always ask what I was up to and then in the same breath tell me I was crazy. I miss that.
I won't ever forget the days leading up to my Mom's death. The days and the hour will always be fresh in my mind. Spending the last days, hours, minutes with her felt like the situation had turned, she gave me life and I was there when her last breath left her body. Pretty special. Being with someone when they pass is an honor bestowed not to many, but an experience that makes you question many things. Life. Death. Family. Living. Friends. Experiences. Laughter. Tears. Memories. Joy.
For 13 years, my Mom fought her battle with cancer. The surgeries, the chemo, the radiation, the million and one pills she had to take, the never ending pain she felt. In the beginning she knew she was going to beat it. We all did, however; as the years progressed, so did her cancer. While it once didn't define her, it became all consuming of who she was. All the endless doctor appointments, the hundreds of trips to the emergency room, the bottles and bottles of pills, the prescriptions, the insurance and all the other things that make cancer unbearable. My Dad, who, for 30 years, worked two jobs and was up at 2am every morning and home at 6pm every evening, retired early to fish and enjoy nature, but soon after, cancer struck my Mom and he never left her side. Till death due us part is what my Dad once told me - of course, with his little side mouth chuckle - and he was true to his word - he has always been like that, a man of his word. Every surgery, every doctor appointment (and there were hundreds upon hundreds of them), every pain, the anger, the disappointment, and the acceptance, he never once left her side. He never once said anything bad, he never once said "why", he never once questioned his role as my Mom's caregiver. Let's not forget that my twin sister Sam (the one who earned several medals in the International Special Olympics) was also being cared for by my parents. When my Mom became too ill to take care of herself, my Dad took care of her and made sure that my sister Sam was also cared for. The man deserves sainthood if you ask me.
Over the years we established a routine and I would talk to my Mom several times a week. I would always call her as I was driving to work. These calls made my commute better and we always ended our calls with terms of endearment. My Mom would also call to tell me how much pain she was in and I would tell her she'd be fine and to go out enjoy life and not dwell on the pain. She had more surgeries than I can remember, all bits and pieces of her body removed, and more x-rays, MRI's, PET and CT Scans that I can count. She began taking a lot of pain meds and many of us truly believed that she became addicted to them. She kept wanting more and more. Anyhow, as the years progressed, so did her pain and her cancer. You could tell she was in a lot of pain and needed more medication. There came a point when her doctors said she couldn't have any more pain meds, that she would have to try "pain management" instead. She tried this for a while, but didn't continue, she felt no relief. It was really heart wrenching to watch.
The vivacious person, who laughed and loved life was slowly disappearing. This same woman who came to visit me when we lived in El Paso and went to Juarez (pre-9/11 when border crossing was easy) so we could drink real beer from Mexico, have margaritas, and smoke real cigarettes. The one with the quick wit and sharp tongue. Yes, the same woman who taught me to be very competitive and to never stand down when I believed strongly in something. The one who taught me that integrity was everything and that working hard is for those who truly value what they have. Same one who wouldn't think twice about smacking me when I was out of line or disrespected someone. The one who made me continue to play team sports in high school when I'd had simply had enough. The person who went to work full time when I was 7 or 8 years old and I cried as she left off to work that day. The same woman, the mother of five, who drove a Chevy Nova Super Sport, 3-speed on the floor (it was blue and I'll never forget feeling her giddiness and pride when she drove this car). Yes, the same woman who coddled me when I was a toddler, taught me unconditional love and how to love unconditionally. The same woman is where my stubborn streak came from, my flash anger, my addictive personality, and my love of pushing the limits. I've learned over the years to hide some of those traits, but they do show up every once in a while. Thanks Mom!
I loved my Mom dearly and admired her and all she did for us and her family. She never graduated from high school, but that didn't stop her from climbing the corporate ladder and making a name for herself. She worked extremely hard and worked her employees harder. She expected everyone to give 100% and in her own way, she made an impact on many. Almost all of the sisters (4 of 5 of us) worked for my Mom for a period of time, some longer than others, but I was always proud of what my Mom accomplished and how she treated people and her customers.
Watching a parent die of cancer is horrible. Bill and I watched his Mom die from complications of breast cancer and now watching my Mom die from complications from her cancer(s). There's no other way to put it. It's horrible and all you hope is that it ends fast. In the end, we only wanted her to be without pain. We are fortunate that she passed so quickly. On Saturday she was talking and early Monday morning she passed away. I am so very thankful that it didn't drag out and that her pain was finally being managed. I didn't leave her side from 7am Sunday morning until after the hospital doctor called her death on Monday. It was extremely hard on my Dad. Sunday morning, he was still in denial. The conversation I had with him early that Sunday morning was the second hardest conversation I've ever had to have. I had to look him in the eyes and tell him that Mom was not coming home and she was not leaving the hospital. That day, we laughed, we cried and we laughed some more. At one time, there was about 15-20 people in her hospital room. If you only knew our family, you would find this comical. We were all there for my Mom and for each other.
The last few days I spent with my Mom made me realize that in the end, all you'll have is your family. Nothing else matters like family. How much you loved, how much you lived, and how much you laughed is what will be remembered. People won't care about the house you lived in, the car you drive, what clothes you wore, but people will always remember how you treated them.
When someone you love passes away, it makes you think of your own mortality. Why does our society fear death? Everything has a beginning and an end, doesn't it? Is it the unknown that we are afraid of? What really happens? When someone close to you passes, do we become more altruistic? More giving, more loving as a result of it? No matter the color, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, size, shape, etc, we all have two things in common - birth and death. It's inevitable and going to happen. What was, and most likely still is, particularly difficult for me was thinking about my own mortality. Specifically, my own cancer diagnosis and what that really means for me and my family. What legacy will I leave? Of course, this is not just a question someone who has cancer should ask, but a question that everyone should ask of themselves. What do you want to leave behind? For me, material items won't matter, it's about life lessons and giving. Why is it that our society fears death? Why the mystique? How do we ever get comfortable with talking about death? So many questions to be answered. An important one to me is, in the end, what and how do you want to be remembered? Again, what's your legacy?
I've pondered these questions several times over the last two years and don't quite yet have the answers and not sure I'm looking for answers.
I had my accident with ended up in two surgeries, my Mom died, I turned 50, gained weight, just had a PET scan and blood work to gauge my tumors and now waiting for results. While waiting for my blood test and scan results used to freak my out, it's become my normal. It's okay, I can't let cancer, an accident, death or anything else like that stop me from doing what's important - living and giving. I remember my Mom on a daily basis and continue living, just like Tim McGraw said.
I'm still seeing my oncologist and a functional medical practioner (FMP) on a continual basis. My FMP is fabulous. We are trying to figure out a variety of things and healing my body is primary. We look at my nutritional intake, I take supplements based on what my body needs and the results from a variety of tests. I've mapped my genome and learning about my own genetic makeup is a bit surreal. When it all gets unraveled, I'll be sure to write about it. It's a pretty fascinating process - learning about how different foods react to YOUR body and YOUR genetic make up. What works for someone else, may simply not work for you.
I want to live my life with less things and more experiences. I want to spend more time in the forest, feel the energy of the earth, who knows - hopefully get back up in the sky. It's pretty simple. Maybe that is the answer after all.
~ Susie Q