It’s been one year ago today that momma died. She was diagnosed with lymphoma almost 20 years ago. It’s the kind of disease that shows up every two or three years and you have to beat it down to buy some more time. Over the years the lymphoma had shown up in various places throughout her body. And each time she would step forward for whatever the prescribed treatment was. Sometimes it was radiation, sometimes chemotherapy. Sometimes the chemo would just slow her down, and sometimes it would almost kill her. She lost her hair a few times and even developed a heart condition as a result of the severity of treating the cancer.
In the fall of 2013 we began to notice that momma would say things that didn’t quite make sense. She couldn’t find the right words to express herself. We were visiting one day and it was obvious that this was more than just the trouble we all sometimes have in not finding the right word. When we left my daughter even commented that she thought something was wrong. I went back over to momma’s to tell her of my concern with the full intention of taking her into the ER, thinking maybe she was having a stroke. Of course when I got there she insisted she was alright and proceeded to have a 30 minute conversation without misspeaking once.
But by December we continued to see these symptoms and tests were done. A brain tumor was discovered in the part of the brain that controls language. Radiation was the course of treatment and the daily routine started. We (my siblings and I) would take turns taking mom to her daily appointments and then compare notes as to how we thought she was progressing. It became evident in just a few weeks that she was not getting better, but we persisted.
It bears mentioning that in all the times that momma underwent treatment for the lymphoma she never once declined any treatment the doctors recommended. Even though some of the treatments were brutal. It made you wonder if the treatment wasn’t worse than the disease. I remember thinking when she would be diagnosed yet again that, as much as I wanted her to get better, how could we ask or expect her to face it all over again. But she always did.
Looking back, I think there was something different about this time. You see earlier that fall of 2013, daddy’s lung cancer had reoccurred. The doctors told him there was nothing else they could do and referred him to hospice care. And then they discovered that the cancer had metastasized to his brain. Yes, both of our parents were fighting brain tumors at the same time. Daddy underwent the radiation treatments and was getting a good result. But momma knew that the doctors had given him less than a year to live with the lung cancer. She always said she never wanted to live without daddy. And so now I look back and wonder if, though she underwent the radiation treatments, she didn’t really desire to live longer if it meant she would live without him.
By the first week of January, momma was declining fast and hospice was called. She was allowed to be cared for in a hospice house just a block from her home. It was very homey and the people were very nice. She was not very aware by now of what was happening around her. One day I was trying to get mom to eat something, anything. She always had a sweet tooth so I was trying to coax her with a little ice cream. She took a few bites very slowly. Me, the pushy sister, kept on pushing and pushing for her to eat a little more. “No!” she finally said. It was the last word she would say to me.
Two days later we knew the time was getting short. All the siblings were gathered at the hospice house that Saturday. We all stayed close. As the evening came we had the Saints football game on in her room and were following along – she liked to keep up with the Saints. The game ended and the four of us stayed in her room. We just sat around talking and laughing about what it was like growing up – silly memories and family vacations, who was the “favorite son” and things we thought we got away with as teenagers. We sang a few of momma’s favorite hymns. Momma’s breathing was getting labored and she was no longer responding to us. She would have enjoyed hearing us laugh and retell stories. Her family was the most important thing in the world to her.
As it got later the nurse came in. She asked us to step out so she could reposition momma and give her some medicine. We had stepped down the hall less than a minute and the nurse came to get us. Momma wasn’t breathing. Sure enough when we went back in she was perfectly still. No more labored breathing. Just quietness. The nurse checked her wrist and said she thought she still had a pulse. She put my fingers on momma’s wrist and I felt the last few beats of her pulse.
It was just like momma to wait for everybody to leave the room to take her last breath. She would never have wanted to be any fuss to anybody. She died like she lived – very quiet, very private.
In that last month with momma, during trips back and forth for treatment and sitting around visiting at her house, she would sometimes get started on these circular conversations where she would say the same things over and over again. We would listen, always respectfully, as she would retell us her thoughts. She talked about how she and daddy always wanted to “love the Lord and work for the Lord”. She said all they ever wanted was for their children “to work for the Lord.” And as parents all we should want is for our children “to work for the Lord”. All this said over and over again in her best southern Mississippi drawl. And while in the days during and after momma’s passing we laughed at her simple way of looking at things, it really did give you a picture of her heart. I mean, incredibly, when cancer took away her ability to reason and she couldn’t find the words to tell people how to care for her, she still wanted us to know that she loved the Lord and she wanted us to love Him to.
Miss you momma.