It is late summer of 2003 The sun is out and our pool is at just the right temperature. My mother has her diagnosis and she is living with me mostly full time. She hasn't felt well but she is having a good day so I suggest she get in the pool with me. My mother doesn't like the water. She has a fear of water that I believe may stem from the fact that she had a brother who drown in a boating accident when I was a small child. I didn't grow up going to a pool to swim because of her fear. She likes the beach but not the ocean. She prefers showers over baths. I share these things with her. Shortly after my marriage my husband put me in swimming lessons. My intent is not to scare her but to help her face her fear. I too, am afraid of this uphill battle that we are facing. Our Goliath is daunting in the face of the unknown.
She agrees to get in the shallow end with me and I convince her to relax and lay on her back and try floating. I assure her that I will not let her sink. I tell her that I have her but even if I didn't she could stand at any point and be fine as the water doesn't even come to her waist in this part of our pool. "Mom, do you trust me?" She lays back and I hold her and watch to see if she will relax. She can feel my hands under her, supporting her, assuring her that I am there and I won't let her sink. Eventually she floats on her own for a couple of seconds before I replace my hands and then she is done.
"Mom, do you trust me?" It occurs to me now how symbolic that moment was for the journey we were embarking on. Essentially she was entrusting her decision making to me when it would come to the point she was unable. How well did I do? The evaluation of this still haunts me over fifteen years later. She should be turning sixty eight this month. I shared with my father once how I struggle with this and he told me that "we all have our struggles." This brings me no comfort in light of the fact that I question every decision I made. When I lie awake at night wondering if there were something I could have done to keep her here.
She should be driving around in a yellow convertible in the sunshine state taking her granddaughters shopping and warning them about boys. She knows all about boys. I'm fairly certain the only boys she liked are my husband and my son. How different my children would be if she were here. How different I would be...if only... "Mom, do you trust me?" I believe she did. Perhaps she shouldn't have, after all, I am but a mere human who makes human mistakes. I am not a doctor. I am not God. What qualifications did I have other than the fact that I love her more? I need her more. I want her to survive more. But alas, I'm also a realist. I understood enough about medicine that I know we would not win this fight. We could only prolong the inevitable. When the doctors gave her 6-8 months we determined to defy the odds.
My mom was a dreamer. I'm not sure I believed any dreams would come true before this journey. I think maybe I am a dreamer too. She was also a fighter. She was all of maybe 110 pounds soaking wet but she was scrappy and she was preparing for a fight. When taking care of her I ballooned up to possibly my highest weight ever eating her food and my own when she couldn't or wouldn't. I was preparing to fight as well but I wouldn't know until later what battle I was really fighting. Sometimes our battles are not external but internal. Months of chemo and radiation, months of watching her fight a seemingly losing battle, months of seeing her already small frame diminish, months of dying inside of hopelessness, months of begging God to show his miracles.
Miracles...are miracles and dreams similar? My mother had a brief pause in her fight where she was "cancer free" for her birthday. Her friends had a party for her. Perhaps they had more faith, perhaps they didn't hear the doctors or see the scans. Perhaps I didn't think we should tempt fate but I thought it was a mistake. In her brief period of relief she also went to visit her brother in another state. It was when she returned that the decline progressed at a rapid speed. "Mom, do you trust me?" Mom couldn't speak. She was lost in her own mind. Mom didn't know me. Mom couldn't walk or stand or roll over or sit up. "Mom, do you trust me?" and yet....hospice came anyway. There was nothing they could do and I was defeated. At her funeral her brother would tell me I should have done more. I should have taken her to another state to specialists. I should have... I could have...I would have.... He wasn't there.
The battle continues and I learned too late the lesson of surrender. Mom learned it. She faced the giant and she, a woman afraid of the water, was baptized in Christ and when Jesus came for her and stood at the foot of her bed during a lightening storm in July she stepped into eternity. On a July evening on the floor in her room surrounded by funeral flowers I fell into the abyss of despair and ran from God and into the pit where I deserved to be. Funny really when I think of it. She had only put her faith in Jesus a very short time ago and I had believed since I was eight years old. She hadn't even went to church with me until she got sick. She knew surrender and I knew running.
As we approach her birthday I do believe in miracles, I do believe in dreams, and I do believe she got her miracle just not how I wanted it. I can't picture her at 68. To me she is always and forever 52. I have friends that age and it seems odd to me that we age and she doesn't. I wonder if there is cake in heaven, I wonder if my battle will ever end. I wonder if she sees us and laughs at us. I wonder if she misses us too and I continue with my thoughts of what could have been and should she have trusted me?
Then this morning I realized that it wasn't me she needed to trust but God. God had her, supported her, walked with her, supported her, and saw things that I couldn't. Something I need to remember for myself as well. I think maybe her hair is long and her smile is vibrant and grandma will bake her cake. I can't see her but I think maybe she's just as beautiful as ever and I don't think she looks tired. I think that is reserved for here. Happy birthday mom I hope your day is as beautiful as you. I miss you like the flowers miss the rain in a drought.