My mom died of this really rare cancer called adenoid cystic carcinoma. The only people I don’t get a weird look from, when asked what she was diagnosed with, are my doctors, who get a twinkle in their eye when you bring up something odd and different. Sometimes they even forget to say the obligatory ‘I’m sorry’ before asking me questions based solely on scientific, medical curiosity. It doesn’t bother me. Not even a little bit. I like to talk about her. Even if it’s in a medical sense.
For years she had a hard time breathing and they diagnosed her with asthma for a very long time … never bothering to take a glance down her esophagus to see the large tumor making a home there. By the time they found it, she had to be rushed via ambulance to the hospital for fear it would close up her throat at any moment.
So when I started having some issues swallowing a few years back, instead of having my typical alarmist attitude (‘omg, I’m dying!!’), I weirdly ignored it. So for a few years now, I’ve been choking on my food and feeling weird lumps when I swallow. Why didn’t I get this checked out sooner? Seems so silly, as a grown woman, to say fear, but I think it’s pretty much as basic as that.
I’m turning 40 this year, though, getting perilously closer to the age my mom was diagnosed and decided to have it checked out. I’m fine, of course. Hiatal hernia and bad acid reflux was the diagnosis. But the morning of my endoscopy was so brutally charged that I was worried I wouldn’t be able to go through with it. I forced myself not to listen to any sad songs – where I invariably end up in tears, even on a good day. But on came Rascal Flatts’ My Wish and I went epic in my sobbing … imagining my children motherless.
I’m lucky. For too many reasons to list. But I have some pretty amazing people in my life who talked me off the ledge. My dad, brother and sister being paramount. I imagined them there with me and knew that their fears would be the exact same as mine. My dad tried his best to remind me that my symptoms weren’t the same as my mom’s, but insisted that I text him immediately when I had the results.
I have made a life without my mom. I have some pretty amazing family, a husband that continues to amaze me with his unconditional love and an extraordinary group of the best friends anyone could ask for. That’s pretty damn lucky.
But I miss her still. Fifteen years later. Is it weird to still miss her? Is it weird to still think about her, write about her, talk about her? Grief and grieving are such strange things. I find that as I reach new stages in my life, her absence is always particularly pronounced. This year, I think a lot about her raising me as a teenager, because, of course, I have a teenager now. And I see her with new eyes. And I have so many questions.
Did you worry about me? And what did you worry about? Did you like me? Or did I drive you insane? What was it like having your kids get older and more self-sufficient? Did you struggle with your own life and wonder what you should do with it?
This morning, if I’m very still and quiet, I can just vaguely remember her voice and how she used to say my name. I can remember her hair and how she would light that curling iron up every morning and how there was always that one section of hair in the back of her head that sort of looked like a hole and she had to try to hide or fix it. I remember her first thing in the morning, in her long nightgowns and her make up a little smeared. I remember her blue eye shadow and her smile. I remember people wanting to be around her and her making people laugh.
And, again, this morning, as I cry over the handmade Mother’s Day cards my kids give me, I think about her when she was my age and feel so grateful that she got to read those same cards from my brother, sister and me. And I know she loved them. And sometimes, that just has to be enough.