Happy Birthday, Mom

I’ve spent days revising this post and have hovered my finger over pushing the mouse button to “publish” this post for several minutes now … I hope this post will be a blessing to someone … it’s a scary thing, being transparent.

I was in bed, lazing around on a Saturday morning in mid-January and had just finished reading Laura’s great blogging ebook Blogger Behave on my brand-new Kindle (my Christmas present from Daniel. Thanks, Babe!) from the comfort of my warm covers, when something I read made me realize I needed to share this story with you. Actually, the moment I realized it, I felt hot tears run down the sides of my cheeks.

I want to tell you a story about history and fear and courage and loss and love and a big ol’ hole in my heart and why this blog is, in part, a response to what I’ve learned through it all.

History

This is my mom. Today is her birthday. As a little girl, she loved playing pretend, roaming through the woods with her father while he hunted, reading, learning in school, and dreaming of the future. She loved music, and taught herself to play several instruments. She joined her high school band. She never had much money, but she always made do. She even made her own clothing. And, after meeting my dad at a Bible study at her small church, she later made her wedding dress and veil. (A veil I later wore at my wedding.)

Mom and Dad loved each other so much, and though they didn’t have much in earthly goods, they made up for it in a wealth of wisdom and joy for life. They were soulmates of the best kind, balancing each other out, lifting each other up, and staying affectionate as the years went by and our family grew to five people after myself and my younger brothers came along.

Mom taught us all at home, even though it wasn’t popular at the time. Through multiple moves and chasing dreams through the 80s and 90s, we settled in Tennessee, built a home, sold that home, and grew up into adults. During this time, Mom’s Christian faith grew and matured and she clung to Jesus for help when she didn’t know how to handle this situation or that as a homeschooling mother. I remember many days when I’d find her sitting somewhere, eyes closed, Bible in hand, praying.

Fear

After my younger brother and I had already graduated college and left home, and our youngest brother had begun college, Mom began feeling some pains in her right side and she went to her doctor. She thought she might have this, that, or the other; none of the tests for those things came back positive.

But what did come back after she finally got an MRI was much more sobering. She tried to hide it from her family, but I called home during a long (Saturday) at work and heard it in her voice. I heard enough to drop everything, tell my boss I was leaving immediately, call my brother who lived nearby and ask him to look after my dog, and drove the four-and-a-half hours back to my parents’ house to see what was going on. Mom looked thin and pale and dad looked worried. I sat down with them in their living room and asked them point-blank what was wrong.

Four words changed my life forever that afternoon.

“Your mom has cancer.”

If time can stand still, it did at that moment. All it took was one look at Mom, who confirmed his statement with a short nod, and I began to weep. I crossed the room to hold her in my arms and cry together. In that first weekend, I went through all the stages of grief and mourning in a mere two days.

Courage

For two years, she fought a battle against the disease that had begun in her colon and then invaded surrounding organs and tissue. Her lungs, liver, chest cavity—all had spots of cancer that could not be surgically removed, not even when the original tumor had been removed from her colon by emergency surgery. Despite it all, Mom remained positive and looked to the future.

Love

During this time, blogging became my connection to my Mom, even more than it had before. I began blogging in 2004, to think out loud, basically. After I moved out of my parents’ home, Mom kept up with my life though my blog; we emailed and phoned back and forth about this, that, or the other. She challenged me to be a better person. When she started blogging her journey through the shadow of cancer, I learned even more about her. Things that made me so proud of her and in awe of how strong she was and how much she relied on God to get her through. Every correspondence was treasured; I kept everything she wrote me during this time period. I even gave her a journal, one of most treasured possessions, that she filled in and gave back to me, from mother to daughter.

Loss

Then, on September 22, 2008, my mother wrote her own last blog entry, detailing the news that she had gone into liver failure from the cancer. Less than a month later, she died at home. In that month, our family went through the hardest days and hours and minutes we could ever imagine as we watched her rapidly decline. Within two weeks of being told she had two months to live, she was no longer able to fully communicate with us. Liver failure is a terrible thing to watch happen to anyone–especially someone you love.

In that last entry, just before she lost the ability to communicate in words, she quoted Psalm 34:1-4:

“I will bless the Lord at all times: His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall make her boast in the Lord; the humble shall here thereof and be glad. O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together. I sought the Lord and He heard me and delivered me from all my fears. “

It was a testament to her response to her trials.

On October 17, 2008, after notifying our family and her closest friends, I wrote this note on Facebook:

For those of you who may not know …

Last Friday, my mother lost her two-year battle with colon cancer and died early in the morning. I had managed to make it home in time to be by her bedside up until a couple of hours before she passed away.

She was an incredible influence on me, a strong and godly woman, and my closest friend. Watching her go through the painful process of cancer-caused liver failure was one of the hardest things of my life. In the end, though I mourn her death with a heavy heart and miss her so much already, I am glad that she is no longer in pain. And I know I will see her again.

The Hole in My Heart

I miss her every day. Some days, my first reaction to good news or a funny story is I want to call her and let her know. On other days, I am angry and saddened that she missed meeting my husband by only one month, and that she missed our wedding two years later. Then there are the days when I think about how I might go through pregnancy without my mom to talk me through it. Or the days when the only thing I want is to have her stroke my hair like she used to do and have a good old-fashioned 2am chat. I wish my Dad had her around to fill the house with joy.  I wish I could show her this blog and have her smile, seeing all the things I’m learning and doing now. I wish so many things …

Sometimes I imagine what her response would be if she could read these posts. She’d probably chide me for spending money on non-necessities one day and encourage me grow my businesses another day. I can see her smiling at me now.

I’m trying to trust God and let Him guide me along the way. I’m trying to be a good homemaker, like she was. She wasn’t perfect, but she was a good example to follow and poured her life into us. I want to do the same for my family. I actually care about dust bunnies under the couch now. I make our bed more often than not. I’m learning to cook better! I still like wrapping presents all pretty like you always complimented me on doing. It’s weird, being the grown-up. But it is so fulfilling.

So thanks, Mom, for everything. But especially for believing in me.

I hope you’d be proud.

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4 Comments

Filed under Life

4 responses to “Happy Birthday, Mom

  1. Susan Underwood

    Andrea’s mother, Carolyn, was a dear friend of mine. She was all Andrea said she was–a genuine, loving, caring person who blessed all that she came in contact with. She was such a help to me as a “younger” home-schooling mom, and I have precious memories of times our families spent together. She was always wanting to learn and try new things, and she was such an encouragement to me. She loved her Lord above all, but her family was a close second. As I read this aloud to my husband, it was hard to keep back the tears. Thank you, Andrea, for this memorial to a wonderful lady.

    • She was pretty great, wasn’t she? Thank you so much. When I read your response it made me smile. I’m glad she had you as a friend, and I too, have fond memories of our families spending time together.

  2. I’m sorry for your loss. Your post was beautiful and she would be proud. It made me cry. I have found that my most transparent blog posts are the ones that people really seem to connect with. It’s making me a better writer. Today you did one hell of a job!

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