Although my mom's too weak to speak much, in the moments that she's awake, she's almost always smiling. Even if her eyelids are too heavy to lift, she still smiles. Especially for my dad. She lights up for him like you just can't imagine. I mentioned this to my aunt and she said "yes, theirs always was quite the romance." And it still is. He reads poems to her, tells her about the weather, their friends, his day, or meals he's working on. His hearing is too bad to really hear much of what her quiet voice says in return. But he doesn't seem to need to hear it. He sees her smiling, and knows that she loves him. It's beautiful. It's the sweetest part of all of this. We all agree on that.
Being able to care for my mom has been a privilege I will forever be grateful for. I'm so glad that I've been able to be there as much as I have. All the small choices and happenings that have gotten my little family where we are today no longer can pass as coincidences. I feel so sure that God has done everything in His power to make this all possible. Reid and I considered setting up camp in the northwest, or even the east coast. But we chose Denver--a quick 7+hour drive from home. And if you recall, lil' miss Eliza was not "supposed" to be making her big debut until this spring--like right now--early May. I've thought about that one a lot. If things had gone according to my plan, I'd be just recovering from childbirth, and I wouldn't have been able to take care of my mom these past weeks. And my mom wouldn't have known my sweet (and sassy!) little toddler. Every day that we were there Eliza ran back to Grandma's room to see her, and I'd scoop her up so she could waive to Grandma. And after a few days, she started saying "wuv you, gammaw" without any promptings on my part. I can only imagine how much those little interactions mean to my mom. She's too weak to say much, but I see her eyes light up when Eliza's around. Thank Heavens things don't always go according to my plan.
Even after all that we've been through the past weeks, there's still so much about cancer that I don't understand. I guess it takes a different course in every body. The course it's taking in my mom seems to be the fast-track. At the end of March, just 7 weeks ago, she was tired lots, and rested lots, but she still joined us for dinner, for visits on the porch and conversations in the front room.
But that stage has passed. She is now completely bed-bound and has been for 4+ weeks. Some days she thinks she's up for a ride in the wheelchair, but her body disagrees. And, to simplify things a bit for us caretakers, she's now in a hospital bed. And although i know she would have rather stayed in her bed, she's never, ever, ever complained about it--or about anything, really. I mean, even when her nausea is uncontrollable, she still says she's fine. She is sweetest person that the Hospice care-takers have ever seen. They've said that, and I believe them. She does everything she can (sometimes too much) to make this easy on her care-takers. Yet another trait i admire in her.
There was one weekend in April when 6 of her 7 kids were in town, and all her grandkids. We only overlapped for less than a day, and she was exhausted much of the time. But we found a moment to gather and sing to her. We sang a hymn that she composed years ago--before I was even born. (It's beautiful. I'd never heard it before, but now it runs through my head all the time. Someday I'll post it here on this blog. It really is amazing.) And after the hymn we all gathered in her room for a beautiful family prayer offered by my dad. His faith strengthens us all. It's nearly impossible to not feel peace when we talk to or are with our dad. It was wonderful being gathered in her room and knowing that we'll be with our mom again.
Grace was so sweet about having her birthday there. Truthfully, i don't think it ever even crossed her mind. She was more excited about finally being five than anything else. I, of course, was worried that she'd be sad that she was away from friends and her dad, so i made sure we celebrated it lots. She got two cakes--one that we had when her cousins were in town for the weekend, and cupcakes we had at the little party with some neighborhood friends she'd made the week earlier.
And I went to the thrift store and bought her a few books and a new doll. I had to buy one for Abby, too, since there was one with her hair and eye color as well. It was the best $2 spent. Grace opened up her doll in Grandma's room, and said "Wow, Mom!! is it an American Doll???" and...since i really have no idea what an American Doll is, and I don't think she does either, I just said "yeah, honey, i think it is." I mean, it could've been, right? (we've since learned that it was made in China, so i guess it isn't? she and Abby still love their dolls immensely, still call them American Dolls..and I think i just saved myself a lot of money :) Grace was so grateful for the few gifts she got...so I just decided to put away the things i'd left here in Denver, and save them for Christmas.
The weather was great most of the time we were there. The girls spent 4-6 hours most days riding around on their scooters and tricycle. My parents' neighborhood is the safest-feeling place in the world to me--probably because i grew up there--so i had no problem letting them run around outside while I took care of my mom. I mean, I'd check on them often enough, but letting them play like that would never happen anywhere else. I'm glad it could happen there, though. It needed to be that way. I'm also grateful for cousins who came to visit on the weekends, and Tom and Jana who took my kids (all three!) for 24 hours!!!! The girls and I needed a break somewhere in Week 2, and Jana and Tom saved the day!!
The girls love their grandpa and their aunts and uncles. It was so nice to have other people around in the evenings to keep the girls happy. And it was nice to have my dad there to keep Eliza fed. She eats around the clock--i kid you not. And she had Grandpa trained! we figure she ate between 50-70 clementines while we were there...most of those peeled and fed by my dad! I know I've said it before, and i'll say it again--I don't know how I or ANY of us would be handling this without my dad.
I've thought lots about the fact that this cancer could have returned at any time of the year. And I'm so grateful that it came in Spring, when the weather is changing, and being outside is new and fun, and when there are flowers galore for me and my girls to gather and bring to my mom. The flower-picking started out as something for her, but i think it's turned into something for me. I love that the girls feel like they're doing something for their Grandma. I hope that Grace will always retain a small memory of all of this. I don't see how she could forget the dozens of blossoms she's gathered and given to Grandma. I know she's only five, but she's got quite the mind. I still can't stand that they won't get to know her. That part isn't getting any easier to accept.
One of the hardest things about this has been talking to people about it. And I know it's hard for people to talk to me about it, too. No one knows what to say--myself included. When people ask "how's your mom?" i'm torn between the truth--which is that never, in her life, has she ever been worse--and it's only downhill from here, OR the easier answer which is "oh, she's hanging in there, doing as well as can be expected." There've been times when it's seemed like the latter gave the illusion of hope for her recovery, which there isn't. And it doesn't quite seem honest, either. i don't imagine most people want to hear the details, though, and I try not to think about them.
And when people ask how I'm doing, i feel the same kind of battle. I really do appreciate how mindful people are of my family and my mom. And I'm so grateful for the prayers and well-wishes that come our way. I just don't know how to talk about it, i guess. Usually if I'm around people, then I'm in an okay place. But it feels like a tiny bit of a lie to say "I'm okay" when I still soak my pillow so many nights, and i still cry every time i sit down at this computer to write about her. I still picture her there at my girls' baptisms and weddings. And I can't imagine ever taking her off of speed dial on my phone. I secretly hate every person in the world who still has their mom. i listen to old voice messages from her more than i care to admit, and I wish that everything were different and that she could be around for 25 more years. So, no, i'm not totally okay. Not at all. My heart hurts a lot of the time.
But i can't deny the Comfort that I feel, either. I can't imagine going through this if I had any doubts about the eternal nature of Life.
Last night all seven of my mom's children gathered around her bed (three of us through Skype) and sang I Often Go Walking to my mom. It was a very sweet moment. I've sung that song to my mom more times than i can count--for Mother's Day, for her b-day, or just to butter her up when I was short on cash :) The last line "Dear mother, all flowers remind me of you" is more true now than ever. She has always loved flowers. And irises, roses, hyacinths, tulips and tiger lilies all remind me of my mom. But something about the flowers this spring has been different. At least for me. I feel like all flowers that i see--the blossoms and tulips that lie dormant all winter--literally remind me not only of my mom, but they remind me that her passing will be just like a longer winter. This sounds so cheesy, i'm sure, and i don't know any other way to say it than that Spring will forever be for me a visible reminder that her future resurrection is real, and that she will be restored and her life will be renewed.
It was a very sweet and tearful moment singing to my mom for what we know will be her last Mother's Day. All day my mind was filled with that thought, but I just keep thinking how lucky I feel to know that and to not miss a moment of it. I took a mental picture of everything that happened yesterday and have written down feelings and thoughts that I've had. And not many people get to experience their goodbye's like this. I know many people think that it's harder this way. But I don't feel that way. All of these "lasts" are treasures to me, and I'm grateful to have them.