She was driving that little red hatchback to a routine appointment when she started feeling dizzy, and pulled over. A few hours later she was sitting upright in a hospital bed, having just learned that the afternoon’s scans and tests revealed she had brain tumor.
Surgery, radiation, chemo. It did little to slow the inexorable progression of a high-grade astrocytoma.
She had sent six kids through Catholic school. Her mothering skills were a deft combination of pediatrician, short-order cook, janitor, cab driver, party planner, and armchair psychiatrist. She wasn’t perfect, of course; what mother is? But she had spent years wrestling with the demons of her own past—an estranged father and overbearing mother—and struggling chronic, debilitating health problems, all while raising six kids of her own. The life had left her exhausted and understandably high-strung.
But now she had finally begun to relax. She took satisfaction in watching an elder son marry, just as her youngest daughter was transitioning into young adulthood. At last she could sit back and savor years of hard work like a maturing fine wine.
Until that afternoon in December cut everything short.
Sixteen months later, I stood at her bedside in a nursing home, clutching her frail hand. The hallways reeked of industrial-grade antiseptics, bland institutional food, and stale urine. She held me with a vacant gaze—did she still recognize her middle son?
Later that night, the ringing phone by my bedside startled me from a dreamless sleep. A call that we had all come to expect, come to accept.
Sometimes it's hard not to fixate on those days and nights.
But when the weather turns cool, and gray clouds blanket the winter sky…
I’m pulled back in time to that little home in a small town in upstate New York…
…a warm amber glow emanates from the kitchen, the sounds of pots and pans clattering, the sweet smell of supper made from scratch…
and I am once again
…her little boy