Today is my mother’s birthday. It’s hard to get someone who has everything–including a gagillion dollar IOU dating from 1994 from her eldest daughter–something meaningful on such a day. She has been such an amazing champion for me, not just since I was diagnosed, but well, for always. And considering I paused on my I owe my mother and father money for the rest of my life payments (“broken” debit card while living abroad in London, 9 months of unemployment, the list goes on and on) when the medical bills started pouring in (at her insistence, she’s that kind of generous), I figured she wouldn’t appreciate a super expensive gift. (But don’t worry, a more moderate present is still on the way!) In lieu of fancy presents, I decided to write her a post. A love letter of sorts.
When I first got the “call” more than four months ago, the first thing I asked was if I was going to die. Once the nurse said no, not anytime soon, at least not from this, I kind of blanked out on the rest, only hearing my hysterical sobs. Sobs not so much for myself, but because I had no idea how I was going to tell her, how to tell Mom. When I managed to pull myself out of the conference room and went to tell my boss Jana the reason I needed to go home three days into the the midst of our response to the horrific Philippines typhoon, the first thing I said, the only thing I said, was I don’t know how to tell my mother.
Luckily, Jana being the amazing person she is, called the nurse back, got the details I had blanked out on and immediately called my sister to come pick me up. It was Lindsey that told Mom and Dad. They had some dear family friends in town, and had driven up to Charleston for the day. I didn’t want to tell them when they were not at home, but I couldn’t not tell them right away. My dad first answered the phone when my sister called. He was upset, obviously, but calm, as he is. He’s always the calm one, the strong one. For me, for my mom. When she told Mom, I could hear her scream through the phone as she fell to the ground in front of the restaurant they had just exited. I took the phone and insisted to her I’d be okay, people survived this all the time, it was no big deal.
My mom is also strong. She took her grief and turned it into action. By the end of the week, I had received cards and emails and notices of prayer chains from people I had never met, in places I had never visited. She and Dad called into every doctor’s appointment, until they came up, and then they went to every appointment. She was by my side at every moment, serving me tough love and jello. She has cleaned my drains and along with my sister, held my head over the toilet and bathed me, and along with my family, loved me completely and unconditionally. She has printed out my blog for my great aunt down in Pensacola, she has written me a hundred letters of encouragement and has planned out week long trips for five of my eight chemo treatments, just to help cook and clean and drive me to work. She’s been here so much to support me that my next door neighbor, not knowing I had cancer, asked her point blank why she was here all the time. Didn’t she just get married? I love that. There’s nothing like the love of my mother.
Of course, this is nothing new. She has been my staunchest supporter decades before any nasty cells started developing in my chest. When I was nine, the new kid in town, and nerdy as they come, she bought me a winter hat (winter in Louisiana back in 1989 was anything below 65 degrees) that promptly earned me the nickname Bag Lady among my fourth grade peers. Unlike my sister who would just take off anything unappealing on the bus, I kept it on, knowing that’s how my momma would like it. After several weeks of taunting, I remember my mom, in all her good intentions, showing up to class wearing the exact same hat. If you’re going to call my daughter bag lady, you’re going to have to call me bag lady too. Which of course, just resulted in all my classmates changing their taunt to Your Mom’s a bag lady. The immediate result may have been traumatizing but in all honesty, I quickly learned to look at the defense of her nerdy daughter as nothing short of amazingly admirable.
In the sixth grade, she started volunteering at the cafeteria on Fridays, just to be able to give us a kiss at the end of the line in all her hair net glory. She has cried harder than I over my past broken hearts, she wears my achievements as her crowning glory. She has dedicated her life as a mother to my sister and I and has sacrificed in ways I will never fully understand. She has her quirks, and has a more than slight addiction to dog videos on Facebook, but she is my best friend and I am daily amazed at her love and support. Blessed is an understatement.
When my parents told us they had bought a home in Bluffton, South Carolina to retire to after a weekend visit to friends and like umpteen years of looking, we had a house full of guests. Everyone started cheering, except I, who broke into uncontrollable tears. As hard as it was to see them move some 9 hours south, I am so happy they are able to enjoy their life as a married couple once again. They have simply blossomed. When my mom would go out of town before, my dad spent the week on the couch with the dog. When she’s up here, he doesn’t eat a single meal at home. They have a million friends, my mom is in a kayaking club (???), my dad golfs almost every day. They work out like fiends and are loving life in ways I couldn’t imagine before. It warms my heart, they both deserve every possible joy. My Mom’s dear dear friend, Miss Janet from Canada (this is honestly what she calls her) is visiting and will be sure to celebrating with her over some of Nancy’s famous Paralyzing Punch. I couldn’t wish a better birthday for her.
I couldn’t do it without you. Not cancer, not life. I love you beyond words. Happy, happy birthday Mom.