We knew she had Melanoma cancer since I was in 9th grade. My father passed out when the doctor told them. She asked if she would live to see my brother graduate that fall. They didn't think she would, but she was healthy for 3 more years. Enough time to forget she didn't have time. Not enough time to get to know her as a woman. She had always been my best friend.

I was close to death myself when the cancer overwhelmed her body. I got better. She got worse. There was no pill or surgery that could erase the disease from her now frail body. She fought like a warrior poet, but the morphine, radiation and chemotherapy took her sensibility. That morning the brain tumor stole my name from her. I was up early and was preening for my senior pictures. She would not live to see my graduation. We knew she would die that day. The yellow of her eyes told us she did not have long. There was also fluid in her lungs. What little voice she had gargled in pain. She could barely breathe. We panicked and drove her to the hospital.

We didn't want her to die in a cold hospital emergency room. They were doing nothing for her, yet refused to let her go. So we brought her family there to say goodbye. I walked in to the florescent-lighted room where my mother lay waiting to die. I had been hysterically sobbing, but cleared my throat enough to tell her I love her. She smiled for the first time in days. A smile I had missed so much and still long to see. Her will caught me off guard as she started to weakly rip at her IV as if to say, "Come on Daney, let's get out of here. I haven't seen Barbados yet." To this day I regret stopping her. That IV was not going to save her life. Nor would my picking her up and carrying her off to an ocean, but I wish I had tried. Instead I sang for her. She had asked me to sing "The Rose" for her, when she became ill in a hospital someday. I barely made it through the first few lines. The lump in my throat constricted the music in my heart. I couldn't eat my own sorrow so I had to finish the song I promised her at the funeral. I asked if she wanted to talk to dad. I sent him in after me. I will never know what they said to each other in those moments. He never speaks of her.

Meanwhile, I found myself outside the hospital. The sky was the most magnificent blue. For the first time in years I spoke to god. I prayed. I prayed earnestly that day. I prayed to a god that only a very small part of me believes exists. I asked god to show her mercy. I asked god to stop her pain. I asked god to take my mother. This was the only time god ever listened.

I heard a nurse page the McNabb family just then. My grandmother who was in there with my brother came through the doors. She said, "She's gone." Over and over "she's gone." I argued with her for a second before I was somehow transported to the room where my father and brother were weeping over her dead body. So much for denial.

Death is not pretty, like the actors have us believe. She looked horrified. Her eyes and mouth were wide open and her body seemed contorted. That tableau still haunts me in my dreams even though I only looked for a second. My dad kept saying, "She's so beautiful." All I could do was keep my eyes closed and hold onto her tattered shoes. A nurse stepped in and asked me to keep my wailing down. I don't know exactly what I was screaming, but apparently my howling was annoying other living patients.

I wanted to hold her. My brother led me to the bed. I held her hand, and for a second I swear she squeezed back. That was all the denial my mind ever afforded me. I knew she was dead. I knew she was not going to cheer for me at my graduation, or watch me get married. I knew she wasn't going to bring me groceries at my first apartment, or answer the phone when I called for advice. I didn't know how I could live life without her.

I crawled into her hospital bed at home that day and thought I would never find the strength to get up. Funny how life just seems to press on. Some think I am strong for being able to live through such trauma. I am simply what she left behind.
It has been almost a decade since I watched my mother die. I somehow found the strength to get out of her bed. I earned a degree from university she will never know about. I have loved and lost and loved again. I'm living my life. The life she gave me. From time to time I lie awake wishing she knew the woman I have become. In the dark of those nights I find myself singing for her again.

The Rose

Some say love, it is a river that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love it is a razor that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower, and you it's only seed.

It's the heart afraid of breaking that never learns to dance
It's the dream afraid of waking that never takes the chance
It's the one who won't be taken who can not seem to give
And the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.

When the night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long,
and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong
Just remember in the winter far beneath the bitter snows
Lies the seed that with the suns love in the spring becomes the rose.
-Bette Midler
I'm sorry, this is really stream-of-consciousness... I can't quite seem to find the right words to describe this...

My mother…

I was freshly 13, a frizzy-haired, metal-mouthed girl, new to life myself— one ends, one begins. My summers revolved around camp and boys… youthful excitement, bright experiences. No fear in sight

Erin and I sit at a table, joking, laughing, killing time before the night activity begins… A tapping on my shoulder distracts me from my string of “dead baby” jokes, and turning, I find the camp director standing behind me. “Sweetie, your father is on the phone, it’s urgent. You can take it in the kitchen.” My father? If anything was wrong, my mother would be the first to call me… unless… Unless something was wrong with HER. I shake the thought out of my head, telling myself that it’s probably something very minor. Once in the kitchen, on the phone, my father lets me have it. “Tiffany, your mother is in the hospital. I’m coming to get you tomorrow. Be ready.” NO. I’m not going to believe it, I’m pleading with him to tell me why, tell me what’s wrong with her. “I’ll be there around noon,” is all he says. Hanging up the phone, I promptly run outside and throw up in the bushes.

On the ride home from camp, I ask him point blank—“She’s pregnant, isn’t she?” The innocent, easy explanation for her sudden stomach problems. Looking at him, waiting for an answer, I see his eyes shifting with pain, see his search for the right words, eternity flattening out with each passing mile. Those flowers on the side of the road… they would look so nice on my dresser… “Tiffany…. You mother… is dying. Cancer. She has six months to live.” Purple flowers? Would those look better than the yellow? God, I’m numb.

The problem with pancreatic cancer is that it works too quickly. It sucks up life, eating out any soul left, leaving a body quiet, riddled with pain, clouded with morphine. Walking into her hospital room for the first time, it was the scent that hit me. Cleansers, antiseptic…. Sterilization at its finest. “Mom…?” I whisper, my voice quiet, hidden against all the tubes running through her body. “Oh… Becca… you’re here, did you bring Suzanne?” My own goddamn mother… flesh and blood… my MOTHER… and she can’t even remember my name. I slide out of the room, sobbing, terrified, alone.

Six months was a long shot; she really only lasted six weeks. I spent the whole time by her bed, holding her hand, stroking her hair, refusing to show my tears. I will give her my strength. No matter how much it hurts. Once, I even brought her my favorite teddy bear, so that she has something to keep with her at night… my scent keeps her calm. Growing up, I never felt a connection with my father… my mother and I were always the ones who were close. A child, I used to crawl into bed with her, and together, we would watch the sun rise, watch the birds float gracefully around the trees outside—snow falls, flowers bloom, leaves fall… seasons pass, and she’s with me. That’s all that matters. In her hospital room, things are different. Something passes between us, something unspoken, a written rule stating that we just don’t talk about this. Let’s keep things simple, let’s not let the pain show. Once and only once do we talk about it… I’ve crawled into her bed, curled up next to her, pushing the tubes and IVs aside… she looks hurt, alone, desperate. “You know… I’m never going to see you graduate. I’m never going to see you get married. I’m never going to see my grandchildren…” Tears fill her voice, and this moment is forever locked in my head. I still wake up late at night, gasping for breath, her words ringing in my head. “Mommy… it’s okay. I know you’ll still be there for me.” The strength of my 13-year-old psyche is amazing.

Her health is deteriorating. Fast. Fluid finds its way into her lungs, clouding her breath, sending her off to float in a coma. Occasionally, I will talk to her, and she will squeeze my hand. Does she hear me? Does she still know me? Or is she gone, lost, a spirit in the breeze? My last day with her… it looks bad, and I know it’s about time… but for some reason, protection maybe, I choose to go home and sleep, be by myself for awhile. I’m sure it won’t happen tonight, I convince myself. Sitting in my basement at two in the morning, August 16th, 1994, I feel it. A part of me is suddenly gone. Selfish, fucking selfish, her last moments and I wasn’t fucking there. I hate myself for that. The phone rings. It’s my father. “I know,” I say. Before he can even get the words out. “I know.”

It’s been six years… enough time to ease the pain, enough time to find myself again. And still… still I will be walking down the street, driving in my car, listening to the radio… suddenly, I’m next to her bed, watching her be consumed… my breath is stolen. My heart lurches. And I’m still alone. And oh god, it still hurts.
There is pain, yet there is emptiness. A paradox that I can't quite understand, but know all too well. Those of you who have lost a loved one, especially a parent, know what I'm talking about.

It was in 1997, when I was 17, that my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I, at the time, was sure that nothing could happen to her, that the doctors would take care of everything. I didn't even want to face up to the possibility of... I just couldn't.

She had an operation, and the doctor gave her a clean bill of health, so I didn't think twice of the amazing battle that my mother had won. However, the war was not over, as she had a recurrence of the cancer in 1998. The doctor, despite his claims, did not remove all the cancer cells, and they came back with a vengeance. My mother underwent more surgeries, but the cancer had become too wide-spread. She did chemotherapy, and all her hair fell out. This was crushing to my mother. Despite her hard exterior and emphasis to me about not caring about what others think of me, she hated being bald. Of course, so would we, if we were to lose our hair in a period of 3 weeks.

She was there for my high school graduation, wearing a wig and sitting in a wheelchair. I believe she was the most proud of me when I walked onto the stage and received my diploma.

Her condition worsened, however, to the dismay and in direct defiance best of the abilities of many different doctors and specialists.

Through our desperation, we decided to try alternative medicine in the People's Republic of China. We went there in July 1998. Her parents and grandmother were there, and feeling more comfortable with their only daughter in the care of the doctors that they know. I had to leave in the end of August to start college at the Stern School of Business at NYU. My father stayed with her in China.

I kept in contact with all of them by phone, but I must say that the first couple months at school were miserable. I kept hearing from family friends that my mother's condition was worsening and that I should go back to China, SOON. I, to my great guilt, refused to accept what they told me. It took an email from one of my childhood friends, the daughter of my mother's best friend, to open my eyes. She had just lost her grandmother, and she knew that denial of a loved one's worsening condition is always a problem, but you have to face this. I finally did, and booked a flight to China for the entire Thanksgiving week.

I went back, and my mother was in the hospital as an inpatient. She had lost so much weight, and it hurt me to see her like this. When we first saw each other, I went to her and I hugged her. There were tears streaming down both our faces, as she muttered into my ear, "I waited for you... I waited for you..." I know that she did, fighting for some more time with me, her only son. So I had a short week in China, sitting by my mother's side, talking about the inevitable, all the time, knowing that... that... I still couldn't accept it. The doctors told me that this was the healthiest she has been in a long while. This gives me some false hope, which was shattered as soon as I remembered the old adage, "The candle burns brightest at the end of its life." I pushed this from my mind as my mother and I spent time together. However, it came time for me to leave for the US, one day after Thanksgiving. At 7AM, local time, I went to see my mother. This time, there was no denying it. I knew that she would die, and that this was the very last time that I would see her. I hugged her, and we fought back tears as we said our farewells. As I turned from her bed, tears were pouring down my face and I walked out of the room, never turning to look back. Two hours after I got home, the call came. It was my father. We cried.

Mom, I will always love you. I'm sorry we didn't have more time. I'm sorry I didn't make more time.

Once again, spring is burgeoning. I have daffodils blooming, cherry trees dropping petal snow on the ground, and my neighbor has a tulip magnolia that he lets me cut branches from for bouquets. Spring is all about life and flowers and blooming youth and love and such; why am I thinking about death?

My father is ill. He does not want to admit it, but years of smoking camels like he wants to grow a hump have left him with fairly non-functioning lungs. My sister, who is a family practice doctor, tells me that he has trouble walking up hills. Soon he will not be able to sing, or sail, and then what will happen? He might drink himself to death. Perhaps a better fate than life as an invalid, towing an oxygen tank around behind him.

My uncle is dying, my mother's brother. He has something called Progressive Cerebral Palsy, or PCP, nice acronym. Is a breakdown of the mind worse than a breakdown of the physical body? I don't know, all my relatives have died from physical causes, not dementia or Alzheimer's or just fading old age. My grandmother died at age 94, and she was still in command of all her marbles, and then some.

I asked another noder yesterday why I'm so grumpy. Sickness, fatigue, working too hard, the world is a little bit too much with me, as usual, but there's more, and until yesterday I had not put my finger on it. My life is being taken up in damned coffee spoons again.

I just miss my mother. I'm 39, about to turn 40, and I want my mother. I want her laughter, her voice on the telephone, to show her my garden, to tell her about my work, to show her my writing, to take her to Florence. I do not have the words to tell you how much I loved her, and what an incredible person she was. The more I watch other people's kids, and the tools they bring to being a parent, the more I think she was a feminist ahead of her time.

I will be sending an easter basket to a friend. Easter brings back, loudly, the spring my mother died. Our egg hunt with the two cutest two-year-old girls ever. Morphine. Hair falling out. Her being thirsty and hungry and cold, and complaining that no one was touching her. When she said that, I climbed into her hospital bed (which was in the room in their house that had been "mine"), and just curled up around her. She looked so fragile, with the flesh falling off her, that I think we were all afraid to touch her because we feared she might break.

How can we remember the wonderful things, and let go of the not so wonderful? I want to remember her as an amazing, vital, funny, passionate, loving person who would walk for miles through museums and gardens and mountains, not as a veritable corpse in a hospital bed. How do you honor someone's dying, and be present for it, without having that overwhelm the other memories?

Last night my housemate channeled my mom, when our hellion of a kitten, Shadow, got up on the kitchen counter. Eve stomped her foot, and hissed, and for a moment it was Helen, scaring off a cat 30 years ago. The hair stood up on the back of my neck. Why are all the important women in my life named after great beauties and goddesses? Helen of Troy. Eve. Katherine the Great. My sister, Kate, who when I am too flirtatious, calls me Bianca. She is not entirely sure she likes that play.

So I will be sending that easter basket. But Chii, when you get it, remember that it's not really from me, it's from Helen.

/me still misses her.

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