I guess I should back up. Mom hadn't been feeling well for a couple of months. Back in December, the whole house came down with a stomach bug. So, in January, when she started feeling ill again, she thought it was the dreaded stomach bug making a reappearance. Little by little, she started feeling worse. After returning home from a trip to Halifax to visit her two oldest and dearest friends, she went to see her doctor and had some tests done which returned inconclusive results. While she waited to see a specialist, she was in excruciating pain and according to Dad, she stayed in bed for most of the month of February while going back and forth to the doctor, trying to get answers. Over this period of time, Dad (along with her siblings and some of her friends) encouraged her to go to the emergency room to be admitted into the hospital. She resisted, in typical mom fashion. Finally during the first week of March, she agreed that she couldn't wait any longer, and she went, by ambulance, to the hospital. On Tuesday, she was diagnosed with cancer. It was found first on her liver but eventually traced back to her pancreas. Pancreatic cancer. A silent killer. Symptomless until it has already spread and wreaked havoc on your other organs.
On Wednesday, we received the unfathomable news that it was late-stage and inoperable. On Friday, I flew home to Nova Scotia. On Sunday, she breathed in for the final time.
I was there for that final moment, and I am thankful that it was peaceful. As she drifted away to be with God and those who have gone before her, I told her again how we would always love her and she would always be with us. I was there in the moments afterwards when I had to tell my father and my sister and my niece that she was gone. I was there to see my father literally fall to his knees and cry out in grief. Those who have walked this road before me say that eventually the extreme hurt will subside and that all of the wonderful memories will shine through. I pray that is true because for now, when I close my eyes at night, I see my father on his knees, bent over her, crying out in anguish, and it hurts so badly.
To say that I am still in shock is a bit of an understatement. To say that I'm devastated doesn't even begin to touch my grief. People ask me, as people do, and with good intentions, "How are you doing?" I haven't figured out yet how to answer that question without either lying ("I'm doing ok, thanks for asking") or giving a long and depressing monologue about how unfair it all is.
I want to share a little bit here about my mother, in no particular order. Who she was and who she will always be to me. I want to share some pictures of her and some words, especially for my girls. I also want to share some pictures from over the years as well as from the week or so that I was in Nova Scotia to say goodbye.
So, this is my mom, Theresa, and me, when I was a few months old and she was just 21.
See that look on her face and on mine? That's pretty much how she looked at me (and all her girls) and how we looked at her our whole lives. I adored her. I still adore her. I hope she knew how much I adored her. I spent much of those final days looking at her with this same look of awe and wonder and touching her face, holding her hands, and telling her how much I love her.
I love this picture of her kissing Nora's face. 35 years later, but that same beautiful and unconditional love (and almost the same hair, too ha!)
Because my mother had me when she was so young, I thought, "How fortunate am I that I will have my mom until I am in my 60s." I really believed that. I believed that my parents and I would practically grow old together. I've felt a misplaced sense of guilt over having my girls when I was older- in my mid to late 30s- because that meant that they wouldn't have the same good fortune to have their mother as long as I would have mine. I can't believe that at not even 38 and my mother hardly past her 59th birthday that she is gone. It's not how it was "supposed" to be. I know now that I need to not give much thought to how old I am. I need to make the most of my years with my girls. I need to do all I can to be as healthy as I can. I need to hope for lots of luck in the longevity department and love the heck out of them every day we have together.
I think this is one of the last pictures I have of the 4 of us, taken during the summer of 2008 back stage at "4 Men in a Tub" at the Capri Club. I'm sure we drank Mike's and ate chicken wings and sang along. At some point, mom probably leaned over and rubbed my hand and whispered in my ear about how happy she was that we were home. Mom lived for our visits, and for weeks or even months in advance, we would talk on the phone planning what she would cook and what we would do over those precious days that we were together.
I went searching for some more recent pictures of my beautiful mother. Even though we were home last Christmas, I didn't take any pictures with her in it. I'm sure she avoided the camera on purpose. She and I are a lot alike in that way. I did manage to find some on Facebook that my sister took as well as a couple from her visit with her best girlfriends in January.
Here are the last pictures taken of my mom, as far as I know.
Mom, Dad, and Sis at Ma and Pa's 40th anniversary party. October 2014. I was 6+ months pregnant and obviously couldn't be there. My mom's friends tell me that when the band played "Tennessee Waltz" just before my Dad approached her for a dance, she teared up and told them how badly she wanted to see me while I was pregnant. I wanted that too, so much.
Here she is in January with Liz and Kathy-- her life-long friends. It's hard to believe that they were friends since they were Nora's age-- just 4 years old. A friendship like theirs is rare. I'm so thankful that they had this time together.
So back to my time in Nova Scotia. So many people traveled to see mom in those final days. People traveled from across the province, the country, the world. I spent all my waking time from Friday to Sunday at the hospital with mom, holding her hands and talking her ear off. The nurses insist she could hear me. I hope that's true because I poured my heart out to her, telling her how much I love her, what an amazing mother she has always been, and how her love will live on in all of us. I promised her we would take good care of each other and that her example of motherly love would always be at the center of everything we are as a family.
Her funeral was beautiful. Really, it was. During the receiving of friends, my Dad commented that if someone had set off a cannon down Victoria Road in Whitney Pier, there would be no one there to hear it. For 4 hours (2 in the afternoon and 2 in the evening), people were lined up out the door to say their final farewell to my mother. Then, at the church, violins and piano played as we arrived, songs like Danny Boy, and one of my favorite hymns, Here I Am Lord. On our way out, Brian Martin sang the most beautiful version of one of my mother's favorite songs, Smalltown Wind.
That night, we gathered at 291 Champlain to celebrate mom's life.
And here are some pictures of those of us who she loved the most, left behind to miss her more than words can say. Our smiles and eye aren't quite as bright. Our hearts are hurting. But we do have each other, and for that I am so thankful.
There are 4 little girls missing from these pictures who Mom also loved the most. Talia and Ruby. Nora and Tilly. One of the saddest things to me is how these 4 girls will never truly experience or understand the extent of their Nanny's love for them.
To my girls, Nora and Tilly-- Nora, your Nanny only held you in her arms a few times, but she adored you. You talked to her regularly on the phone and on Facetime. You loved to tell her stories on the phone, and she loved to listen. She was so proud and protective of you. One of the last little presents she gave you was a Hello Kitty hat. This winter, you wore it often and proudly told people that it was a present from your Nanny. I will try to remember to pack it away for you as a keep sake. Something as simple as a little winter hat, chosen with love for you by your Nanny.
Sweet Matlida. My heart hurts that Nanny never got to kiss your face. She wanted to so badly. We had a trip planned for the summer of next year when, trust me, she would have had her lips firmly planted to your cheeks for 2 straight weeks. Even though she never got to do that, she loved you SO much. She was the first person I called after you were born, and I talked to her almost every day to tell her about how you were growing and changing so quickly. She saw your pictures and videos, and as well, we video chatted with her on February 26th. She thought you were simply perfect. Her heart was a little big bigger for those final weeks of her life because you were in it. Her gift to you is the rocking chair in which your Daddy and I rock you to sleep each night right now. I hope you will treasure it always.
For both of my girls, I have some personal keepsakes from Nanny. I will share those with you as you grow, and I hope I will share the story of her love for you in such a way that those pieces of her will mean as much to you as they did to her and as they do to me.
As the dust settled and I prepared to return to Tennessee, an honest-to-goodness blizzard hit Nova Scotia.
While it was hard to imagine leaving my Dad behind, it was also incredibly difficult to be away from Brad and my babies. I booked and re-booked and re-booked my cancelled flights. Dad and I finally decided to drive to Halifax as there was no getting out of the Sydney airport. Before we left, Dad thawed and heated the final meal that my mom cooked. Eating it was the strangest thing. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried over a plate of meatballs before starting my trek back to Tennessee.
So, before I wrap up this long and rambling entry about the most heart breaking time in my life so far, I want to try to end with some words about who my mother was.
My mother was a proud and loving wife (40+ years to her high school sweetheart, my dad), mother, and grandmother. She was a loyal friend to many. If you were her friend, you probably thought that you had a special friendship. You probably did have a special friendship. That's just how mom was. She made people feel like they were special. Mom was funny. I knew she was funny, but I didn't know that others realized how funny she was until those final days when people would share stories with me, and almost every one ended with, "...and we laughed so hard!" Mom made people laugh with her wicked sense of humor. Mom was also, in Raymond's words, a "perfect" sister. She had a very close and special relationship with each of her siblings much unlike almost any other sibling relationship I've seen. My mother was a bright light in the lives of everyone who knew her, whether they were life-long friends or new acquaintances. My mother was one of my best friends and she was my #1 fan. There is nothing I couldn't talk to her about, and I could count on her to be there for me on the other end of the phone both day and night. I can't imagine a day when something happens in my life, big or small, where my first thought isn't, "I have to call mom and tell her about..."
"Mom, we were in a fender bender, but everyone is ok!" (This would have caused her nightmares for days until she was 100% sure that we all truly were ok.)
"Mom, Nora is having her first school pictures taken at pre-chool today." (She would have oohed and aahed over her sweet little polkadot dress with me, and she would have insisted that I send her the biggest picture from the package.)
"Mom, Tilly started smiling on her one month birthday and just recently she's discovered her hands." (She probably would have commented that it's early for those things, implying that Tilly is just a little smarter and more advanced that other babies her age.)
"Mom, I really wish I could just take the rest of the school year off to be at home with the baby." (She would have commiserated with me but tried to find a silver lining.)
"Mom, I miss you so much that it hurts." (She would hug me tight, hold my hand, wipe my tears, tell me that she understands, and try to assure me that everything will be ok.)
She was my rock and my safe place to fall. I suspect she was the same for others, too.
"Say goodnight to your sorrows, close your eyes and fly away. Sleep will comfort and hold you until the moment you awake. And when the sky returns to daylight, all of those promises you've kept will disappear and I'll be here, waiting for you to sing to me again. "
Rest in peace, my beautiful momma, until we meet again.