My mom made delicious pies.
Her piecrust was one of the few things that she taught me to make. This was not because she did not want to share her tomato juice or strawberry jam secrets, but because I unfortunately did not have the patience or interest to learn when I was growing up.
My mom grew up on a one hundred acre egg farm in Northeastern Pennsylvania. She loved to tell me how, as a girl, she dreamed of having her own children run down the dirt road and into her open arms. I grew up on that same dirt road with my two younger brothers. My dad was from an actual town with stoplights, drug stores and a library, but when he married Mom, he agreed to move to her corner of the world.
Roots and wings
Mom gave me roots, but often what I wanted were wings. I had difficulty understanding how she was so content spending her entire life on the same dirt road. I didn’t comprehend how she could permanently give up her job as a teacher to raise my brothers and I. When I questioned her, she would respond by simply saying that she loved being a mother.
I graduated from college, then graduate school in Atlanta, and celebrated birthday after birthday still not understanding Mom’s passion for family, motherhood and country living. What I did feel was a vehement pull to defend and continue to prove my independence. There were many moments when I was convinced that my tidy, one-bedroom apartment lifestyle was optimal for a girl of twenty-something (or seventy-something, for that matter).
But the Lord works in mysterious ways, and I now realize that the richness of life is not in the tidiness.
Mom vs. Leukemia
I am twenty-eight years old, and my Mom would be fifty-five if she were still alive. You see, she was diagnosed with leukemia six years ago. She fought like hell to beat the cancer that had invaded her blood.
The Monday after Mother’s Day 2002, Mom and I went to the hospital in Philadelphia to find out why she had been gradually getting weaker and needing more frequent blood transfusions. The doctors told us that the leukemia had progressed to the final stage, and that she had only months to live unless she underwent an intense forty-day chemotherapy protocol.
As the doctors kept talking, I started to sob, and Mom held me in her arms. Picture that scenario of her comforting me, and you will know exactly what type of mother my mom was.
Banana suits and bonding
She fearlessly signed the consent forms that day and set-up camp in a tiny, isolation room where outside germs would hopefully not get to her. She could have visitors, but we had to dress like bananas wearing yellow gowns and facemasks.
I stayed with Mom those first two weeks, and frequently traveled back up to Pennsylvania from Atlanta after that. My favorite days were the ones when it was just Mom and I. We bonded like we had never bonded before, and for the first time I got a glimpse of what it must be like to be a Mother. Mom got weaker and weaker, and I began to care for her. The whole while I could feel God at work giving me grace to face what was happening.
The chemo didn’t work as hoped, her white blood cell count didn’t rise, and she contracted fungal pneumonia. The fungal infection would eventually spread to her brain. Every afternoon she would be plagued by high fevers. Due to a separate set of complications, she would have a stroke and lose nearly all strength in her right leg.
Love beyond all telling
As a baby, she had changed my diapers, fed me pears, and made me laugh, and now I was doing those things for her.
She kept her sense of humor and her faith. She would make jokes about how her swollen, lifeless legs were still sexy, and she frequently broke into spontaneous recitations of the ‘Our Father.’ Her forty days in the hospital turned into sixty and then eighty and then one hundred, but she never lost her spirit.
I clung to each day because I was experiencing a love that I hadn’t known existed and had never been able to express. I finally realized how beautiful the mother-child relationship is and that the greatest blessing God can give someone is children. When everything else is stripped away, we’re left with love, and there’s nothing like the love of someone who has known you since you were born.
Mom passed away the afternoon of August 22nd. My Dad was holding her hand, and her sister, who she had nicknamed her “angel,” was at the foot of her bed. I was holding Dad’s other hand. My parents would have been married twenty-nine years on August 25th. On their anniversary, we brought out their wedding album to display at the funeral home.
Now nearly a year later, I still often cry and have difficulty comprehending all that’s happened. Even though I can no longer hug her or talk to her, Mom is still influencing how I live and who I am. I think in some ways she is more influential in my life now than she has ever been, for I am constantly reflecting on all that’s happened and extracting another great lesson hand-delivered from God thru my mom.