May 27, 2017:
Heaven gained a beautiful Angel & we lost a beautiful Mother & Woman two years ago this weekend. You are loved and missed more than words can say! I Love You Mom!
Before pulling out of the parking lot at work to tackle the rush hour traffic, I glance at my phone and noticed I had a missed call from my mom. By the time I get home and settled it is really too late to call her back, she lives in Nashville, TN and me in the Seattle, WA. My thought is to call her in the morning since I am going to work a little later. When I call the next day, Mom lets me know she has been admitted to the hospital. She had gone to her doctor the day before because she was fighting what she said was bronchitis.
This didn’t really come to a shock to me; Mom had a history of chronic bronchitis or bouts of pneumonia for many years. She then says, “Well, Dr. Tom’s office is connected to the hospital and he wanted me to get some chest x-rays yesterday. They found a spot on my lungs and want me to stay for a few more tests.” When I ask a few questions and expressed concern, in her own “Mom” way, she assures me that it’s nothing and not to worry. She also informed me that two of my brothers were on their way down to Nashville from Indiana, which is where I was born and raised and all my siblings remain.
I knew the moment she told me they had headed down; things were not “going to be fine.” There was something Mom wasn’t telling me because she never wanted anyone to worry about her. She was a nurturer and protector and worried if she thought she was making someone worry, especially her children (all 5 of us).
My brothers walked in as we were finishing up the conversation and Mom asked if I wanted to talk to them. In my head I was thinking, “Of course I do!” Now we were going to get to the details. My brother, Scott, got on the phone, he is the oldest of us all and I fall in at number two behind him. Having just arrived, Scott had not had even a second to talk to the nurses and her doctors, but he gave me the facts he knew. Mom was schedule for more extensive tests the next day including a biopsy of the “small spot”, as Mom called it, which would give a little more of a diagnosis.
He assured me, he and Mike, another brother that falls in line at number three behind me as far as age. The next day I went on to work knowing my brothers would keep me posted. Throughout the morning they sent me texts when she went in for the biopsy and when she arrived back to her room. At the time I worked in a front office of a very busy dental practice and proceeded with my responsibilities and trying to focus all my energy and thoughts on my patients, checking my phone regularly. I took a second to see if there was any news. I noticed there was an incoming text from Mike that simply said, “Call Scott or me when you can.” My heart skipped a beat then started pounding like crazy; I knew it wasn’t going to be good.
I took a break to call Scott immediately and he let me know what we all were probably thinking and I think Mom knew deep within herself, we weren’t dealing with bronchitis or pneumonia; the spot on Mom’s lungs was cancer and quite possibly had spread to other areas of her body. More tests were coming down the pike. Scott told me that he thought it would be a good idea to come to Nashville in the next few weeks for a visit. It is mid-day, Wednesday, March 11, 2015 and so our journey begins…..
I calmed myself and left the break room, announced to the Practice Manager and Doc of the news and I was taking the rest of the day off. I had already decided not only was I taking the rest of the day off, I was going to jump on the next plane I could and go see my mom!
My boyfriend and I had already bought airline tickets and booked our hotel for a trip to New York City the following week. This particular day, he was driving to Portland from Seattle on business and I drove to Jack ‘n the Box to grab some lunch and called him from the parking lot. After giving him the news and all the details, his question to me was, “What do you want to do?” Again, no question, I want to see Mom and I didn’t want to wait a few weeks. Being the gracious man that he is, his response immediately was, “Okay, Babe, then that’s what you’re going to do. We will make it happen.” I headed home and within a few hours I had a ticket from Seattle to Nashville for the next day.
Neither of us had ever been to New York City, so we were going to experience it all for the first time together, but that adventure was put on the “back burner” where it still sits simmering today due to life’s ups and downs. But, I can still sit here today, knowing with my heart that is what needed to be done.
I took off from Seattle at around 2:00 p.m. PST and arrived in Nashville about 6:00 a.m. CDT. Scott was there waiting for me, we stopped at a Waffle House to get some breakfast before heading to the hospital. I was filled in on the happenings and findings of the past 24 hours and indeed the cancer had spread to Mom’s liver. Scott prepped me on Mom’s health; she was on oxygen, breathing treatments and morphine IV to help with her breathing when necessary. I basically prepared myself for the worst never having experienced this before. When I walked into Mom’s room that morning, I was actually a bit relieved to see her reclined up and able to carry on a pretty good conversation.
I was able to stay in Nashville several days visiting with Mom and detect the joy in her eyes as another one of her children, grandchildren or siblings made the trip to see her and letting her talk about whatever was on her mind. The day I arrived, I actually had some time alone and being exhausted from traveling all night. I was in the recliner next to the bed and the nurse came in to dim the lights and add another blanket to her. Mom looked at the nurse and stated, “Don’t worry about me. This is my daughter, Teresa; she flew all night to see me I need you to go get her a blanket.” Ha….that was my momma for you, a nurturer!”
The next few months where quite a whirlwind, Mom became weaker, the cancer continued to spread to her to her bones and then her brain. Mom never went back to her home in Nashville. After she became strong enough to travel, she was moved to Bloomington, our hometown, where she lived with her sister so she could be close to family.
The next dreaded text at work came in approximately 10:00 a.m. on Wednesday, May 20, 2015, simply read, “Call Me”, this time from Mike. I was off to Indiana for what I knew was my final days with Mom. She was admitted to a Hospice House in Bloomington, where family friends and acquaintances could gather and keep her company. I prayed the whole way there that I could have that one final discussion with my beautiful mother and a chance to say something maybe I hadn’t in the past.
Mom was not coherent by the time I arrived and looked like what I was expecting when I went to Nashville. I remember sitting on the couch in her hospice room hoping she would just come out of things so I could have “My Moment”. Well, I didn’t actually get to hear her voice again, but I got my moment. The nurses had come in to roll her over and I hear my aunt say, “Teresa she is looking at you.” I looked at Mom and yes, she was! Not just a momentary opening of the eyes but looking right at me! I went and set on the bed next to her, she moaned and I could tell she was frustrated that she couldn’t speak. I gently brushed her hair back and kissed her head. I whispered to her that it was okay, we were all there and she has absolutely nothing to worry about anymore. This was Saturday afternoon, Mom passed around 6:00 a.m. on Sunday, May 24, 2015. My brother Scott always slept in the recliner and I was on the couch in her room. Being the “rock” in our family he let Mom know before waking me that it was okay to let go. That all five of us “goofs” (I think in his words) were going to be just fine. It was time for Momma to final let herself stop worrying….so she did.
We had her Memorial a couple days later, then we all did a 180 degree turn, as my niece’s wedding was six days later. Mom wanted to hang on to celebrate with her, but just couldn’t. I feel so fortunate to have been asked to light the Memorial Candle at the wedding and stand in for Mom. What a gorgeous celebrations that day was and Mom was felt by all.
In the end I still wonder if the sadness and hurt ever really go away completely or if there really just hasn’t been enough time. On a couple occasions I still find myself going for my phone when I think of something and I need a mother’s advice. As I am sitting here today writing this piece I ventured on Mom’s Facebook page to find a picture or two and came across the words below along with the picture of the creek my Mom’s ashes were spread. Mom wanted to be cremated and spread on the creek that flows behind her home as a child. My boys were unable to fly back with me for their “Meemaw” Pat’s Memorial due to work, college, etc. My family was so thoughtful to wait until the boys were scheduled to go back for their every summer trip to their father’s family reunion to spread her ashes. When I saw the beautiful posting my niece posted, the tears began flowing once again. The posing alongside the picture read:
“July 12, 2015 · Edited ·
Today my family gathered at a small creek back behind my grandma’s childhood home to lay her ashes finally to rest. She loved this small creek as a child and would often go to it to reflect, think and pray. Today we’re thinking of you mamaw, our hearts are still so heavy. Whoever said time heals all wounds has clearly never lost someone so important to them. I’ll never get over losing you mamaw. Everything makes me miss you and think about you. Keep watch over us. We’re all fine down here, just missing you so much ”
This is not the first time over the last year and it seems as though moments are harder than they were right after she passed. It could be that I stayed in Indiana for two weeks for the wedding and had time to go to my brother’s garage and look through boxes of Mom’s possessions to laugh and cry. Seattle is far away from everyone else and not as many memories, I suppose. When the Christmas season approached, that when I feel the mourning became real all over again. I come from Czechoslovakian descent and have very strong traditions I still pass down to my children. Mom and I always called each other when one of us would make our first batch of Kolaski (a pastry my family only had at Christmas). I have come to realize that I absolutely believe she is looking down on us all making sure we are all okay and happy. The difference is, I hope, her worries have all been lifted.
What I can say is something told to me by that gracious man who put me on that first plain because he too knew it had to be done is, “Get to know your parents as adults while you can, one day it may be too late.” He knows as he lost his parents some twenty plus years ago. I am lucky to have heard him tell his story and experiences on this matter over the last 6 years. I listened and stored bits and pieces in my memory bank and now go to them often. I honestly believe there is no “right” way to grieve, nor is there a time frame. I do hope the sadness and hurt continues to dwindle, as it still remains very strong, yet I also hope and pray the feeling her presence stays with me and never goes away.
Photos by Teresa Branam Wilgus