This site is dedicated to celebrating the adage that “Life is a Journey, Not a Destination.” It was created to bring the positive and inspiring journeys in our life into focus, whether we travel the world or just through this thing called Life. I have shared both here, but this last year has shown me that the Journey does end…many will argue where the final Destination lies. That’s for the Universe to know. For now, I know I am facing one of the most difficult “journeys” of my life…I am headed back to my hometown to witness the ending of my mother’s journey on this Earth. And I am at a loss already….
My mom is 73 years old. She is the second of four children, raised by a widow after the death of my grandfather Noah to Polio when my mother was only ten. She was the rebel of the gang – and remains that way even now. I don’t know what formidable things happened in her youth to make her uniquely her – she has never shared much. But she has always been the most stubborn, ornery, charming, generous, maddening, funny, engaging woman I have ever known. A beautiful mix of sexy and sinister – she did life her way, sometimes shooting herself in her own foot, and other times showing her only child how to make friendships last 50 plus years through the sheer unselfish giving of yourself and your love to a friend. She is a contradiction and a blessing all at once.
Last week, she once again found herself in the hospital. She was there twice in April, when we made a decision to move her from her apartment to an assisted living facility. Eight years ago, she had three back-to-back, very invasive and traumatizing back surgeries. Her entire lumbar region was caged and fused, and she has since worn 36 screws and two rods in her spine. Her pain since then, can be described in two words, constant excruciation. Her reliance on pain medication is both understandable and concerning to those of us who love her, and we have watched her slow down, weaken and fail. And we’ve laid blame on the meds, and the pain, and her maddening way of not taking care of herself, as an excuse. She is a smoker, a poor eater. She hasn’t exercised since Jazzercize was a fad in the 70’s. So when she began having more pain, trouble swallowing, vomiting, weight loss and extreme weakness, she had given us a lot of things to hang her condition on.
Cancer was not one of them.
Less than 48 hours ago, I got a call from the oncologist on her case. My family had told me that they had found a tumor in her throat. That it didn’t look good. That there would be more tests. The doctor’s call, while expected, brought news worse than I had imagined. Like my father, who passed away in 1989, she has lung cancer.
And the tumor has grown into her esophagus and stomach. It is massive, it is inoperable, it is advanced. “What is the prognosis?,” I asked the doctor. “A few days,” he said “maybe weeks, but not many. I would say a month would be a surprise.”
I was driving down the highway, trying to comprehend what I was hearing and not roll my Jeep in the rains that have engulfed my home state of Colorado. Days? Days? I did not hear this right – it doesn’t happen like this. Days?
I am no fool. I have said to many over the years that it is amazing she has not already been hit with a major disease or illness. I have always known that when “it” hit her, whatever “it” would be, “it” would hit hard and fast. I have never hated being right so much in my life, because recognition and reality are vastly different pools to swim in.
In my recognition of her life choices, and their consequences, I was angry at her. Because she wouldn’t change her lifestyle. Because she continued to smoke and eat Taco Bell for breakfast and KFC for dinner. Because she remained stubborn, argumentative, defensive when we pushed and defiant when she pushed back even harder. And as her condition worsened, I got angrier and less understanding. Frustrated and fearful.
But here I am now, swimming in a reality that feels more like a foggy nightmare – like the kind when you are on the edge of waking but it won’t let you go. I’m not angry, I’m gutted. I’m not frustrated, I’m regretful. I’m not proud, I am sorry.
Sorry that I somehow didn’t see this for what it was. Sorry that I didn’t get to Fresno more often to see her slow demise and help her. Sorry that we fought. Sorry that I wasn’t in each doctor’s face at every visit – maybe they would have found this mass earlier rather than too late. Sorry I was impatient and short-tempered.
Sorry that I was not the daughter that I will now not have the chance to be.
Days. Just days now. Last year, I said goodbye to my grandmother. This year my mother. Next year….it could be a loved one, a friend. It could be me.
I am learning that the journey is short, no matter when it ends. It should not be wasted. It should not be taken for granted. It should not be put off.
It should be celebrated. And in the remaining days with my mom, I will celebrate her. I will whisper in her ear all the things I should have always said. She will know my love for her. She will know my appreciation for what she did as a single mother. She will know my pride in being her daughter. She will know I am glad to be with her. She will know the memories of our lifetime will be forever stitched in the fabric of my very being.
Yes, she has been a pain in the ass a lot of times, but aren’t we all? But like every life, hers is worth celebrating. And I hope in the coming days, I can perhaps be the daughter I should have been all along.
“Life is a Journey, Not a Destination…” Yes. But the journey has an end, and as my mother’s comes to its end I feel my heart ripping apart, with regret and forgiveness and screams and shock…and love. So I will walk the hard part of the path with her in the days to come. We will do this together, because our journeys are bound together. We are not on our own journey, as many say, we are all a part of the journeys of the people we share our life with.
And I realize just how much I will miss this maddening, complicated, loving, crazy, stubborn woman. This woman who gave me life, who supported everything I ever did and who is and always will be a part of me, for better or worse.
My mother … my mom.
MY mom. Mine.
The loss will be felt forever. But she will forever be alive in me.
This is dedicated to my mother, Patricia Darlene Noble Leeper. And the time we have left before we say goodbye.