2012 – Confronting Monsters and Filling in Holes
Cancer. It is a word that has become all too familiar to most of us. There seems
to be a new fundraising walk or colored rubber bracelet every time I turn around.
It started with pink breast cancer ribbons and yellow Livestrong bracelets. Years
ago, I felt like I was helping out a good cause. It was someone else’s aunt or a
friend of a friend. Then suddenly cancer started striking closer to home. It was
my friend, my aunt, my friend’s dad. Then last December it was my mom.
Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. The tumor was inoperable. Due to
the proximity of the holidays, they were unable to start her on a chemo routine
until after the first of the year. She finally started the second week of January.
She worked through that first round and through the second round that was
combined with radiation, steadily losing weight. The second round really
knocked the wind out of her and the oncologist suggested she needed a break
before going any further. A few weeks later, as Mom was getting ready to leave to
go to Chicago with my Dad to give a speech before a national group of chaplains,
she fell at the hospital. They still went on the trip and she still gave the speech,
but when they returned, she went on hospice care.
Mom only lived less than eight months after that diagnosis. Four weeks of that
time she was on hospice care. The rest of the time she was working for the most
part. We had very little real time with her. I think we all have frustrations about
that. My Mom loved being a chaplain. I have no doubt it was the job she was
meant to do. But she was also an amazing Mom. I could talk to her for hours.
My Dad would make fun of us. Likewise she valued my brothers for being the
wonderful special people they are. She was a terrific Grandmother – different for
each individual grandchild. She was proud of each of them for their individual
talents. And she used to tell me that she married “the sweetest man in the
world”, so I can’t imagine she didn’t want to spend time with the man she’d been
married to for 48 years.
In talking to my sister-in-law over Christmas, she posited that perhaps Mom just
didn’t want to face the truth that she was in fact dying quite so soon. That if she
could just keep going, maybe it would all be OK. And you know, I think she may
be right. My Mom had said to me 2 months before she died that she thought
things were going well and that she’d be around for another Christmas. She was
feeling positive despite the tough bout in radiation. But then the fall at work
came and things began to turn for the worse. Mom had to begin to accept the
Up until that point, the cancer had been a fairly well kept secret. Only a few very
close friends and family members knew. As Mom went into hospice care, the
news became public and we had to learn how to manage the great inflow of well-
wishers. My younger brother moved into my parents’ home and became a
detailed organizer and my older brother and his family and I juggled time back
and forth. Mom eventually allowed us the honor of caring for her, a task that
sometimes permitted the only alone time during the day with her. I will always
treasure those small conversations snatched during those moments of care
giving. It is still remarkable to me that she was able to make me laugh in some of
those moments, even in discomfort sharing her ineffable sense of humor.
The day Mom was buried, I walked up to one of my brother’s best friend's from
As we hugged I said, "When does the hole begin to fill up?" Wiping away the flood
of tears from my face, I added, "I mean, you've lost not one, but two parents to
this crappy disease..."
"I wasn't going to say," he said, "but since you asked...it gets worse; that'll be the
day he goes." And he shrugged toward my Dad.
"Yup," I said, "that will be a worse day."
"Right," he said,"because all of this will come right back at you and you won't
have her to talk to."
"Well," I said, "You better damn well be there."
"God willing I'm still kicking around I wouldn't miss it," he said.
During the first few months after Mom died, that hole was so huge I thought it
would swallow me up. Perhaps it would have been easier if I’d had a routine that
forced me to march on the way everyone else did. It is getting easier to move
through a world without her, but she is still on my speed dial. I still have voice
mail messages saved. I went out and got another puppy and a few kittens. I
gained a few pounds. I’m starting to burst into spontaneous tears far less
In so many ways, I know I am lucky. I got my mom for 44 years. Some people
lose their mothers when they are children. Some people lose their children. I
was at a bereavement workshop and two women present had lost teenage
children. One died of cancer and the other was hit by a truck. I felt like their loss
must be so much deeper than mine. But perhaps we can’t compare. Loss is loss.
I knew that this Christmas would be difficult and it was. I missed talking to Mom
in the kitchen most on Christmas Day. Our last conversation was 12 hours before
she died. I was holding her hand and I told her that it was OK to go. I told her
that we would all take care of Dad and that he would be fine. She responded with
a quiet, “OK.” I am so proud of how Dad has taken on living. He shopped for
gifts for everyone and they were all special. He really is doing well, all things
considered. I know that this is the toughest thing he has ever had to go through
and I think Mom would really be smiling to see him living the way he is.
One of the things Mom and I kept talking about over her last few weeks together
was how life is messy and imperfect. You just never really know what it's going to
dole out. I think that's why life is so tough for the control freaks of the world.
They just can't face the fact that life is never going to be perfect and predictable.
That would be boring anyway. One thing is for certain, Mom made sure life
wasn't boring even when she was dying and uncomfortable at times. She was still
cracking jokes and singing songs 48 hours before she died. Hope I go out the
As a librarian, I feel compelled to offer a list of excellent resources for anyone
who may be confronting cancer. These books are all excellent. Patrick Ness’s "A
Monster Calls" has been receiving quite a bit of attention as a book for not only
young adults to read but for adults. The “monster” is a yew tree in the teen’s
backyard that confronts him with life stories as he grapples with his mother’s
advanced battle with cancer. It was originally begun by Siobhan Dowd who died
of cancer. Patrick Ness took her characters and ideas and wrote the book
dedicating it to Siobhan.
As 2012 closes, may you all have a blessed and wonderful year ahead filled with
all the dreams, hopes, health, and prosperity you can possibly wish for in 2013.
For those of you who’ve had loss, may you begin to fill in those holes just a little
bit more in 2013 and continue to heal your hearts. Happy New Year! Read on!
A Monster Calls
by Patrick Ness
The Girl Next Door
by Selene Castrovilla
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
The Probability of Miracles
by Wendy Wunder
Just One Wish
by Janette Rallison
Before I Die
by Jenny Downham
My Sister's Keeper
by Jodi Picoult
by Chris Crutcher
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews
by Abria Mattina
I'm Not Her
by Janet Gurtler
Before I Go
by Riley Weston
by Ansley Dauenhauer
Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie (Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie #1)
by Jordan Sonnenblick
After Ever After (Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie #2)
by Jordan Sonnenblick