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Wouldn’t Mama Be Proud

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Today should have been my mother’s 52nd birthday. As far as I’ve heard, nobody seems to have any clue what causes glioblastoma. There’s really nothing to blame but bad luck. And try as they might, doctors don’t seem to be able to do much about it once it hits. It’s also not genetic, so I guess my chances are as good as anyone’s of reaching my 52nd birthday. Time will tell.

I’ve never managed to really bring myself to write about my relationship with my mother. I feel like talking too much about the difficulties will overshadow that fact that, no matter what may have transpired, my mother loved her children intensely and wanted only the best for us. She made a lot of sacrifices to give us the things we wanted, and she was always involved in our lives.

But she could also be controlling, overbearing, and even cruel from time to time. I’m sure I wasn’t a perfect child. I know I can sometimes be difficult to get along with. Any good Freudian could easily deduce that most of my crippling insecurities probably stem from verbal lashings from my mother throughout my entire childhood, and even after I left home. But there are a lot of people out there who had it a lot worse than me, and I didn’t end up hooked on drugs or on welfare or anything like that, so I guess it all worked out in the end. I know for a fact there’s no such thing as a perfect parent.

I often wonder what my mother would say to me if she were still alive. People like to tell me she’d be so proud of me. Well, that’s a nice thing to say isn’t it. Chances are, even if she was proud, there’d be a healthy dose of criticism to go along with it. That’s just how it was. But I always wanted to make her proud. I always wanted her to think I was the best. That’s all any child wants.

Every year, we celebrate my mom’s life by eating way too much and laughing much too loudly. I think that’s what she would have wanted. I wish I could know for sure.

Cancer Can Suck It

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I started watching The Big C with Laura Linney today.  This is an excellent show, and I highly recommend it.  It tells the story of a woman who is diagnosed with cancer, but decides not to tell her family.  She kicks her husband out and digs a pool.  She refuses to buy into the positive thinking nonsense and instead struggles with how to deal with her own mortality.  It’s witty and brilliant and fun.

Cancer is a topic that has likely touched everyone’s life one way or another.  My first experience was with the little girl who lived next door to me.  She had leukemia.  My mother used to babysit her, and later, when I got older, I would babysit from time to time.  I remember having to wear a surgical mask when I went over there because Janna had received a bone marrow transplant.  I don’t think I fully understood then all the ramifications of a child with cancer.  I knew it was a sad thing, but I didn’t have enough of a sense of my own mortality to really get it.  Janna recovered and last I heard is doing quite well.

In my mid-twenties, I worked as a youth leader at Mayflower Congregtional UCC Church in Oklahoma City.  I was very privileged to know Fletcher Vines and his family.  Fletcher was diagnosed with cancer I think around the age of 8.  He was an amazing child.  He was a person who knew how to make people feel truly alive.  When he died at around the age of 11, it was difficult for the entire community.  We all adored him.

But mostly it was my mom that I was thinking about today.  She never had the opportunity to do all of those things you decide you’re going to do when you find out you’re dying.  Her cancer was discovered as a result of a brain hemorrhage.  She had to be taken by helicopter to a larger hospital in a town two hours away.  When they were finally able to go in and inspect the tumor, they discovered that it was about the size of a racquetball.  You can’t take out that much from around a person’s brain and expect them to be the same.  And my mother wasn’t.  She woke up from that horrifying incident.  We weren’t entirely sure that would happen.  But I never got my mom back for real.  Her speech was slurred, she was overly emotional and easily confused.  And her condition continued to deteriorate over the following year that she fought to stay with us.  She never got to take a trip, or buy something ridiculous and impulsive.  She did get to see the birth of another grandchild, and I am told that was her happiest experience during her year of illness.  Cancer didn’t give her any golden opportunities to seize the day and all those other nonsense cliches.  It ate her brain.  That is the truth.

There are so many days when I wish I could talk to my mom.  I still wish I could ask for her advice or help.  We didn’t always get along, but I always knew she loved me and only ever wanted what was best for me.  I miss her terribly.  It saddens me so much to think that she won’t be able to help me plan my wedding.  I wish she wasn’t gone.  I still need her.  But that’s what cancer does.  It takes people too soon.  And all we can do who are left behind is to keep breathing, and live the best life possible, and create more love.