Last Times Are Hard

February 8, 1993

Monday morning.   I liked getting up nice and early these days so that I knew no matter what happened while I was trying to get out of the house in the morning, I was going to be able to absorb the bumps.

It didn’t really matter that I’d been sleeping on the loveseat opposite my mother on the sofa in the living room.  I was up every few hours anyway listening carefully to make sure my mother was OK.  I’d started this practice a few days ago when I’d woken up to hear my mother in the middle of a huge coughing fit downstairs.  I raced downstairs to find her gasping for breath, her eyes wild from not getting enough oxygen.

“Why didn’t you call out for me?” I’d asked.

“I didn’t want to wake you,” she panted between coughs.  After that, it was time for me to sleep on the loveseat.  This night hadn’t been bad.  She’d woken a few times to cough, once to use the bathroom, and then settled down quickly to sleep.  At first she hadn’t been able to rest propped up by pillows to a 45 degree angle.  But the body adjusts to nearly anything, and soon enough, she was sleeping sitting up.

I showered, and got Z ready for day care.  I fed him, packed his lunch, and left mother half asleep on the sofa . She sounded good; no rattling, the oxygen line was clear. I packed a few snack items in a cooler and left them at her feet, so she would have a few things to eat before someone got there by ten a.m.

Once I dropped Zachary at daycare, I felt a palpable relief.  Not that he was difficult to care for; he was an amazingly agreeable toddler who took everything in stride.  But I knew that once he was in someone else’s care, my day was going to start to be about me and not about those that I was caring for.  No one at work knew yet how sick my mom was.  I wasn’t about to get all blubbery about how I knew all about oxygen saturation and tumors and such. I knew I probably looked tired, but I let everyone figure that maybe I was up late going to bars like everyone else my age.

Today was a cooking day in the Life Skills class I was teaching.  I had brought all of the groceries from home for the students to cook chili.  It took three trips from the car to get everything into the fridges in my classroom, but it also meant the students would be self directed today, making for a mentally easy day for me.  I watched them happily put the ingredients together to create something from nothing, and watched the magic ensue.  A good day.  I had almost forgotten, for a moment, what day it was.

It was my mother’s birthday.

I’d already bought my mother’s present last week; two comfy sweatshirts that would pull easily over her head.  My mother was insisting every day on being dressed and presentable in case guests stopped by, as they often did.  She told me privately that weekend, as I helped her with her sponge bath, that it was the one thing that still made her feel normal.  Sick people stayed in their pajamas all day.  But she didn’t want to be that sick person.  So she insisted on getting dressed every day, even though it was becoming increasingly more difficult for her.   Like not getting in a hospital bed, it was her own personal mental gauge that things just Weren’t That Bad yet.

I still needed a card, though.  As soon as school was over, I hurried to the Hallmark store.  I ran in, straight for the birthday section and started scoping out the mother cards.  There were so many, how was I going to choose?  I didn’t have time for a huge decision here, I wanted to get home and check on my mother and start the birthday dinner I’d planned.

But as I stood there, trying to pick a card out of the dizzying dozens staring back at me, something just snapped.  I started thinking of how I’d had to sponge bathe my mother this weekend, how I was now sleeping on the loveseat next to her, how she wasn’t eating as much as she used to, how she was able to do less and less without losing her breath these days.  And that’s when it hit me like a mack truck: this would be the last time I ever did this.

Suddenly, everything sharpened.  How could I decide?  How do you pick out the last birthday card?  An impossible task.   Do you go mushy or maudlin?  Funny or foolish?  My breath caught and the sobs came, unbidden.  Hard, silent, wracking sobs that I couldn’t stop.  “This is my mother’s last birthday,” I whispered to myself.  “How can this be happening?”

I forced myself to swallow my sobs.  If I was going to break down, it certainly wasn’t going to be in the middle of the Hallmark store.


Calla Lilies

“It’s morbid and I really, really don’t want to talk about this,” my brother stated from his perch on the floor of our living room.

The Hospice social worker and counselor had both come to our house this evening to meet with my mother and all three of us kids with one goal in mind:  to plan my mother’s funeral.

The social worker and counselor told my  mother that it could be very comforting for those left behind to see all of the details in place exactly as the person who had passed away had wanted them.  It was also a comfort for the dying person, to know that they had relieved their survivors of having to make the decisions.  They would know where to have donations sent, which funeral home to use, whether or not a casket should be open or not.

“This is exactly the conversation I never got to have with my mother when she died,” my mother explained to my brother, who was clearly not interested in this conversation.  “And that led to arguments between me and my brother and your father.  They all wanted an open casket, but I knew my mother wanted a closed one.  But because we never had the conversation, they didn’t know that was what she wanted.  I want you all to know what I want, and that way that will be one less worry you all have after.”

After.  The word hung in the air, no one wanting to acknowledge it.

I finally broke the silence.  “I get it.  I remember our grandmother’s open casket.  It is, in fact, my first memory.  My first memory is of her funeral.”

My mother blinked.  “Really?  I never knew that.”

“It’s true.  I remember our father picking me up so I could see her.  He told me to tell her goodbye.  I remember thinking, if I never tell her goodbye, maybe she’ll come back to life.  So I never did.”

“I can’t believe you remember all of that,” my sister put in.  “You were so little.”

“It was just before my fourth birthday.”  I paused.  I had been about to say that my young son was even younger than that, but I didn’t want to remind my mother that it was quite likely my son, her sweet firstborn grandchild that she loved so dearly, would likely never have a memory of her.

“OK let’s get back on track,” the counselor broke in.  “Now we understand that you may not like doing this, but your mother would like to have the conversation, and I know that you all want to honor her wishes, right?”

My brother reluctantly nodded.

And so the conversation began.  We discussed every bit of the process.  My mother asked to be cremated; both of her parents were cremated and she thought that made sense.

“But where will we bury your ashes?” I asked.

“I don’t want to be buried,” my mother said.  “I don’t want anyone standing around a cemetery feeling sad.  I don’t want anyone to feel obligated to go ‘visit me’.  I won’t be there.  I want you all to take my ashes up to my favorite beach up north, right outside of my favorite restaurant, and I want you to sprinkle my ashes there.  If there is anything to this ‘final resting place’ business, I want to be able to have a good meal and a drink while I watch sunsets and sunrises over the water.”

The social worker chuckled.  “I think that sounds lovely,” she responded.  I took quiet notes.  My sister’s face grew red and I knew she was trying not to cry.

“What about the service?” the counselor asked.  “We know you’re not a religious person.”

“No church service,” she responded.  “I’ve never been very religious.  I think a memorial service at the funeral home is more appropriate.  But I would be very honored if you would officiate at my memorial.”  She nodded to the counselor, who was also a Catholic nun.

“I would be happy to do that for you,” the Sister responded.  “I’m touched that you feel that I would be able to celebrate your life in the way that you lived it.  Even if I am a nun.”

We all chuckled.  We all felt better knowing the Sister would be there to help us through that difficult day.

My mother went on to request that there be no visitation on the days leading up to her service.  “Those visitation days are hard for the family.  Everyone wants you to accept their sadness while you’re so busy trying to not drown in your own.  I don’t want hours and hours spent like that for you guys.”

“I think that’s very considerate,” the social worker chimed in.

“That works for me,” my brother said glumly.

We went on to decide who would eulogize my mother (her brother and my father, which I thought was a bold move), where donations would be sent, what restaurant we would all eat at afterwards, and which funeral home to use.  It was all very tidy, the notes I took, of what to do and when and how.  My mother agreed to write her own obituary in the coming days, so that we would have that ready to go as well.   There was just one question left.

“What kind of flowers?”  My sister asked this.  For someone who planned a wedding, I wasn’t surprised she thought of that.  It would have never occurred to me.

“Well I know how this goes.  You always say donate to a cause instead of flowers, but people always do it,” she laughed.  She thought quietly for a minute.  “The only flowers I want there are calla lilies.  Just a few, standing up elegantly in a clear vase with water in it.  That’s all I want there.”

I wrote it down:  calla lilies.

Movies and Popcorn

Zachary was upstairs for his nap.  It was a quiet, gray Saturday in January, as most of them are in southeastern Michigan.

My mother and I were happily curled up on the sofa together, chatting our way through an afternoon of movies in cable.  I’d popped some microwave popcorn and we were sharing the bowl between us.

“That wedding planner kind of reminds me of your sister when she was freaking out about her own wedding,” my mother remarked on the Martin Short character in Steve Martin’s “Father of the Bride”.

I laughed.  Perfect.  This was exactly what we needed.  Romantic, sweet comedies, yes.  I’d clicked around the premium channels for a few minutes trying to find something to make us laugh; Julia Roberts in “Dying Young” wasn’t exactly going to cut it today.

We both knew my mother’s health was deteriorating, but had no idea where we were at in the process.  She had long coughing fits at times now, some so serious we would have to call the nurse for advice or help.  She couldn’t sleep flat on her back on the sofa anymore, so we propped her with pillows to keep her airways more free of the fluids that were getting harder and harder to clear.  So far, though, my mother wasn’t complaining of any pain, and while she wasn’t exactly going out on the town, she washed and dressed herself every day and looked forward to the visitors that came every day to spend some time with her.  Privately, the “regulars” reported that they could see my mother was growing tired more quickly than she had a few weeks ago, and that she would nap every afternoon to be fresh for when I returned with her grandson for a quiet evening together.

The Hospice people had been a Godsend to help my mother adjust her thinking.  At the start of her illness, the thought of her not only being housebound but being confined to the first floor and unable to take a proper shower would have sent her into a black depression.  She would have asked her friends to stay away because she didn’t want to burden them with having to worry about her.  She certainly wouldn’t have agreed to let anyone see her short cropped hair peppered with gray as it grew back in after the chemo.

But her attitude was different now.  The Hospice workers helped my mother see the beauty in the simple things in her life; how many friends she had, how they all wanted to help, how she had two beautiful grandchildren and three children who were all here for her.  She started to now see her terminal illness as a time to reflect and say things that might have otherwise gone unsaid.  She now had the “luxury” of knowing her fate, and had the “gift” of preparing for it.  And she was.

“Look at how calm Annie is and how crazy George is,” I pointed out as the father and daughter were preparing to walk down the aisle.  “Sooo not like what happened at your daughter’s wedding.  Holy smokes, there were two of you having to hold her up.  When I get married, I promise, I’ll be plenty calm for all of us.”  I chewed the handful of popcorn I had in my mouth and waited for the chuckle to come from next to me.  But it didn’t.

I looked over at my mother.  She was not laughing.   Tears were silently falling down her cheeks, slowly, quietly, as if she didn’t mean for me to see them.  “Oh, Mom…I’m sorry.  Should we turn it off?  What is it?”

She looked at me.  I’d not seen this sadness in her eyes, not ever.  It was deep, and dark, and helpless.  Not bitter, like she’d felt earlier in her illness.  Accepting, embracing of it, but sad. “I won’t get to see your wedding,” she whispered, trying to control her voice to not let the sobs break free.  “I’ll miss it.  I am so sorry.”

I put the popcorn on the table next to us and gathered her in my arms.  She was crying now, hard, too hard.  “Shh, Mom.  I know.  I am sorry, too.   But you’ll be there.  You will.  You’ll see all of it.  Right?”  I hugged her, hard.  I was trying to be strong, but it hit me like a ton of bricks.  She was right.  She was going to miss my wedding.  She was going to miss any more kids I had, my first real job, my first house, my first new car, everything.  She was going to miss everything in my life.  I was twenty two years old.

“I’m so proud of you,” she told me, her head still buried in my shoulder.  “I hope you always remember that.”

“I will, Mom,” I promised.  Not because she needed to hear it in that moment, even though she did.  But because I knew that I would always hold onto that precious moment as my life went on without my mother in it.  I knew I would never forget her and I sitting on that sofa, sharing a blanket and popcorn, and knowing that we both were grieving together for what we were both about to lose.   All of our shared experiences, all of our future together; we grieved it together that January afternoon while snow softly fell outside.



“So they gave me the position!” I told my mother over dinner early that January.  “I am so psyched!”

“Congratulations,” my mother responded, reaching for the bowl of salad and serving herself a portion.  “It’s kind of funny to think of you getting a job based on sewing and cooking, though.  I’ll freely admit I wasn’t a great teacher in either department.”  She had mastered the art of eating at the table by carefully snaking the long tubing attached to her oxygen machine just so and sitting at the end of the table.  I had thought the nasal cannula would be bothersome, especially while eating, but she didn’t even really seem to notice it any more.

“What’s amazing is the sewing was indeed the dealbreaker.  That shirt I made clinched the deal.”

I’d heard about the long term substitute position at my old middle school through the grapevine just before Winter Break.  I’d expressed an interest in it, calling in any favors from people who had been pleased with my teaching at the school.  The position was for a Life Skills classroom, which was what Home Economics had been called when I had attended the school.  I interviewed for the job in the same classroom where I’d taken the class myself.  I immediately liked the woman whom I’d be replacing, Linda; she was going to get new corneas since her own were shot.  The job was for a six week span.  I would start with sewing, which was already in progress, and then in a few weeks progress to cooking.  But in order to get the position I’d have to know how to sew, on a machine; something I hadn’t done literally since the last time I’d stood in this room.  I took home a portable sewing machine, the instruction book, and a sweatshirt pattern.  By the time school was back in, I brought in my newly sewn shirt and landed the job.

“Well it’s great that you’ll be working so close to home,” my mother continued, taking a bite of the pasta I’d cooked for her, Zach and I to eat.  He was messily trying to stab the penne shaped noodles with the fat toddler fork.  The words hung in the air, full of unsaid implications.  I glanced down to her hand, where the port for her IV still was, waiting for any necessary intravenous meds to be placed inside.

“It is.  And it’s going to be so amazing working with some of my former teachers.  Do you know Mr. Winfield will be just across the hall from me?  And my old band teacher too.  Here’s the best part though; the way the schedule works, my preparation period and my lunch are all bunched together, so I have an hour and ten minutes free in the middle of the day.  So I can come home for lunch sometimes.  Zach, honey, let’s try to get the noodles in your mouth instead of on the floor, OK?”

“I’m happy that you’ll finally be able to know where you’ll be every day.  I know that you hate that part of substituting.”

“That, and waiting for the phone to ring at five in the morning.  I just lay there, awake, knowing it is going to happen any second, but it still makes me jump when it does.”

My mother took a sip of her water and nodded.  “Me, too,” she laughed, lightly.

“I was thinking,” I continued, “Now that I have this regular gig, that we should set up a schedule of visitors for you during the daytime, while I’m gone.”

A few months ago, my mother would have immediately started her protest.  But instead, she surprised me by saying, “Actually, I was just talking with the counselor about that today while you were out.  She suggested pretty much the same thing.”

“Really?”  I asked, grateful for the fight that I now was not going to have.  “What were you thinking?”

“Well,” my mother answered, “I think that I’m good for a few hours in the morning after you leave since I sleep until about 9 or so anyway.  Plus I don’t want to ask people to come too early.  I wonder if we could ask a few people to come around 10 or so every day.”

“That sounds good.  I could leave some water out for you so you wouldn’t have to go all the way in the kitchen, and maybe some snacks, and then whoever comes could make lunch/brunch, whatever.”

“But I don’t want anyone to have to take this all on themselves.”

“No, of course not, Mom.  Do you know how many people have asked how they can help?  People who are home at least one day during the week?  I’ll call three or four, and my sister can take the other day or two.  We’ll set up a schedule.  It’ll be all spread out, and won’t be too much for any one person.  What do you think?”

She set down her fork.  “I like it.” she said.  “I really do. ”

And so just like that, I set up a schedule of daytime caregivers for my mother so I could continue my work towards my career goals while my mother was sick.  I would come home every day after picking up Zach from daycare, around 4.    Just in case anything were to go wrong, I would be five minutes away at the closest school possible for me to be working at.

I felt like somehow, this could work.  Sitting there that night, around the dinner table, it almost seemed possible.

What In Home Care Looks Like

They set up the oxygen machine near the sofa where my mother always sat.  It was a big, brown behemoth that generated pure oxygen from the regular room air.  The technicians showed me how to change the filter on the back, which needed to be done once a week.  They showed me where the settings for 3 liters was, the appropriate amount of oxygen for my mother.  She would need to be on the machine at all times, they said.  They installed a many foot long tube on the machine so that she would be able to go anywhere on our tiny first floor.

But not upstairs.  My mother couldn’t have walked up the stairs even if she’d wanted to, based on her experiences at the hospital.  From now on, she would sleep on our sofa in our living room.  The Hospice people suggested a hospital bed, but my mother refused.  She told them that she was afraid that once she got into a hospital bed at home, she would never get out.  She was fine with sleeping on the sofa.  I promised that I would make up a nice nest for her with sheets every night.

Not going up the stairs also meant that my mother would no longer be able to take showers.  The Hospice people gave us special equipment for her to sponge bathe herself in our tiny half bathroom on the first floor, including a powder that would clean her hair without needing to use shampoo.  Her hair now resembled a close cropped military cut, so a little bit would go a long way.  My mother wasn’t particularly happy about this part of her new living arrangements, but she quietly accepted it.

We were given the numbers of a social worker, a counselor and a nurse.  The social worker and counselor would work with my mother, and us kids, to help us learn what to expect as the weeks wore on and my mother’s condition worsened.  They would also try and help us prepare for the inevitable.

The nurse would come out weekly and check on my mother’s condition at home; my mother would not have to leave the house again.  She would obtain prescriptions from our GP and deliver the drugs personally when she visited.  She would also come by if we needed her during the days, or be available by phone at any time for questions.

We also requested to be put on the waiting list for respite care, so that I could have a few free hours on some weekends to grocery shop or meet a friend for lunch without worrying who was watching my mother.  My mother also asked for the information on Hospice recommended house cleaning services so that I wouldn’t have to worry about washing the floor or scrubbing the bathrooms when I was supposed to be caring for her.

I signed lots of papers.  I witnessed my mother’s Advance Directive, specifying that she wanted no extraordinary measures to prolong her life.  I signed the Hospice paperwork that designated me the next of kin and the primary caregiver.  I signed the papers that put our tiny townhome jointly in my mother’s name and my own, as well as those that did the same to her checking account.

I made up lists to hang on the wall of what medications my mother was taking, and when she was set to take them, so none of us would miss a dose of anything.

The Hospice people gave me a huge binder meant to help me keep organized and keep notes of every visit of every health care worker.  It contained the number for the hospital supply company, just in case we needed things later like a bed or a portable commode or other things that I couldn’t even imagine.

Included in the binder was the three page list called “Signs of Impending Death.”   I skimmed it for the first time the day after my mother came home from the hospital, and was surprised to see a few of her symptoms mentioned on the list.  I made a mental note to watch for swollen ankles and blue feet, as well as conversations with those who had already passed on.  When we reached that point, I would know to be afraid.

I wondered when that would be.

Auld Lang Syne And Other Crap

“Are you kidding me?” I asked my brother, completely exasperated.

My mother had been set to come home on New Year’s Day, 1993.  It seemed somehow appropriate to me, that she would be starting the end of her journey, the year in which we all knew she would die, on New Year’s Day.  She was actually handling everything amazingly well.  The counselors at the hospital had already met with her and were setting up visits for after she returned home.  I was surprised to discover that Hospice wasn’t just about health care.  It was just as much about preparing the patient (and their family) mentally for what was coming.   The ability for her to focus on the moment at hand, and not the prognosis was new and encouraging to all of us.

Since my mother had been slated to come home on New Year’s Day, all of my friends had pushed me to attend a party with them on New Year’s Eve.  Their reasoning was that it was likely the last time in a long time I’d be able to do such a thing, and I tended to agree.  My sister offered to keep Zachary overnight, and my mother would be well cared for at the hospital.

But the hospital called me early on December 31 stating that they were ready to release my mother that day instead.  They’d already arranged for an ambulance to bring her home, along with the in home oxygen machine and all of the other care items she’d need.   I wasn’t sure at all what to do, if I should just cancel my plans or what.

“Of course you should still go,” my mother said to me when I talked to her.  “Call your brother.  He can come over and babysit me.  You’re going to have enough to do over the next few months.  You should go out and enjoy the plans you already made.”

My sister concurred, and so the next phone call was to my brother.

“No way.  I have a party to go to tonight,” was his response.

“But this is our mother,” I pushed back.  “She asked me to call you.  It’s not like I get to go out very often these days.”  I hoped logic and reason would sway him.  My brother had no child, no significant other and pretty much did as he pleased.  “This will probably be the last chance I have to go out and enjoy myself for a very long time.”

“Sorry, no can do.  Everyone’s counting on me to be there.”

“Seriously?  You’d rather be out partying than take care of your mother?”

“I could say the same thing to you.”

I could literally see the red flash of anger behind my eyes.

But then, something else.  Something clicked.  What was that I’d said to myself the other day?  “Set your priorities according to what you will regret tomorrow, not for what you want to do today.”

“You know what?  You’re right.  I would rather be with our mother than going out to a party.  I can do that any New Year’s Eve.  This is probably our mother’s last one.  I’d much rather spend it with her than with anyone else.  Enjoy your night, asshole,”  I said a little too forcefully and hung up the phone.

Later that night, I recounted the phone conversation to my mother.  “It’s true, though.  I would much rather be here with you, even though I was angry at him for bailing out on us.   I’m just kind of tired.  Please don’t take that the wrong way, Mom.  I’m very, very glad I’m here and hope that I can give back to you in the next months some of all the amazing things you’ve given to me.  You’ve always been there for me.  I’m proud that I will be able to be here for you.”  I had to stop.  For some reason, at that moment, sitting with my mother, the tears finally started to flow.

“I understand, and I don’t take it personally,” she answered me calmly.  “I’m so proud of how devoted you’ve been to my care and how you’ve stepped up for me.  That doesn’t stop my sympathy for you, because I know it is hard.  I don’t take that personally.  I wish it were easier on you.”

“It’s a gift,” I said quietly between my tears.  “To be able to show you how much all you’ve done for me has meant to me, to really be able to take care of you when you need it, like you’ve done for me.  It’s a gift.”

“You know,” she answered, without a hint of sadness or darkness, “Nine months ago I would have not been able to accept that from you.  I would have felt like a burden, like I was doing this to you, taking something away from you.  But not now.  Today I am willing to accept the help people want to give me.  People want to help.  It’s kind of an amazing thing to know that I’ve inspired that in people.  Especially in you.  You’re right.  It is a gift.”

It was the first of many conversations my mother and I would have in the coming months.  Real, frank conversations about our worth to each other and the inevitable that lay ahead.  It was the conversation I’d been waiting nine months for.

I have never been so grateful that my brother let me down in my entire life.


My sister and I had agreed to give my father the news together.  Two days after Christmas, with her husband watching our children, we drove the thirty minute trek to his home and asked him to sit down.

I had repeated my mother’s doctor’s words at least a dozen times in the last five days.  The first time, to my sister, who had expected about as much but was shocked and dismayed just the same.  She offered some kind words about me having to hear the news alone, which I appreciated.  Next, to my brother, who was also upset but also unwilling to get too invested in his emotions for fear that he could not control them.  Then to some of my mother’s friends, then to some of my friends.

But my father was a different story.  Their angry divorce and subsequent years of hostility had made the relationship awkward at best.  However, since my son’s birth and my sister’s marriage, things had gotten nearly amicable between the two of them, and my father had expressed much concern over my mother’s diagnosis.  It was clear to me as the months progressed that they had a complicated relationship that had boiled over because of very strong feelings; as I had always said, you don’t get angry at someone you just don’t care about.

“Dad, Mom will be coming home in a few days,” I began.

“Oh, really?  Then that’s good news,” he said, smiling.

“Well,” I said, drawing out the word to delay the inevitable.  “She’s coming home with Hospice care.”

He blinked, not really sure what that meant, but suspicious.

“It means,” my sister said slowly, “That they consider her having less than twelve months left to live. Terminal.”

How many times had I repeated that word in the last five days.  Terminal.  They consider her terminal.  Terminal.  End of the road.  The station at the end of the line.  The end.  Terminus.  End.

My father’s face grew red with emotion.  “Are they sure?”

I could feel my hands fidgeting, trying to warm them.  They were always cold these days.  “Dad, they’re sure.  The doctor came and took me aside a few days ago and showed me exactly where her tumor is now and how bad it is.  It’s why she keeps going back in the hospital.”

“But can’t they remove it?”

“It’s wrapped around her heart, Dad.”  My sister had tears flowing down her face, but she wasn’t sobbing.  “They can’t take it out.  And she’s too weak from all of the damage from the last rounds.  It’s just…too late.”

“What does she say?”

I flashed back to yesterday, when my mother woke from her bronchoscopy.  She and I were alone in the room, Zachary playing quietly on the floor.  She had reached for my hand and said, “It’s just like my father.  They told him he was in remission too.  But he wasn’t.  And I’m not either.”  The sadness on her face had been excruciating.  The knowledge, the certainty of knowing the end was near.

“She is ready to go home and enjoy the time she has left,” I told him, my cheeks hot.  I held my icy fingers up to them to warm the fingers and cool my face.

He looked at us very seriously and quietly said, “We have to do something.  I don’t know if she’ll be upset at me for telling you this, but she has another child, a son, that she gave up for adoption before we were married.  We have to find him before she dies.”   His voice was so thick with emotion it was hard to understand him.  But as I processed the words by mentally replaying them, I was stunned.  My father knew about my half brother, and wanted to help.

My sister spoke up.  “Dad, we know.  We’ve known for a long time.”

“Oh.  Well good, then she won’t be mad at me for telling you.”  He started to delve into the details.  I could see what he was doing.  He needed a project, a plan, a diversion.  I’d done it myself a million times.  Something else to focus on to distract yourself from the horrific situation at hand.  Something to work on because there was nothing that could be done for my mother’s cancer.

I held up my hand.  “Dad, she doesn’t want it.  I’ve talked to her about this before.  I even asked last spring after her diagnosis.  She said she wanted to always believe that he had a great life, that things were as she had hoped, and she wasn’t sure she could deal with the reality that things might not have been perfect for him.  The unknown, in her eyes, was easier than knowing the truth.  I guess you can hardly blame her with the truths around her being so…crappy.”

“But, but, but…” I could see him struggle to process our news.  We’d had days to accept it, months, really.  We’d all known since her first hospitalization in November what was likely happening.  We’d known since last March, with pamphlets in every waiting room we visited, telling us the most likely outcome of our journey.  We were here.  We were there.  It was happening.

“Dad, if you want to help, please just…don’t try to invent something to do.  There is plenty to do.  We’ll need a lot of help.  Just…help.   Please.”  I looked at my father, his eyes red, mine dry (again), and pleaded.  “Please.”

He reached out to hug us both.  “I will,” he promised.  “I will help.”


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