This is the face of illness. No need to specifically call out the disease. It has an ugly name. My mom, however, has a beautiful name: Beverly, It is etched into her gravestone above the date, March 19th, 2012. Over seven years ago, she died. No getting around the fact she is gone and will never again celebrate holidays with her family. We can argue the merits of an after-life belief, benefits of chemo vs the side-effects, herbals vs. no treatment, etc…, but, to what end? I can’t crack open a fresh pack of pinochle cards and struggle mightily against the forces of her always better melds.
Shortly after we survived the millennium turn, our family drove to Disney. Pennsylvania to Florida in a soccer mom van. I say, “our family”, but it was only four PA folk: two couples in search of a mid-winter respite. Mom, dad, my wife, and I eagerly, yet cautiously, humped our rears into a hunter-green Oldsmobile silhouette one early morning and headed south. “On the road” details unimportant for the purposes of this post. Suffice to say, I can enthusiastically report dad and I shared most of the driving, mom slept, we had an overnight in North Carolina, and arrived safely in Florida…
Mom always wanted a Disney trip. That, and a Grand Canyon visit. Happy to report we were able to get both her bucket list items in before there was an inkling of trouble on the horizon. I can’t even imagine her not having fulfilled these dreams at a time when she knew they were no longer possible. At a time during our conversations in the final month of her life, we talked openly about these trips. She was so grateful. Always grateful.
I have so few pictures of her at Disney. I like it that way. The ones I have are so precious. She was so happy there. I honestly think “I” was the adult and she was the child as we interacted with each other among the rides, venues, and characters. She rode “It’s a Small World” as if the magic of Walt Disney’s pen wrote a fantasy in front of her very eyes. When Mickey appeared in front of the Magic Castle shortly after we arrived, there were fireworks of splendor in her smile. This smile never left her face. You can see it in the picture above.
The visit lasted days. Universal, Epcot, … We tried to fit it all in for reasons most Pa folks understand. It was a long trip by car, the tickets weren’t cheap, and the time “chunk” to do it was not any small feat for four adults – two of which had to make a living. So, four weary adults humped their rears back into the same minivan and headed north. Same details. Same drivers – kinda. Arriving home the next day, safely, with the best memories Disney is so gifted to provide.
And then there’s …… cancer.
The two pictures above are squeezed together so tightly – and I’m glad they are. The space in between represents, so appropriately, the amount of time that seemed to go by between our Disney trip and her diagnosis. In actual time, of course, it was a few years, but it seems like only seconds. Time distorts memories. It never changes smiles, though.
In that small space between the pictures, there were chemo treatments, pills, surgeries, shots, many doctor visits, diet restrictions, colds, uncomfortable medical appliances, hospitals, nurses, trips, wigs, hair loss, neuropathy in her fingers, sore bones, pains all over, … for five years she endured as so many have. What started out as a small, little spot …. ended up going to three other areas in her body. She never really got a break. Every time she ended a treatment and her outlook was positive, a few months later her markers would be off and the disease would be somewhere else. All the while? A smile.
Look, it’s the holiday. No need to be sad. And, I’m not at all. The second picture of mom a month or so before she passed doesn’t make me sad at all. She is happy in that picture. The waitresses at a local restaurant bought her an angel and stopped by. They are a special breed…those waitresses. Mom was so happy. Probably, she was a bit embarrassed because the house may have been dusty (knowing mom, the house just “had” to be dust free for anyone to visit). That said, I suspect she was warmed of heart because she loved everyone. Period.
For me? I absolutely love these two pictures side by side for one reason. If you look closely, she is wearing the same blue and white overshirt she loved. I didn’t notice this until posting today. These pictures are over twelve years apart, and I KNOW she had this shirt in the 90’s, which makes it at least twenty years old.
You wonder why writing about my mom is so easy? She, apparently, never changed her shirt in the midst of the cancer storm life visited upon her.
And she never changed her smile either.
THAT’S a lesson for all of us.