When my mom had breast cancer for the third time, when I was 16, I was finally made aware of it.
Since I was older, my parents knew that I’d ask more questions about why Mommabear was sick or what all of her appointments two hours away in Pittsburgh were for; so they told me. My parents faced this diagnosis with trust and faith. I learned to do the same, as well.
My mom’s oldest sister and brother came to be with us for a while after Mommabear started chemotherapy. I had started playing varsity soccer that year. She missed so many of my games. On the day of this particular home game, she had an appointment but assured me that if she and my dad weren’t at my game, it was simply because they had gotten stuck in traffic. They never came, so a friend gave me a ride home afterwards. I walked into my house completely at ease. My aunt and uncle sat at our kitchen table facing the door, facing me as I walked in. “Your mom is in the hospital,” my aunt said. “She has a blood clot and is in a lot of danger. Your dad should be home soon.”
Immediately, of course, I panicked. A little while later my dad came home and he immediately called my mom at the hospital. When the receiver was handed to me, I unleashed my panic, “Aunt Cathy says you’re in a lot of danger.” Mommabear’s voice was chipper and she scoffed. “No, I’m fine,” she reassured me. “They found a blood clot and I’m on blood thinners now. They just want to make sure it dissolves properly.”
“But you’re fine?” I asked. “Yes, I’m fine,” she replied.
My mom had a way of dealing with the most dangerous of issues head-on, coolly, calmly, and with trust.
It turns out that the blood clot was in a dangerous spot and my mom was in serious danger, but it was found in time to treat it. But the thought of fear at such a thing never crossed my mother’s mind. She trusted the doctors to take care of her.
I suppose she inherited that from her own mother, who almost died in childbirth with my mom. The doctors told my grandma that they could save either her or her baby. They recommended trying to save her, since she had five other children at home and they were poor farmers. My grandma wouldn’t accept that answer. “You just do your jobs and try to save us both,” she told them, “and let God deal with the rest.”
Let God deal with the rest.
On a beautiful California summer day, I was swimming in the Pacific Ocean with some cousins. We were having fun playing in the waves and then sunning ourselves on the beach. Once, I didn’t quite catch a wave properly and ended up being dragged by a current while underwater. I knew what to do: swim parallel to the shore until I was out of the current and then swim diagonally towards the shore. The problem was, I couldn’t discern my way. I did the best I could and did get out of the current. I didn’t panic. In fact, while underwater when I couldn’t discern which way was the right way to go, I remember praying, “Okay, whatever happens, I will be fine. Let’s do what I know how to do and not worry about the rest.”
In any normal, non-high-stakes situation, I probably would’ve panicked. But here, in one that put my safety and wellbeing at risk, I was able to remain calm. This is such a far cry from how people usually know me. Just ask my husband! I worry about inconsequential or fleeting things but then remain calm and steadfast in bigger issues. Perhaps that’s just a personality thing– worry about everything that is within my control and not worry when presented with situations that I know I can’t control. But maybe also it’s a little bit of trust. “If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30).
To look into the face of death without fear
I lost a fair amount of blood when I gave birth to my first child, but didn’t realize it until later. I did banter and argue with my doctors and sit in awe holding my brand new child, this glorious little girl in my arms. Everyone around me was tense and busy at work, but I was unworried and calm and happy. It wasn’t until I was being wheeled to my recovery room that I was told I lost almost enough blood to warrant a transfusion and so needed to be well-monitored for a while.
I knew I would be taken care of, whatever that meant, and it was true. My grandma never had any doubt that, no matter the outcome of my mother’s birth, that both she and her baby would be taken care of. My mom stared death in the face many times and never had any doubts.
Both my grandma and mom did eventually face death for a final time. I was in the room with my grandma when she passed; I saw her die. She was confused at first, lying in her hospital bed, sputtering about needing juice, and then simply stopped and breathed one last time. I wrote about being with my other grandma the night she died and how my mom passed on in a freak accident just a few months later.
I imagine Mommabear was calm, tried to do her best to mitigate any damage, and just left the rest up to God when she fell down the stairs. She was steadfast and faithful and trusting. I try to emulate that. I fear a lot of things, but when I think about the big things– death– I trust. One of Blessed Chiara Luce Badano’s doctors, who treated her during her bout with osteosarcoma, said of her, “Through her smile, and through her eyes full of light, she showed us that death doesn’t exist; only life exists.” This is true trust born of faith, hope, love, and grace. God fill us with such light and assurance.
Image courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikepmiller/9179441899