One of my biggest regrets in life was taking my mother for granted. She was always such a strong, vibrant woman, capable of mastering any challenge set before her--it was easy to forget she was human. It was only after she was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma* that she became mortal in my eyes.
Her life was suddenly measured in months. The odds that chemotherapy might add a year or two were slim to none, but ever the fighter, she took on that battle and won. No, she couldn't win the war, but she was able to bless us with her presence for four more years before it came time for her to surrender.
She wanted to die at home. In the last few months of her life when she finally became too weak to take care of herself, my sisters and I took turns staying with her. Now, she was never a large woman, and the cancer kept whittling her away day by day, yet still, she was quite heavy when I'd try to help her the few steps to and from her bed to her wheelchair. Since she was unable to walk at all on her own, I'd wrap my arms around her, trying my best not to cause her any more pain with the pressure, and she'd hold onto me as well and we'd short of shuffle our way from one place to another.
"Look at us, Mom," I told her. "We're dancing."
And she smiled up at me and laughed. "Yes, and oh what a dance it is."
I spent my hours with her, pumping her full of Vicoden or morphine to ease her pain, trying to persuade her to eat and drink a little, and quietly telling her all the things I didn't want to regret having not said. In those final two months I grew closer to my mom than I'd ever been--much, much too late, I'm afraid.
I recall confiding to a friend one day how I hoped I wouldn't be there when she passed, for I didn't think I could handle that. But when I got the call from my sister, saying, "You'd better come now--it's time," I immediately went.
It was the longest ten-minute drive of my life.
But my mother waited for me. Barely. I had only enough time to hold onto her hand, give her a kiss . . . and tell her goodbye.
I'm forever grateful I had the chance to be there with my sisters at the bedside of my mom as she quietly moved from this world into another, no matter how much I'd feared it, for even in her passing she maintained her beautiful strength and dignity. She did not let cancer beat her down and she silently taught me one final lesson in my life: Adversity is the mirror which casts the truest reflection of one's soul.
A year after she died, my mother came to visit me in a dream. She was young. She was happy. But what touched me most of all . . . . . she was dancing.
* Cholangiocarcinoma is a rare cancer that forms in the bile ducts of the liver. In the western world the odds of occurrence are about 1/100,000 with no strong, identifiable risk factors. Symptoms include abdominal pain, jaundice, weight loss, itching, and fever. The cancer is incurable and rapidly lethal.