Today marks 15 years since my Mother passed away. It also marks the exact moment in time where I've spent the same years of my life without her as I did with her. To say that today is a surreal day would be an understatement.
Although I'm only 30 years old, I feel so much older. Losing my Mother at 15 forced me to grow up pretty quickly. She never saw me drive a car, have a girlfriend, start high school...things that most people take for granted. And now that I have a son, and cherish every silly moment, I know how hard it must have been for her to realize that she wasn't going to be able to share those memories with me.
But part of her lives through me, (of course, how could she not?) and with Lex starting Kindergarten in a couple weeks, I can't wait to begin my series of "First Day of School" photos with him. (I used to love Mom doing these when I was in Grade School...but once Middle School started, I wished she'd knock it off...which of course she wouldn't even think twice about doing!)
I can still remember the night I first found out my Mother had found a tumor in her breast. My brother and I always took baths together, even when I was like 10-11 and he was 7-8. I guess it was just easier on my Mom to have to draw one bath for both of us rather than have to go through the entire process twice on a nightly basis. Besides, even though we fought and wrestled throughout most of our childhoods, hanging out in the bathtub while Mom washed our hair was a time to cherish as a family.
But that night was different. Dad came in alongside Mom. There was a stillness in the air and I remember asking my Mom a couple of times if everything was okay.
Dad eventually told us that they went to the doctor while we were away at school and that Mom had a small tumor in her breast. I heard the word Cancer for the very first time in my life and instantly knew it was something bad.
"Mom, are you going to die?" I specifically remember blurting out...almost callused. But I was terrified. I was always closer to my Mother than my Father. We were both very emotional people who wore our hearts on our sleeve.
Dad responded back, "No, she's not going to die."
And for the next 3 years, she would have a on-again, off-again struggle with chemo and radiation. She would spend plenty of nights throwing up and having dry heaves. She would lose all of her hair, have both breasts surgically removed, be constantly worn out, and yet through it all, never lead on that dying was even an option.
But then, one evening, while looking up a phone number for a old friend of hers on the telephone...she just kept flipping the pages of the phone book, on and on and on...
"Cindy, what number are you trying to find?" my Dad asked her.
She responded, "I don't...know?"
"Well, who are you talking to?" he followed up.
She just sat there, like nothing was making any sense, and she was struggling to understand the situation. "I...don't know?!"
He took her to the hospital that evening, and once they returned, we all learned the sad truth. Her Cancer had spread to her brain.
She died 6 months later.
It was the saddest, loneliest I've ever felt in my entire life. I still get emotional when I think back to how unfair it was. She was constantly fighting, always keeping her spirits high, allowing her faith to overwhelm her into thinking that with God's love, she'd be able to overcome the disease. Live to see her children grow up and have babies of their own. She desperately wanted to be a Nana one day.
But instead, she died at the age of 42.
Enough time has passed to where I'm finally able to accept the fact that at least I was able to share 15 years of my life with her by my side. The last couple years of her life we were as close as we could be. "Wayne's World" had recently come out and we began connecting on all this music she enjoyed when she was a teenager. She'd tell me about going to see Alice Cooper in concert, how he would cut off his head on stage and walk around with it. Picturing your own Mother enjoying such a crazy thing was incredible. Hearing about how she put black lights in her bedroom and stayed up late listening to Jimi Hendrix records pretty much proved that we were basically the same person. She even started to enjoy listening to Pearl Jam with me. I'll never forget how she enjoyed Guns N' Roses because she thought Axl Rose sounded like Janis Joplin! (She had a point.)
So, it's a bittersweet day. One filled with sadness and heartbreak...and one surrounded with love and appreciation. I miss her more than words can truly justify, and I hope that she'd look back at these past 15 years and be proud of the man I've become.
In a lot of ways, I'm still that lil' boy...wearing my heart on my sleeve, wanting to brighten up people's days, and in the end, inspire those around me to take nothing for granted.
Cherish those around you. Take a moment today and tell someone you love them and appreciate their friendship. Trust me, it matters.