Over the summer, I experienced something that I never thought I would. A death in the family is always hard, but when it’s your own mother and from something as awful as cancer, it changes you. It changes the way you view the world and other people.
My mom had breast cancer for the first time when I was in second grade. I was too young to understand what was happening. Death wasn’t exactly a conscious fear then. All I knew was that mom was sick and that other people were helping out with the cooking.
The second round of cancer was found right after Christmas 2020. Mom was in the hospital for breathing problems and I was scared she had somehow caught COVID-19. When she tested negative for COVID, but the fluid in her lungs tested positive for cancer, the family was scared. But there was still hope. Oral chemo medicine could slow down the progression. We could possibly have many more years with her.
I went back to college for the spring semester. She wanted me to. We didn’t even know if the medicine was working or not, so I continued my studies.
I talked to her every week, talking about the constant lung drainings and the radiation treatment she had to go through. She seemed hopeful and happy. All was good.
I moved back home at the beginning of May for summer break. I worked long days at my local park to make money. Summer was progressing as it should.
But the cancer was progressing too.
The next PET scan lit up like a light bulb. I was told the doctor said the cancer “exploded.” The oral chemo wasn’t working. The next option was IV chemo.
Mom decided to stop treatments then.
I don’t remember much from the months of May and June. I’ve read online that being a caregiver to an ill person can be considered a form of mental trauma. The brain subconsciously deletes all the bad memories. It’s taxing, but you do it for the people you love.
And it was incredibly taxing.
During those two months, people were constantly in and out of our house. I’m not exactly a social butterfly, and I crave alone time, but I did my best not to complain. It was emotionally exhausting. I got through it though.
As mom got worse, I had to be home more often. She couldn’t be alone because she depended on us for everything, so dad and I took shifts in the house to make sure she was alright. If I wasn’t at work, I was at home helping to keep mom comfortable.
Mom passed away on June 21, 2021.
With all of that being said, life does move forward.
My mom knew she was dying. We all did. She told me so many times, “Rebekah, life goes on.”
But it doesn’t.
Life feels like it’s frozen in time. Like I’m stuck on June 21, 2021 and that anytime I think I’m making progress, I’m pulled back to that day and everything resets.
No, life doesn’t “move on.”
Life moves forward.
Moving on means forgetting, ignoring the past. You move on from a bad relationship. Moving forward means acknowledging what happened, remembering every moment to the best of your abilities and living with the joy that your life timelines just happened to cross paths.
I went back to school for the next fall semester. I kept working every day after her passing. Moving on means forgetting. Moving forward is working towards the future but never forgetting.
It also means continuing the loved ones’ philosophies of life by learning from their life experiences.
My mom never got to retire. She never got to enjoy life after work, and she worked incredibly hard every day of her life. The last month of her life was spent telling me not to do what she did.
My new philosophy in life is all because of her.
Work to live, don’t live to work.
Enjoy life now while you still can. Yes, still work hard, but don’t make work your entire life.
So while this summer was very difficult, so will the many years to come. I’m getting through it by remembering who my mother was and not trying to ignore what happened.