A year ago Sunday, we made a flying trip south. A year ago Monday, I turned 36, and had my last conversation with my mother. A year ago today, she slipped peacefully from the earth. And a week from today, she would've been 66.
In honor of anniversaries and memories that seem like yesterday and yet as if they occurred 10 years ago, I'm sharing the thoughts I gathered together last year, after reality had begun to settle. Titled, The End of a Long Road, this first appeared March 28, 2012.
The march toward the inevitable began last May.
The diagnosis. The tears. The treatments. The hospital. Finally, hospice.
My mother died last week.
She was diagnosed as the corn went in the ground in southern Illinois last May: pancreatic cancer, inoperable because of both size and location, already spread to her liver and surrounding lymph nodes. Stage 4. The second-opinion doctor at Barnes actually told her, "You seem like a nice person. I'm sorry."
It is difficult to learn you have no fighting chance. No real options. Only a shot at buying a sliver of time. It is particularly difficult for farmers, who seem always to have next year. Despite rain or drought or weeds or sick calves, there's always next year. Hope springs eternal, until you learn you have none.
My mother was a farm wife. She drove a tractor and a grain truck. Her pall bearers were the men of the community – men from church, from the stockyards, the fertilizer dealer and the equipment dealer and the equipment mechanic.
Carson, who's fixed Allis Chalmers tractors at Herschel Johnson's for just about forever, told me about the time she'd pulled the 9190 off the highway and into a field, and it locked up. He drove out as quickly as he could, stuck a bar in and unjammed the gears. "She was sure glad it worked, and I was, too!"
Marlene Walker, a neighboring farm wife, told me how she and Mom would work fields next to each other, waving from their tractors on the end rows.
Mom was a quilter, too. My word, the quilts. She started quilting in the early '90s; one of her first projects was to take a shoebox of pieces from a double wedding ring quilt my Dad's grandmother had pieced – found in the upstairs of his childhood home – and put them together. A fire was lit and she quilted almost compulsively after that. I have quilts to mark my high school and college graduations, and our wedding. My babies have baby quilts. She set aside certain quilts to go to each of my children, to my brother and his wife. When she'd rallied last fall, she and I went through them all, recording which one was to go to which person.
Mom was 64 when she died, just a week shy of her 65th birthday. Her goal last summer was to make it to their wedding anniversary and to her birthday. She was so close.
Life is different now. We are all changed. Dad remarked, just after she died, that it was no longer up to us to make her comfortable. Indeed. God is good.
That's been my rallying thought, since the day she was diagnosed. God is still God and God is still good. No matter our circumstances.
We will move on, because we don't mourn as those who have no hope. Indeed, our hope is in Christ, just as was Mom's.
Life is hard. But God is good.