You are hereby cordially invited to join me on a little trip. You need to know, though, that it is a very personal one. This past week marked the 10th anniversary of my mother’s passing, and it has occurred to me that I should write down my thoughts and memories of that time and the surrounding events, for three reasons: (1) it might help someone who is going through similar circumstances; (2) I need to preserve it for my children and their children to know; and (3) because it is one way available to me with which to honor the life and memory of my Mom. So, come walk with me for the next couple of blog entries and let me share with you these memories.
I was in a sandwich shop in Lewisville, Texas, with my wife the day after 9/11 when I found out that my mother was going to die. A few days before, she had been told that she had leukemia, and we were waiting for test results to tell us if it was the “good” kind, the kind that could go into remission, or the “bad” kind that would essentially be a death sentence waiting to be carried out. My cell phone rang. I don’t remember now who actually made the call. Could have been my sister. It was the bad kind. Acute myeloid leukemia. I went to the car so that I could cry properly.
By the following March, my Mom was worn out from the constant treatments. We had hoped that the chemo would give her at least two more years, five at the outside, but her body was slipping. So, as soon as my young children got out of school for Spring Break, we all packed the van and immediately made the 12-hour trip to Mobile, Alabama, where my mother was in a room at Providence Hospital. She wasn’t expected to last the week. I spent almost every minute of that week with her in that room. I read while she slept, and we talked when she was awake. Others were there all week, too. My Dad was there constantly, and my four older brothers and sisters were there, but they were in and out, all having jobs to hold down in the Mobile area, except my sister, Cathy, who had taken time off from her job in Fort Worth to be there. On Friday of that week, Mom was no better and no worse, and I knew that I had to take my family back to Texas. I had a church to pastor, and my children had school starting back up, and we couldn’t stay in Mobile indefinitely. And so, I did the single hardest thing I had ever done in my life up to that point. I kissed my mother and told her good-bye, which I knew might be the very last time I would see her. And I drove away.
It was the middle of March, and as we made our way west across the southeastern part of Mississippi, my heart weighed more with every mile. Five hours into the trip, before I had made it across the Mississippi River bridge, our van broke down. The day had turned dark and cold and windy. It was almost nightfall. Stuck on the bridge, I made the requisite calls. A State Trooper took my wife and three children to a motel in Vicksburg, and I waited for the tow truck, standing exposed on the elevated concrete interstate, shivering and alone. As I stood there, I had a thought that I had never thought before, but even as it occurred to me, I knew it was true. This, I thought, is the worst day of my life.
Later, as my children slept soundly in the motel room’s other bed, Mary Ann and I watched part of “Castaway,” just because it was on TV. We got to the scene where Tom Hanks’ character has to knock out his own abscessed tooth with a rock and an ice skate. And I had another thought. Wow. My life could actually be worse.
Perspective is always available if you look for it.