Happy Birthday, Mom

November 26, 2008. Today is my mother’s birthday. The day is a marker now, as another year has passed without her at the other end of the phone, her melodic voice dancing across the wire.

Our voices are the same. As a teen it was funny how many of her friends launched into phone conversations with me before my giggle alerted them to the fact that they had the daughter, not the woman. Now when I want to hear her voice I can comfort myself by talking, using her cadence, phrases and sighs. What I can’t do is replicate her singing voice. Standing next to her at Mass I would feel warmth flow down through my body as I listened to that voice resonating with deep timbre. When a song ended I would look up at her and silently wish, “Please don’t stop.” Maybe I continued attending Mass to hear her voice; I know that the chords of certain hymns will bring me to tears. Somewhere, imprinted in my heart, she’s singing to me.

Mom was only 67 when she died. The cancer was diagnosed mere months after my dad died — from cancer — and she went from a relatively good prognosis at Stage I to spine and brain mets within two years. When I discovered that I, too, had breast cancer I was not surprised. Her father had been diagnosed with breast cancer and later died from prostate cancer. It was a matter of when, not if my turn would come. I did think I’d have more time, though.

By some weird coincidence today is also the day I went to the oncologist to talk about several falls I’ve had and can’t really explain away. Back pain, aching ribs. Headaches when I rarely get them. It’s the first time I’ve gone to the oncologist out of fear. Agent of Doom #2 says he doesn’t think the symptoms are cancer-related but he wants to reassure me and in oncology that’s with a brain MRI. The date for that test happens to be the day before the anniversary of my mom’s passing. Symmetry. I find comfort in that.

Only twelve years ago I was holding her hand, telling her in the voice we shared to go, to find peace, hoping she could hear me through the morphine haze. My brother had finally fallen asleep in the hospice bed a few feet away, and my sister had just gone into the bathroom when the labored breathing stopped. While I waited for her to take another breath I held my own. How could she bear any more? Yet I wanted her to open her eyes and be my mom again. I remember the mix of raw emotions flooding through me as I realized my mother had taken her last breath in my presence. By the time I told my brother and sister what had happened I felt the whirl of grief being replaced with sweetness and calm, like the sound of her voice on Sunday morning. 

You went first, Mom, and I learned a few things about advocating for the patient. Now the patient is me and I’m doing my best to get the right care, the right tests, the right docs. Thank you for taking some of the fear away. 

Love to you, always.


Cross-posted to Princess Hedgehog Chronicles.

12 Responses to Happy Birthday, Mom

  1. turbospinecho says:

    Moms Rock!!

  2. WhyMommy says:

    Oh my. What a hard thing to have to go through — and an interesting picture, for those of us with you here on the other side of cancer now.

    My heart goes out to you today.

  3. Sarah S. says:

    I can’t even imagine how hard that was! You are very strong!

  4. imstell says:

    It is harder, I have always felt, to be the care-giver and the one left behind than to be the one finding peace. Hugs for you this day, my new friend. And may your dreams tonight be filled with the sounds of your voice in harmony.

  5. I am so sorry for your loss. My mother died this past June just one month shy of 66th birthday and two weeks before a routine mammo found a lump in my breast. I know exactly how you feel.

  6. Liane says:

    Just when I thought I had no more tears left to cry. My mom died on Feb 22 06, days after her 64 birthday. I was diagnosed with bc on May 22 06. Symmetry indeed. Hugs for you.

  7. justenjoyhim says:

    I’m so very sorry.

    I watched my father die from cancer, his hospital bed in our family room. It’s heart-wrenching. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Anniversaries are especially difficult times.

  8. Beautiful and moving post.

    I strongly believe that our loved ones watch over us from the other side.

    Good luck with your tests and good for you for following your instincts and getting the tests you need.

  9. Laura says:

    Wow – what an incredible post. I am sorry you experienced this but you write of it so eloquently. You’re in my prayers….

  10. jillaldrich says:

    Beautiful, Hedge.

  11. Urban Mama says:

    My mother died at age 67 of colon cancer two months ago. Reading this post makes me realize that in 12 years I too will remember all of the final conversations and the final moments my siblings and I shared with her. Thank you for posting this, and for opening my eyes to the fact that the grief becomes a part of who we are as motherless daughters.

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