Two months from first symptoms, and three weeks from diagnos

Rene Wallis

On September 15, four days after the world trade towers crumbled and the airplanes were free of travelers, my mother arrived in Washington, DC, where I lived. I had a rough break up from a romance in the summer, my neighbor had been widowed and was broke, so my mom was coming to help both of us out. She was supposed to come on 9-11 and couldn't come. I was so sad she couldn't come and visit because I really wanted to see her. There were national guards on the street, and everyone was afraid of what was happening. No one thought she would take a flight to DC.

Then four days later, she went to the Portland airport at 6:00 in the morning, and just said, "Send me on the first flight you can get me on to DC."

I was so lucky to have a mom that was so brave, a true friend, who I could always count on, and who was a running buddy as well as a mom. She was young -- only 63, and very strong and healthy. That week, we walked all around DC. We went on a peace march, and also several vigils in honor of the grief of what had happened in NY and at the Pentagon. We went bookshoping, to eat ethnic food which she loved, and she helped my neighbor figure out her finances. I am the emotional one, and would cry and cry at the services or whatever sad thing happened, and she would just hand me Kleenex for my tears, and hold me, and say, "Rene, you are so tender-hearted."

In October, she started to have a pain under her ribs. At first it wasn't so bad, and her doctor thought it was a gall stone. She was confident she would deal with it. Every day it got a little worse, and slowly she stopped eating and started taking pain medications. Still, she was hopeful. The found some growths on her liver. I flew in for Thanksgiving to Portland, where she lived with my dad and all the rest of my brothers and sisters. I was with her for her biopsy -- she was so cheerful to the doctor and his staff. A few days later, she was in so much pain we went to the emergency room for pain and found out the biopsy was positive. She had liver cancer.

Reading the web sites on liver cancer made me sick. They were brutal. But still, we didn't know -- maybe maybe maybe there would be some treatment. She still was strong, but sometimes, she told me how afraid she was, and we cried, and I tried to reassure her. I was scared to. But I couldn't imagine what was coming, and I am glad. I am not sure I could have been as strong as I was if I had realized how truly ugly this horrible liver cancer was.

I flew back to DC and started making plans at work to change my schedule so I could fly home more, maybe one week a month, I thought, while she went though treatment. I was sad. I didn't even unpack all my stuff. Sometimes I was afraid to call my mom at night because I didn't want to hear the news.

Then six days after I got home, my sister called and said, "get out here now. mom is in the hospital and we don't know if she will live." I got tickets and three hours later I was on a plane. I got off the plane and went right to the hospital. That night I stayed with her in the hospital, in the ICU. She was so sweet, like a little baby, looking at me with total trust that I would take care of her and comfort her, and make it right if I could. I held her hand as she came in and out of consciousness, taking pain killers, and telling me how confusing everything was, telling me her strange dreams. I listened and took everything very seriously. I comforted her and reassured her, and promised her she would never be alone. I was still so hopeful. I wanted her live so much. I loved her so much. It was sad. I good and right being there, holding her hand, stroking her head, listening to her, smiling at her, telling her I loved her, talking with her about whatever came up.

It is so hard to believe now -- only four days later, she lost conscience awareness for the last time. That whole time, someone who loved her madly was with her every moment. She was with her grandson, Brian, the last time she was conscience. Those four days were sad for all of us. She knew she was loved, that her life had mattered, that so many people held her dear in there hearts. I was glad we had a few moments just to honor and acknowledge her. Her family was with her, she trusted us, she knew we would take care of her, and she didn't know really how sad her death would be as her body disconnected her mind from the world. She wanted to go home, and she told us, and so we took her home. If I had realized how close death was, I would have wanted to gt her home sooner, but we did not realize it. It was so hard -- every few hours we had to readjust as we saw how ill she was, how our hopes were not going to come true, how her body was out of control with illness. We took her home on Monday. She knew she was home, but she never was able to speak to us. That is when I knew she was going to die quickly, and at that moment, I thought my whole body would explode with pain and grief. That lasted about a half hour. I had no idea that I could ever feel that much pain inside my body.

All of her children and her husband were with her until she died four days later. Her mother and sister came. The grandchildren came and went. A few special friends stopped by too. We kept her heavily medicated, so she would have no pain, and watched her life leave her body. First her hands got really hot, then, on the last day, they started to get colder, and the color left her face.

I stroked her face, talked to her, cried, told her over and over and over how much I loved her, how everyone was sending her courage and strength, that she was not alone. We watched her forehead for the tiniest furrows of pain -- liver cancer is very ugly and painful, and we promised to keep her safe from the pain, and we did.

She died with all of us around her. We gave toasts to her beautiful memory. After her body was gone, the next day, we started to look at all the photos of our life together as a family and her life without us children, and there she was, in hundreds and hundreds of photos, smiling and laughing, and seeing the world, and being surrounded by people who loved her. I am glad she knew to go home, where we could love and care for her in her last days, in her home, surrounded by her beautiful things. For her service, we made a slide show of her smiling face through the years. It made me feel better to realize what a good life she had.

Now I am going through her stuff for my dad, I found all the letters I wrote over many years telling her how much I loved her, and I am so glad that I did that. I don't know why I did -- why I was the emotional one, always telling her I loved her, and crying and all that --but I am so glad I did, that she knew how much I loved and respected her.

It is very sad to lose my mom, who I expected to grow old with. We are only 21 years apart in age! Her mother is 84! She was strong and did yoga three times a week, walked her dog every night, and was so hardy. How could her body turn against her?

It is very hard to see my dad alone, my mom took such care of him, and he misses her so much. They were companions for 48 years.

I am glad she was my mother. I miss her madly. I feel her close to me, in my heart and spirit, and I have started a book where I write her journal entries, just telling her what is going on, what I am thinking about, what we kids are doing, how my dad is. It makes me feel close to her, which I know she is in my heart and spirit.

Life is mysterious, isn't it? I wish we had more time together, I wish she had more time on earth.

Rene Wallis

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Anniversary date - 12-13-01
Date of post - 12-26-01

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