In fourth grade we were handed a manila envelope with a mouse on the front. We were to take this manila envelope home and ask our parents and neighbors to donate money for cancer research. I asked my teacher, “What does a mouse have to do with cancer?” She explained that mice and rats were used in cancer research. To my 9 year old brain I envisioned all my money going to people in white lab coats who would then purchase a bunch of mice. I don’t like mice. They make my skin crawl. I took the envelope home and immediately threw it in the trash. I did not ask my parents or my neighbors for donations.
Several years ago my mother in law found out that she had skin cancer on her nose. She had it removed and decided to go to Brazil for a non-medical alternative – meditation in the Amazon. I love Brazil, I lived there for a little over a year back in 1996 and 1997, and in many ways being there healed some of my emotional scars. I know some of that healing came from serving others, but some of the healing came from healthy eating, daily exercise, and the beauty that surrounded me. My mother in law may have had something there – in going to Brazil. I know I felt quite envious of her trip. I would have been a great interpreter for her;) That trip happened about 8 years ago. We thought she was cancer free.
Sometime around Halloween his year we learned that the flu bug that she struggled with happened to be a rare type of cancer that started in her appendix. Thanksgiving truly was a day to give thanks as my husband’s immediate family gathered together. I felt this need to have my camera out, taking pictures of this family gathering. My favorite memories of that day were fortunately captured on film
These are the memories that my children will cherish.
About a week ago Paula fell down and broke her vertebra. She continued to have complications from the fall, and she complained about feeling well for 3 days only to be horribly sick for 4 after each chemo treatment. She decided to stop treatment. Her doctors did another exploratory surgery to check out the complications from her fall and discovered that she has two types of cancer fighting for dominance in her system, and they are going at it aggressively. We made plans for the entire family to go down at the end of March. “Come sooner.” We were told. We revised our plans to go down on Valentines weekend over the three day weekend. “Come sooner.” We were told.
The last several days I have watched my husband stoically travel through his day, with brief moments as insurmountable sorrow broke across his visage. It was these moments that I wished I could do more than just hold him. I wished I could carry his pain and sorrow for him. It was these moments that the both of us turned to our Father in Heaven and asked for intercession from our Savior, Jesus Christ for peace and solace.
The night before we traveled to Arkansas I broke down. I ached knowing that the next day my husband would hug his mother for the last time on this mortal plain. I grieved for my three children and the loss that they were about to endure. Would Dee be able to handle the emotional stress of saying good-bye? Would Chase and Emma have a chance to give their grandmother one last gentle kiss? There was the concern that she might not be up to the exuberant energy of my two little ones. That, and well, Chase gets excited when he sees his loved ones and tends to run at them full tilt and knock them over on their bum.
I called my mom chocking back the tears, and finally let them go. “Mom, what if they don’t get to say goodbye?” “It will be okay, Gen. Do you remember when grandma passed? She didn’t want the kids to see her in the hospital, and she also just couldn’t take the excitement that comes with little ones. Do you remember that?”
“Vaguely.” I whispered.
“See, and you were older. What you could ask of her is that when she crosses over to the other side that she pause and give each of them a kiss.”
“Oh, mom, how do I tell them? We haven’t told the two little ones yet, and Dee is taking it hard.” I sobbed.
“Honey, he’s older. Tell the little ones that Grandma is sick and will soon be going to heaven. While she is there she will take care of Thumper (we had a dog that passed away four years ago) until they get to heaven themselves.”
I remember Chase waking up and asking if he was going to school. I told him no, we were going to Arkansas. “Why?” I took a deep breath, prayed for guidance, and started, “Well, Grandma is very sick. We want to go and say goodbye to her before she dies and goes to heaven to be with Heavenly Father, Jesus, and Thumper.”
“She’s going to go be with Thumper?” He asked as he begins to wipe tears from his eyes. I gave him a big hug and told him to go find Daddy, that Daddy needed a hug. Chase immediately went and told Scott, “Daddy, we have to go to Arkansas so we can give Grandma Paula loves and tell her to take care of Thumper.” It was settled. We left soon after.
We arrived at Grandma’s house at a good time. It was around noon, and Grandma was awake, completely lucid and wanting to see the children. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Daddy took them in one at a time. I didn’t hear anything from Dee or Emma, but it was kind of hard to not hear Chase:
“Daddy, you have to hold me careful like Mommy was, because Grandma has a bad ouchy on her tummy.” Followed a little more quietly by, “Grandma, I will always remember when you took me to Steak and Shake.” And finally I heard his final words as he left the room, “Will you take care of Thumper for me?”
He came and gave me a big hug and said, “I was gentle, we talked about Thumper. She wants me to come back later so we can talk more about Thumper.” Emma was just as adorable. She kept sneaking back to the room when her siblings were talking, and twice when I went back to talk to her. Emma had to climb up on the bed rails (with grandma’s permission and actually encouragement) to give her a ‘gentle’ hug. Dee kept to himself, and almost immediately asked if he could go outside. I knew he needed some time to ‘process’. My heart went outside with him, since I knew he didn’t want my whole self out there with him. He wanted time alone, and I understood.
I too had the opportunity to go and speak with her. It was amazing to see how changed she was in such a short period of time. Even still, there was so much love and peace emanating from her. She and I have had quite a rocky relationship (I think that might be common for many mother/daughter-in-law relationships), but I always knew she loved me. I gently kissed her cheek and told her I loved her. “I love you too, I wish that I had told you that more often.”
She told me that she was ready to go, she didn’t want to go, but she was ready. She told me that she worried that the little ones would forget her. I told her that I have plenty of pictures and we will talk about Grandma often as we look at “Grandma and me” Scrapbooks. I also asked her to give the children kisses when she crossed over. She laughed, “Oh, I will be sprinkling all kinds of love on my grandchildren. When I am in heaven I will be able to watch over them much more than I have been able to here on earth.”
I’m grateful that my children had the opportunity to give her hugs and kisses, see her sweet smile, and feel part of the love that radiated out from her and filled that room to full capacity. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to tell her “Thank you for raising such a fine young man.”
For me, the best part was not saying goodbye. Never having to say goodbye is a blessing, it is just a see you later.
Ed note: I gained permission from Paula to share this story.