This afternoon, my friend Sally and I shared stories of each other’s lives. We sat on the porch with her dog Buddy resting near us. Later, her husband finished the chores which he had volunteered to do, and walked home with the dog while Sally and I made tea and continued talking until dusk.
I told her, among other tales, of the year between my mother’s falling ill and her death. I had not spoken out loud of that awful time for a decade. From the first misdiagnosis to the last breath, my mother’s illness threw our lives into a tailspin. My brother Stephen nursed her in the last few months, leaving a stamp of bitter desperation that haunted him for the rest of his own life. I drove back and forth across Missouri, sometimes forgetting in which direction I had been headed after stopping for gas. I’d buy a newspaper to see if it was Friday (east) or Sunday (west). My sister Joyce never missed a day by Mom’s side.
I remember standing in the kitchen door two days before Mom died. Joyce sat on the little bench beside me. “This was supposed to be our year,” she sighed. “What happened?”
I could not say. My parents came to visit me in Kansas City just weeks before my mother’s cancer got its name. She had been having some issues for which she’d gone to see her old physician. But the symptoms did not abate. We would learn just a month or two later that the doctor had grossly failed to understand those symptoms, and had given her treatment that caused the cancer to spread. I had not yet turned 30 when my mother left us, taking with her whatever semblance of innocence remained.
Today I found myself able to speak of all of this without anger. I feel a kind of lingering sorrow, but also a sense of peace. I am my mother’s daughter. Death did not strip that from me. It has taken nearly thirty-four years for me to reach this state, which bears an uncanny resemblance to grace.
It’s the twenty-fourth day of the sixty-second month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.