6 years later…

Today is National Metastatic Breast Cancer Awareness Day. Congress said so, and in making such a proclamation, let’s hope we get some action. Action beyond pink ribbons and promotional tie-ins like toilet paper and cups of yogurt. The estimate is that some 160,000 women are dealing with metastatic breast cancer, but I suspect the number is much higher. Metastatic means the cancer has spread. Stage IV. There is no Stage V. Every BC patient’s worst nightmare. Because being diagnosed at all, regardless of stage, isn’t nightmare enough.

I’ll save the mets post for another day, because there’s another commemoration taking place today, and I won’t be able to rest until I get this post out of my head.

Or so I thought.

I sat down at my computer to mark this important day, but I got nothing. I am stuck. The enormity of the topic overwhelms me. I want to write just the right thing, but in my quest for perfection I’m struck down, unable to convey the importance that screams to get out.

It’s not often that I’m at a loss for words, particularly on this little blog. I rarely have trouble thinking of what to write, and most days the topic guides me. Sometimes a topic pops into my head and I have an overwhelming urge to write. My fingers on the keyboard can hardly keep up with my thoughts as they tumble out of my head.

But today, I’ve got nothing.

And rather than make myself crazy on this day, this important yet heartbreaking day, I’m going to re-run the post from last year. I added a few more pictures, because this time last year I was brand-new to blogging and hadn’t quite figured out how to manage the images in my posts. But more importantly, I added a few more pictures because I need to remember what she looked like.

My heart is heavy as grief once again rears its ugly head and reminds me that she is gone, forever. 
It’s been exactly 5 years since my mom died. Lots of people have written about loss & grief, and most of them have done it more eloquently than I. If you knew her, you loved her. Plain & simple. She was one of those people. She never met a stranger and could talk to anyone. The stories are endless, and if I think really hard I can conjure up the sound of her laugh. I have to work hard to remember her voice, though, because her “sick” voice is the freshest one. I also have to think back to how she looked, pre-cancer, before the dreaded disease ravaged her body yet was unable to extinguish her effervescent personality.

My mom was an incredible cook. She grew up on a farm and lost her own mom at age 13, so she assumed more responsibility than a middle-schooler should. She taught me a lot in the kitchen, although I’ll never match her skill with pie crust. I try every year at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and end up exhausted, frustrated and having used a month’s worth of curse words. One year at Christmas she gave coupons for a homemade pie, and those were highly prized gifts for sure.

She was a “white” woman who married into a Greek family. “White” means anyone who’s not Greek. Sometimes the Greeks aren’t happy about “whites” joining a family, because they want their kids to marry other Greeks. My mom didn’t let that stop her. She ingratiated herself into the lives of the Greek women and learned their culinary secrets. It wasn’t long before she was the best cook in the bunch. Not bad for a “white” girl.

My sweet mama was the quintessential suburban at-home mom: PTA president, Girl Scout leader, queen of homemade Halloween costumes. She put a homemade meal on the table every night for dinner, and I was halfway through elementary school before I realized that the homemade cinnamon roll that was my lunchbox treat was a rarity.

She had a love of learning that I see echoed in my own kids. I’m sure she flourished at college, probably thrilled to be responsible only for herself for the first time in years. She was president of her sorority and got this fancy necklace to wear during her reign. The look of pure happiness on her face makes me smile all these years later. In her typical over-achieving way, she graduated college in 3 years, then became an English teacher before she became a mom. My whole childhood, she had us look up words in the dictionary to learn how to spell. I won the spelling bee in 4th grade, and to this day am proud of being a good speller. She instilled a love of words and reading that I’ll carry with me my entire life.

When Trevor graduated from business school in 2004, she was as proud of him as if he were her own child. In fact, once he married into her family, she considered him a son. Not a son-in-law, but a son. She was sick at the time this photo was taken, but hid it well. She didn’t want anything to interfere with his big day.

She had a lot of success in life, but her greatest achievement was being YaYa. She loved her grandbabies to the max, and when she knew she was losing her battle against cancer, she spoke of her sadness in not being able to watch them grow up. She’s missed out on a lot. But loss is a 2-way street, and the 4 kids who were lucky enough to have her as their YaYa, albeit way too briefly, have missed out as well. As each year passes, and her grandbabies grow up, they change and take on new interests and habits. She would have loved every minute of it. Something tells me she would have been quite adept at navigating whatever stage those little darlins are in.

Here they are on the day of her funeral.

Andrew was 8, Payton and his cousin Megan were 6, Macy was 3 when YaYa died. She was 67. Way too young, all the way around.

Life isn’t the same without her. While the pain of loss has lessened over the years, it’s still there, and I suspect it never goes away. No one in your life loves you the way a mother does. And no matter how old I become, I will always miss my mother’s love. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that “mothers carry the key of our souls in their bosoms.” That certainly was the case with my mom.

Milestones are hard when you’ve lost someone so dear. Every year, the week or so leading up to the anniversary of her death has been miserable. I find myself transported back to the time of  illness and all of the unpleasantness that entailed. Taking care of her was both the hardest thing ever and the greatest honor. I went into it knowing it would be hard, but having no idea how brutal. Balancing that with taking care of my young family was grueling, no doubt. But I wanted to come out of it with no regrets, and I’m happy to say that I did.

This year, however, was different. I wasn’t dreading the date. Maybe because I’ve got a lot on my mind and a lot on my plate. Maybe because as I get ever closer to regaining my “normal” life after my own cancer battle, I have a new perspective. Maybe I’m just getting absent-minded in my old age.

For a while after she died, I looked for her in crowds: at the grocery store, at a baseball game, at any random gathering. I knew, of course, that she wasn’t there. At least my rational brain knew that, but I looked anyway. I don’t know when it was that I stopped looking, but at some point, I started to see her. Not really her, but glimpses of people or expressions on faces that recalled her: the woman at the gym who looks a lot like her from the back. The resemblance in my niece to my mom’s photos as a child. My aunt’s hands, which look just like my mom’s.

This year, today, on the anniversary of her death, I wasn’t looking for her, but she was there. Today in my much-anticipated first tennis match since my mastectomy, my opponents’ names were Barbara and Ann. Guess what my mom’s name was? Yep, you got it — Barbara Ann.


13 Comments on “6 years later…”

  1. Susan Christopherson says:

    What a great mom! I wish I would have had the pleasure of knowing her. You are in my thoughts today.

  2. David Benbow says:

    Is it a coincidence that I read your favorite e.e. cummings poem this morning? I continue to mourn the loss of your amazing mom. I’m glad to have known her. She was beautimous.

  3. elizabeth connolly says:

    Oh Nancy , I have tears in my eyes thinking of my own Mother . She’s been gone 41 years and it’s true that you always miss your mother. Nobody loves you as your Mother does. I only knew your Mom for a little while but we made a connection and I so miss her visiting when you come to the beach so we could get away and yak about you kids. Thanks for the memories and this seems like the right blog for today. Love and see you soon, Elizabeth

  4. Eddie says:

    Your description of the struggle for words is painfully familiar. I’ve long thought words a feeble vehicle for communicating true emotion. I’m crying here at my desk for the absence or your mom, the loss of my father, and just general tragedy of mortality. Never before have I hoped that Kahlil Gibran was right when he wrote,
    “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being,the more joy you can contain.
    Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
    And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
    When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.
    When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
    I don’t feel so joyful right now.

  5. Barb Fernald says:

    What a wonderful tribute to your mother. No wonder you miss her so much. Have a gentle day with yourself and your memories.

  6. Amy H. says:

    I think being at a loss for words is ok. It gives you the time to think, ponder and listen. I grieve for your loss and not just today.

  7. Patti Ross says:

    I offer my condolences for the loss of this terrific woman from your and your family’s lives. But it is obvious that she still lives in your heart–enjoy the memories and share the love. Thanks for sharing them with us.

  8. Jan Hasak says:

    So painful to read, but so important to read, and to heed. We need so much to recognize and remember these lovely people. What a great tribute! Wish I could have known her.
    XOXOX,
    Jan

  9. Oh Nancy, your post just brought tears to my eyes – what a lovely lady your Mom was (you look like her when she was younger) Thanks for sharing her story with us and for bringing into stark relief what this disease takes from us. Our Moms are the heart of our families and when they are taken from us, there is such a gaping hole that nothing can ever fill again. I don’t have words for all that I want to say to you right now, but I hope that you can “hear” the words of my heart which is full of compassion and understanding for what you write today xxxxx

  10. […] Breast Cancer Awareness day has come and gone , but it coincides with the anniversary of my mom’s death (from cancer, natch), so I didn’t get to really blab about it on the actual day. I want to do […]

  11. […] Breast Cancer Awareness day has come and gone , but it coincides with the anniversary of my mom’s death (from cancer, natch), so I didn’t get to really blab about it on the actual day. I want to do […]


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