Home > Uncategorized > 29 Holy, Haunted Days

29 Holy, Haunted Days

I remember wishing I’d gotten a different flavor of ice cream- Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip instead of the Red Velvet.  The Red Velvet just wasn’t doing it for me.  The semi-frozen, sugary mix with chunks of red cake and cream cheese icing within a freshly made waffle cone ought to have been helping me, but it wasn’t.

My phone rang.  It was Mom.  Again.

“I’m ready to talk,” she said.

“I’ll be there in a few minutes,” I said.  I wasn’t sure if I was ready to talk.  What was I supposed to say or do?  She’d called me with the news after she left the doctor.  Terminal.  One to three months.  Cancer.  Stage Four.  No treatment.  Those were the words that rung in my ears, those were the words she’d given me to pass on to the rest of the family.  Those were the words we were left to live with.

I didn’t know what to expect when I saw her or what the next month or two or three would be like.  I wasn’t prepared to deal with her dying (as if I ever might be), but I’d lost my Dad the previous May and now, not even ten months later, according to the doctor, we’d be losing her as well.

What do you say?

What do you do?

I started by taking the car out of park, putting it in drive, and heading towards her house despite every desire to drive in the opposite direction.


She didn’t get two months or even three.  She got four weeks and a day.  Twenty-nine days.  The next four weeks were the hardest four weeks I’ve ever been through.  They drained and exhausted and taxed my mental, emotional, and physical faculties.  How many times did I cry?  How many times did I stay up most of the night?  Too many to remember.

And yet I wouldn’t trade those four weeks for anything.  Yes, they were hauntingly difficult, but in another sense, they were holy moments.  This was the end and it was my chance to give back to her- to care for her, to help her face the end with dignity and grace and peace.  To face it- death- with her.


It has been one year since those twenty-nine holy, haunted days and there are things that come to mind.

Driving her to the doctor.

Listening to her talk.  And talk.  And talk and talk and talk and talk.  To me.  To you.  To anyone who called or stopped by or was even within earshot of her.  To nurses and receptionists and doctors and friends and healthcare workers and anyone else she could.  To people who wanted to listen and to those who didn’t.

“Sleeping” on the recliner in her living room so I could hear her.  Later, getting smart and setting up the baby monitor in her room so I could “sleep” on an actual bed in the guest bedroom.

Stepping in dog crap while mowing her yard.

Watching TV with her and Samuel at her house, wondering why we hadn’t done more of this before the diagnosis, biting my tongue when she gave Samuel, one, then two, then three popsicles.  Did I think there’d always be time to come see her?

Driving back and forth and back and forth to the aiport to pick up my youngest brother.  Breathing a sigh of relief at the few moments I had to myself in the car while I waited for his flight to arrive.

Making phone call after phone call after phone call to my brothers to keep them updated.

The ER doctor who looked at her medical records I carried with me everywhere and said, “Oh, shit.”

The constant ringing of the telephone.

Waiting and waiting and waiting.  Sitting on the floor of examination rooms.  Sitting in the waiting room of doctor’s offices.  Sitting in the ICU.  Sitting in her hospital room.

Fear of the unknown.

Eating bad hospital food.  Sending my other brother to Rudy’s for some barbecue sandwiches.

Learning I was born six weeks early.  Hearing for the first time that I was a breach baby.  The chord wrapped around my neck had caused such great pain in her back that it sent her to the hospital.  Hearing her say- with a laugh- “And you’ve never stopped being a pain in my…”

Listening to the oncologist deliver the news again and wondering how she could hear his words with a smile on her face.  Thankful for this oncologist who didn’t sugar coat the bad news, who showed up on Wednesday night at six and stayed and talked to her- to us- for over an hour and a half and never sent a bill for his time.

Planning and organizing and orchestrating.  Calling hospice facilities, learning what they did and didn’t do, when they did and didn’t do what they did.


Riding in the hospital elevators.  Getting lost in the hospital.  Walking and walking and walking.

Seeing her sit up and smile at the sight of her grandson.

Listening to her laugh as she talked with her friends.

Wondering, just wondering, if they’d really gotten the diagnosis right.  Sure, the tumors had metastasized and sure the doctor said her labwork was off the chart and the cancer was highly aggressive, but she didn’t seem like someone so close to…

Frustration.  For her, with her, at the doctors, at the situation, at everything.

Patience.  Knowing nature was taking its course.

Cursing her dogs for barking at every little creak, for waking her up after she’d just fallen asleep.

Admiration for her friends, who drove to see her at the hospital and her home, who called her and then me (when I took the cellphone out of her room so she could rest).

Appreciation for my brothers and aunt and uncle who did everything they could.

Disbelief at the tornado, the actual tornado, that had the gall to come and strike my street and home when I already had enough to deal with.

Sitting in her bedroom on that stiff wicker chair, watching her sleep, watching her breathe, counting her breaths per minute, and talking with the hospice nurses about their jobs and families and children and books and TV shows and favorite foods and religion and all the other things you talk about at three in the morning.

Staying up all night.

Standing at the edge of her bed and watching her sleep.

Debating whether or not to finish reading the book I’d started, the book I’d hoped would take my mind off the situation, the book, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which opened with her own mother dying of cancer and that death being the catalyst for her hike along the Pacific Coast Trail.

Wondering what I would do when this was all over, how was it going to change me.  Wishing I was off on a hike, even though I don’t like to hike.  Maybe a bike ride or a trip.

Lots and lots of tears.

And finally peace.

Making the phone calls and setting the arrangements.

So appreciative of my in-laws who brought dinner and stayed with Angela and Samuel.

Sitting at Pappasitos with my youngest brother, not knowing how to process the end of those four weeks and a day, having some understanding they’d be with me forever, unaware of how those twenty-nine days would change me.


I was fortunate.  My mother and I had the conversations we needed to have.  And we’d had them before she was diagnosed.  The past hadn’t been pretty, we’d each made our own mistakes, but we’d gotten through it, perhaps with a few scars of the heart, but we’d made it.  Wiser and smarter and better for enduring, for striving to reconcile, for not settling for the way things were.  We’d come back to the place of being mother and son, hostilities and grudges long put aside.  We still frustrated one another, but she was my mother and I was her son.

Those twenty-nine days were hauntingly hard.  By no means was it easy or clean or anywhere near fun, but it was an honor.  Perhaps even a holy one.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Rosalyn
    March 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

    It is an honor, Chris, and not one we are all afforded. Easter Sunday will be 13 years since my mother’s passing, and I feel grateful to have had the honor of being there….with her, for her, for me.

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