On her eighth birthday, her father had a heart attack.
She remembers the sun shining. A perfect August day. Her black hair was cut short around her face, and it bounced as she ran around the yard, some cousins and friends running beside her, their laughter tickling the toes of the clouds. She remembers her bangs sticking to her forehead, her father pushing them out of her eyes, lifting her chin, planting a kiss on the tip of her nose, her nose that was shaped like his.
She remembers the singing, feeling so special. Then the cake, chocolate icing, just how she liked it. The number 8 planted right in the middle.
And then the gasping. The hurry, the panic. Her aunt’s arms around her, pulling her away. Her father’s shiny black shoes pointing in the air, his body still. He was gone.
Her whole life became an echo of that day. Never truly allowing herself to feel joy in that uninhibited way again. There was always fear lurking, always the possibility of death, of bad, ready to sneak around the corner and launch itself her way.
Until she met him.
He knew he loved her the moment he saw her. He had just returned home from the war, a tired weary man. He went next door to introduce himself. She opened the door, and he knew.
They were engaged a few months later. Married soon after that. Then kids followed.
He was her rock. They had the kind of love you read about, the love the movies were made after. She relaxed with him, began to build her life around the possibility of lasting joy. Of peace.
He was a runner. He had a leaky valve, a simple heart procedure. He went under, but then he never really came back.
There was a fever. 107. Too hot. There was the tub of ice. The nurse, saying no one has survived that at Yale. But he did. But he slipped away. First the letters falling off the page, then the words scrambling in his mouth. Then the memories, burying themselves too deep to recover. Then walking. Then eating. Then talking. Now, everything.
And with that, that fear that good can’t possibly be ahead. That it is all too much. We lose the ones we love. The truth she’s carried with her all her life, came back to the surface, the rock that lives in her heart.
Now, her. The spot in her chest. The imaging. The ultrasound. The biopsy.
The word cancer.
There is a part of her that doesn’t believe she can handle anymore. That it would be easier to sink into the despair, the overwhelming tug into darkness.
But we all know, she’s a fighter. You can’t make it this long, loving as deeply as she does, without a fight in you.
So she’ll gather all her strength. She’ll lean into her children, scattered and close by, and she’ll take each day as it comes. She’ll cry herself to sleep, ache for her husband’s hand in hers, but when the sun rises so will she.
She is brave. She is selfless. She is faithful.
She is my mother.
“We suffer all kinds of afflictions and yet are not overcome.” 2 Cor 4:8