“Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third”

24 Jan

It’s like a flutter from a past life, the words I recognize in that hazy elderly way. Pictures from a childhood, stories, nearly make believe.
As I read her words, I can see the overflowing medicine cabinet, the baskets of gauze and pressure sleeves, the kidney bowls, that blue color, the gowns, the hospital bed in the front room. I see the elderly men in the waiting room who smiled gently at me as I found the corners of their puzzles, perfect english gardens, frozen in time. They were nearly transparent, those men, hovering between life and death as it was.
I was acquainted with the manner of my mother’s demise as a matter of fact, not a story to carry, but a vicious, leaking reality. Staid knowledge. A mother made of false parts-child from another womb, hair created by human hands, breast of fakery, forlorn in a box as she slept. Yet she was never less than who she was, a warrior, an Amazon as I preferred to see her, breast seared off as proof of her bravery, evidence of the terror and horror she faced each morning.
I read those words and I feel a quake in the floor beneath me, a shift of my own and with the eyes of a mother now myself, eyes of a 33 year old woman with two children, eyes of a daughter and a lover I understand with growing aching sadness what my mother gave. I feel myself transposed over her body, her tiny bird like hands and wrists, her lined eyes, soft skin. I lay myself down in that bed, those beds, those chairs all those times, through chemo, through radiation, through the after and suddenly the pain of the child I was recedes and the solemn knowledge of what it means to have cancer as a mother fills me.
I cry. I cry for all my mother never got to see. I weep for what she knew she was leaving. I find a keening in my chest when I think of her, facing her future in the drivers seat of her blue Tempo, hands tight to the wheel as I sat silent beside her. The idea that she might never get better, might never be better. I know she had hope-ballooned with it, she carried on as normal when she could, dragging herself to the dinner table with us, a glass of Ensure before her as we ate the spaghetti she made for us through her nausea and weakness. She would not see. She could not see, not until near then end, when the game changed from “Maybe you’ll get better.” to “these are your days.”
Maybe the end came quickly, and she didn’t have time to ponder.
But I would, ponder, all these days and years later, what she knew she lost.
If I squint, and stare at my daughters in a particular light, I am full with her. With her last days, her moments, the seizing dread of knowledge. The sight of a daughter who would grow to adulthood without her. Grow into a woman without a guide. Give her grandchildren without her guiding hand. Did she wonder what they would look like? Did she think that some day one might carry her name, the only piece of her I could bequeath?
Did she see me holding my daughters, singing those songs she whispered to me? Did she see a future without her, but full with her, the strange not empty yet not finished of those left behind?

Did she know that she was never alone with all of it?


It’s strange to stand in the shoes of my mother, to hear the whispered terror of another and fit the lost child into the woman.  I get the urgent fear, the sudden running in the chest, the caught breath, the nagging sense that tomorrow might be too late.

I get my own fears now too, and how utterly wasted they are, as hers were.

But it’s never gonna be alright, for her, for me, for any of us.

6 Responses to ““Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third””

  1. Susan @WhyMommy January 24, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    Oh. Oh. Oh.

    I wish I could comfort you with my words. I wish I could take away your pain.

    Actually, I wish I could do the same for my children, now and forever, but you know and I know that that is just a mother’s wish.

    Tell me, if you can — would anything a mother can leave behind make it better? Make it easier? Would long letters on milestone days be comforting or rip open the wounds anew? What can I do to help soothe the pain that I fear they’ll feel?

    Your post was perfect and moved me beyond words. I hate to respond so prosaically, but please tell me – what can I do as a mother to comfort my children when I can no longer take them in my arms?

    • thordora January 26, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

      Your voice. I’d give anything to hear my mother’s voice again, her laugh. I wish I knew what she sounded like when she sang, said my name.

      That would have mattered for me.

  2. Bon January 24, 2011 at 9:29 am #

    …Thor, and Susan.

    i read and feel as if i am intruding on some sacred thing, some private conversation.

    i wish i had comfort for either of you. all i can say is i am here, and reading, trying to learn. for your mother, Thor. for your kids, Susan.


  3. Sue January 24, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    I would give anything to have something, anything personally given to me by my father (who was taken by Hodgkins disease when I was 7). A letter, an artifact, anything. I long for it so much that I am already making video clips of myself singing so my daughter can have them someday for herself or her kids.

    My mom died when I was in my early 30s. I keep a little scrap of paper with her handwriting on it in a safe place. When I feel despair, I take it out, touch it, run it under my fingers.

    Anything you can give them will help even if it hurts them too. Sometimes what we children want is to feel that hurt anew b/c it does, somehow, bring the parent closer.

    Sorry to barge in but this all hits so close to home for me as well.

    Thinking about you non-stop, Susan.

    Thor, your writing is magic. You know that eh?

  4. Natalie January 24, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Thor….I want to reach through the screen and hug you…or send you cupcakes.

  5. Deer Baby January 24, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Absolutely profoundly moving. So scared of sounding trite when I say this made me cry for you, for WhyMommy, for any mother who has had to leave their children and for all the children left behind.

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