2008 was the worst year of my life. I say that at the top of my lungs and without any hint of hesitation. I am almost unrecognizable as the person I was before that awful year. It's as if I was struck by lightning and the circuits were crossed, wires burned out, cords left unplugged.
My mom died last year. Parents aren't guaranteed to last forever. It's going to happen to all of us sooner or later, but you always think it's going to be later. I just assumed she would be around to see my kids grow into adults.
It was a different kind of relationship. I am the baby of 6 kids by many years. While my siblings moved away and created their own lives, I stuck around and took care of my mom. My dad died in 1990, so my entire adult life was spent on "Mom Alert".
In 2005, I decided that it was time for her to move in with my family. She was having a harder time driving, shopping, cleaning, and I knew she would feel safer with me. My kids were thrilled to have "Granny" in the house all the time.
Looking back on it now, I know I missed the signs. My mom was in constant pain. The doctors attributed it to arthritis and I was too busy for it to be anything more. She had always been healthy except for orthopedic issues, so take the medicine and deal with it, right?
Out of the blue last June, she called me at work to say she was too weak to go downstairs. That seemingly vague symptom lead to the discovery that my mom had Renal Cell Carcinoma - kidney cancer - that had spread to her lungs, bones, head.
The summer of 2008 is a complete blur. Work, hospitals, doctor's office, day camp, nursing home, phone calls, e-mails. What now? Is this really happening?
Even though I'm the baby of the family, my siblings understood that I was making the decisions, right or wrong. A nurse once asked me where I fell in the birth line. When I told her I was the youngest, she said it was unusual for the baby of the family to be in charge. I knew my mom trusted me more than anyone and I knew I had to make it right for her.
After a ridiculous amount of red tape, I moved my mom into our local Hospice House. It's the most beautiful, peaceful place that I hope you NEVER get to see. She spent only a week there, confused and mostly unconscious, but they gave her the dignity she deserved.
I watched her die on a hot, muggy summer morning. Only 2 months had passed since this ordeal began.
So here I am, forever changed. I want my life to matter now. I want to be happy because I have seen first hand that life is fleeting. Life is too short not to make every moment count. Cliche? Yes, but when you watch a life slip away so quickly, it lights a fire under your feet.
My burning feet and I are determined to leave the regrets behind and find the woman I am destined to be...