Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.

November 24-December 1, 2005

philly blunt

When Life Takes Your Lemons

My mom, Nancy, died this morning. Around 6 a.m, the doctor just finished telling us that they could keep restarting her heart if we wanted, but that it would inevitably stop again, in a matter of minutes, not hours. It was a kind way of saying that my mom finally faced a foe she couldn't defeat. That it was time to say goodbye.

Still, she wanted to know if we were ready to have the life-support machines turned off and walked away to let us privately decide. My dad, uncle and I talked for less than a minute when the doctor emerged from my mom's room and told us "she's gone." I don't think I'll ever know what I felt when the words hit my ears, but I'll never forget the sound of them.

I'm feeling hollow, so I think the reality is setting in. I'm well aware that I'll never again be able to talk to the woman who loved me and did everything she could for me for the past 32 years, even when the only child she admittedly spoiled didn't take the time to say he appreciated it all. But it's only been eight hours, so I know there's a lot of pain ahead. I hope I'm ready for it.

A great friend who lost both of his parents told me to trust him when he says time heals all wounds. I hope he's right, but I can't imagine all these wounds healing any time soon. All I can do is pray that everybody is right when they tell me she's finally at peace in a better place. I wish that better place was with me, but that's selfish; considering how rough a road my mom traveled, I know they're right.

The day after New Year's, my aunt called to tell me they had my mom at a hospital in South Jersey. She'd taken a nasty fall and was suffering from massive headaches. She seemed pretty lethargic a couple weeks earlier, when she took my soon-to-be-wife and me on a cruise as a Christmas gift, but I didn't make anything of it. I wish I had, considering she'd already beat breast cancer and suffered from an ungodly list of other less-threatening ailments, but I don't think anybody could've seen what was coming.

A couple minutes after I got to the hospital, an ER nurse came in with an X-ray they'd already taken. He seemed shocked when we told him we had no idea that there was a large mass in her brain. An ambulance then took her to Cooper University Hospital in Camden, where, a couple days later, surgeons removed a tumor the size of a lemon from her brain. Just like any other bit of adversity she'd faced, my mom stared down that challenge and survived that surgery, and another one when the tumor returned a couple months later.

She'd always claimed I got my writing genes from her, but I saw her as more of a photographer, considering there wasn't a day that passed without her pointing a camera my direction. I finally believed her when she said, despite all the debilitating pain she was feeling, that it was finally time for her to write a book about her life. We came up with the title Lemon Aid. I wish we could've done it, but the rest of the year left my mom pretty much confined to a couch, bed and wheelchair as this vicious disease took her away a little more each passing day. It was absolutely heartbreaking to see such a vibrant woman so helpless, but it was gratifying to see her never lose her spirit for living, laughing and loving. She knew she got a bum deal, but chose not to go into an angry-at-the-world shell.

Even the most optimistic among us knew this day would come, but that doesn't make it any easier when it's finally that time.

She was semi-responsive throughout the day and night, so I'm going to cling to the hope that she heard everything I whispered into her ear as she kept battling. Though she couldn't talk, she squeezed my hand and looked at me with tears welling in her eyes while I told her things I know she already knew, but that I wanted her to hear again in our last moments alone together:

That I'll always be motivated by the strength she showed through her entire life, not just the last 11 months as she stared down brain cancer long enough to fly to the Bahamas to fulfill her dream of dancing with me at my wedding.

That I may not have always been the greatest of sons, but that I've always loved her and always will.

That she was the best mother anyone could have wished for.

And that while I'm left here to keep on living, I'll never stop missing her and trying to make her proud.

So thanks for everything, Mom. And while you're getting the rest you so truly deserve, start looking for a publisher up there. We still have a book to write.

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