Life is a Gift

Posted Jun 5 2010, 12:31 am in

A few weeks back, we opened our pool.  Today, I got a phone call…  not a phone call. The phone call. The one you hope you never get, but know someday, you will because it’s life.  It’s death, actually. But nevertheless, part of life.

My mother is dying. Cancer, stage 4, which means the little bastards have already metastasized and begun their widespread invasion over borders into neighboring territories. Hip, pelvis, spine, ribs. It’s bone deep, it’s spreading and it’s a death sentence.

My sister called just as I was leaving work this evening with the news. I’m numb. Shell-shocked. And pissed the hell off. I was just sitting here, shaking my fist at the heavens when my eyes fell on my giant rubber duckie. It was a gift for my pool. The duck just had her maiden swim two weeks ago when we uncovered the pool for the season and then I brought her back inside.  I’m staring at the duck, vibrating with fury at this utter helplessness I feel and remembered something that happened when I was about eight or nine.

We were on vacation, driving from New York down to Florida with my grandparents. My job was to look for the 8 Days Motor Inns, our haven after a long day of driving. The chain has since dropped the “8” from their name, but it’s the same place.

At one such inn – forgive me, but I no longer remember where – there was a pool. A large round pool in the middle of a sunny expanse of concrete patio with bright blue umbrella tables. I remember they were blue because they were an exact match to my pretty new bathing suit, which I wore for the first time that day. We’d hardly finished checking in when my sister and I were already dressed and begging for the pool.  My grandparents bought me a Mickey Mouse pool float and my sister got a pair of Minnie Mouse plastic sunglasses. We were dancing with impatience while they unpacked necessities for the next day, decide where to eat, had a cigarette or twelve and then tried to blow up my tube. Finally, we were there.

The pool.

I, with my plastic float, did a cannon ball into the center. My sister walked delicately down the steps, one at a time, at the rate of one every thirty minutes, clutching my grandmother’s hand. And then my mother joined us. First, stepping down the first three steps, and then, a short plunge to the center, which – according to the depth markings – should have been four feet.

It wasn’t.

It was, perhaps, four feet at the perimeter, but at the center of a round pool, it was closer to six. Over my mother’s head.

She doesn’t know how to swim.

It was instantly clear she was in trouble. Her eyes went wide. Her mouth opened in a scream she couldn’t form. My grandmother was hysterical. My grandfather was emptying his pockets, stripping off his shoes. And I, in my tiny plastic Disney World tube, made in Taiwan, paddled out to save her.

She clutched the tube… well, for dear life, which is exactly what it was. Sucked in air, clutched harder, fighting the sinking sensation she could still feel. And started to pull me under.

“Mommy, you’re pulling me under!” I tried to tell her, but I was swallowing water, too. She was still fighting, still trying to find a foothold where there was none.  I thought if I could wriggle out from the tube and give it to her, I could make it back to the steps on my own. I was already a fair swimmer. But I was unable to get enough air to dip beneath the rim.

“Mommy!” I tried again. “You’re pulling me down.”

Eyes popped, mouth struggling to pull in air, she somehow managed to let go of her life line and push me toward the steps.

And went down for the last time.

That’s when another guest reached in and pulled her to safety.

Later, much later, after everyone’s heart rates had normalized, the rescuer profusely thanked, rewarded, and offered a child to be named after him, it occurred to me that she’d saved me. At the risk of losing her own life, she’d saved me. When I asked why, when I asked how she could do that, she just shrugged and said, “It’s what mothers do. You’ll understand it when you’re a mother.”

She was right. I do.

This evening, my sister and I discussed bone marrow donation. Would I?

Of course.

It’ll be painful, she reminded me.

I know. Don’t care.  It’s something to hold onto, something that makes me feel less helpless, something that gives me hope. She gave me life – twice.  Now, I hope to repay that gift.



13 responses to “Life is a Gift”

  1. Tory Minus says:

    Oh, Patty! My heart goes out to you and your family! Cancer is a vicious disease that unfortunately, affects millions of families each year. My sister is a survivor of rhabodomyocarcoma, and she’s been in remission for approximately 15 years.

    I remember the day the doctors told my parents to begin planning for her funeral; it was that bad and nothing seemed to be working in her favor.

    But somehow, I believe by the grace of God, her body fought back and defeated the cancer that invaded her body.

    Tonight, I pray the same for your mother. I know this was extremely difficult for you to post, but I’m so touched by your words. God bless you and your family! Tory

  2. Patty says:

    Tory, I’m so sorry to hear about your sister’s battle but happy to hear of the remission. Thank you for your prayers and your kind words.

  3. I’m so sorry to hear this, Patty. There are stories every day of people kicking cancer in the ass, though (like Tory’s sister). Let’s add your mom’s name to that list.

    My thoughts are with your mom, you, and your family.

    • Patty says:

      Thanks, Michelle, I appreciate your kind words. I hesitated to post something this painful but I realized I was spiraling into a black hole. I needed support so I can rally to help her. So, thank you, and Tory, too. So glad Twitter put me in contact with such thoughtful souls.

  4. Linda G. says:

    I am so sorry. Cancer just sucks. I hope your marrow will be a good match for your mother, and that you’ll get the miracle all cancer sufferers and their families seek. It sounds like your mom is a wonderful mother. Keep that in your heart, no matter what.

  5. Hey dear, I just wanted to send you some love. My father also has stage four cancer and it is hard on everyone.

    Hang in there. My heart, prayers and thoughts are with you.

    • Patty says:

      Thank you so much! I am very sorry to hear about your dad. You’re right; it’s hard on all and it’s so not fair. Nobody deserves this.

  6. Jeannie says:

    God bless your mom and your whole family. This is one of those fights no one ever wants to have. Stay strong.

  7. Kelly Breakey says:

    There are no words that I can offer that will make your sorrow easier to bear. I offer you this.

    Nature’s first green is gold.
    Her hardest hue to hold.
    Her early leaf’s a flower
    But only so an hour
    Then leaf subsides to leaf
    So Eden sank to grief
    So Dawn goes down to day
    Nothing gold can stay.

    It is a poem by Robert Frost that was featured in SE Hinton’s; The Outsiders. This poem spoke to me as teenager and I memorized it. Whenever I have felt loss these words offered me comfort. When my Gram passed away (she was more like my Mother) these words played in my head over and over. It was a comfort to think that while she was no longer here with me in the way I was used to, she was now with me in a different way.

    I wish I had better words to offer. Just know you are in my thoughts and prayers.

    • Patty says:

      I’ve never seen this particular Frost poem before and you’re right. It’s powerful. Thanks for sending it my way, Kelly, and for your prayers. I told Cynthia earlier that Twitter is a miracle technology if ever there was one… in forging connections that would otherwise never have been made.

      I am lucky to have connected with such kind souls!

  8. Kelly Breakey says:

    I feel the exact same way. There is a certain comfort in knowing we are not alone even if we have never met our technology friends. Again if there is anything I can do, just say the word.