For many, 2020 will always be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and all the drama surrounding it. Yes, that affected me as well, but it wasn't the most important event of that year. Something more personal took center stage, a different kind of life-or-death scene, one I didn't mention in my annual year-end review because it deserved a post of its own.
Well, this is it.
This is the one-year anniversary of the death of my mother, Helen Marie (Sheely) Rolling. Unlike my father, I knew her demise was coming. However, like my father, the promise to stay close to her was never realized.
And, like my father, let me relate the story of her final moments on earth, as best as I know them.
Lines Of Communication(?)
You have met her before. I mentioned her in my re-telling of my father's passing and my move to Utah. Like me, she had her financial struggles, but at least she was able to find work as a waitress in the small town where she lived, much like she did when I was growing up. It would seem she did alright, for there were two occasions when she gave me money. Let's just say I owe my siblings and nieces and nephews a little something for her dipping out of her estate like she did. (Only a mother's love....)
The contact between us was sporadic at best, especially after my move here. She was better at calling me than I ever would be. There would be the occasional letter from her, many of them obituary notices of relatives. And while I would send Mother's Day and Christmas cards, I would frequently miss her birthday. There was encouragement to be more communicative. I do and don't know why I wasn't. (The knowing why is an excuse.)
She kept things to herself so as to not worry those around her. That made the next piece of information stunning.
"Double, Double Toil And Trouble...."
My younger and only sister has been the go-between for her and my other siblings, communicating things on a need to know basis. When she contacted me in late September, 2011 requesting a phone call, what she relayed to me during that conversation was troubling.
Mom had developed breast cancer about two months earlier. She was set for removal of some lumps the doctor found and then would start chemotherapy about a month after that, I was told. I was glad it was discovered early. I was optimistic about her chances for recovery. However, she did not respond well to the chemo after two rounds, so she went on a hormone regimen that was to last for 5 years. I was still optimistic.
Shortly after that conversation with my sister, my maternal grandmother, her mother, died. The trip back to the midwest for the funeral would be the first time in over four years that I had seen her; in fact I spent that time living with her in her apartment. Unfortunately, we didn't have much to say to each other. (Was that really the right time to thaw out a relationship which seemed to have grown icy?)
Then, early in June, 2012, my sister infomed me Mom had surgery to remove part of her colon. She had developed cancer there. But, again I was hopeful because they caught it early.
And on the medical front, nary a peep was heard. Until...
The Beginning Of The End
It was a short note written by Mom. (While the only postmark was December 6, 2019, after I had re-read it, I just wonder if it wasn't written a day earlier.):
I should have written this back a while ago.
The cancer has come back, also I have a mass in my stomach.
There isn't much more I can tell you at this time. I've been through a lot of tests and now it seems to be a waiting game.
If you think you want more information you can talk with (my sister's name).
Quite the Christmas present.
It wasn't until early January when my sister called me. She told me the breast cancer had metastasized in her ribs and the mass in her "stomach" (actually, her colon) would require complete removal of that organ, which my mom didn't want. My sister confirmed what I had suspected--any further treatment was only going to delay the inevitable. After 8 and 1/2 years, she wasn't going to fight it anymore.
She was preparing to die.
End Of Days
And I had to prepare for that as well. No prognosis was given. And I had no way to get out to see her at that time. My plan was to save up enough money and go see her during spring break, which was the end of March.
That didn't happen.
A message from my sister on February 27:
I got a call early this morning that mom was in a lot of pain. I've been with her all day and we seem to have the pain under control. The nurses said she couldn't be alone any more so I will be taking her to (a hospice in the city where my sister lives) tomorrow morning.
I had sent a birthday card earlier that week; I could only hope it got to her in time. March 1, her birthday, came and went; but I could only wonder when the hourglass would run out of sand.
The answer came March 8 (from my sister):
Morning. The nurse on duty feel that Mom will pass today. I'll call when she does but trying to give a little notice. I have my phone on silent so you can call but I might not catch it right away.
And the waiting began. It ended at about 10:55 PM, when the phone finally rang. My sister told me about what time she died and that she went peacefully. (Thank you, St. Joseph.)
Monday was spent getting ready to leave: purchasing a bus ticket, arranging for substitutes crossing guards until next Monday, and letting my supervisor know. The director of the choir in which I sing, who had been in the loop for the past two months, provided some funding for my trip. The bus route was all too familiar and relatively uneventful; the leg to Denver, with a full coach, some hints of sickness, and a cranky toddler, was the only unpleasantness I encountered. My sister picked me up at Sioux Falls, SD Wednesday morning for the drive home, where I took possession of my mom's car (pre-arranged in January) and some items from my mom's apartment. A maternal cousin offered me a room in her home for the duration. Thursday morning saw me driving to Mankato, MN, where I reintroduced myself to my storage unit, picking up a few more items and re-arranging things.
The wake was Thursday night. Familiar faces came and went (sometimes after they reminded me who they were).Townsfolk spoke glowingly about my mom, and for seemingly good reason. The priest modified the rite a bit, I think mostly to appease the lapsed and non-Catholics there. But he also said my Mom received the Apostolic Pardon. I still prayed a Rosary before her coffin, as it wasn't done until then.
The Mass of Christian Burial was Friday morning. Mom had selected both readings and hymns for this liturgy. I found myself in a very familiar role--Lay Reader. The selections for the Liturgy of the Word:
1st. Reading: Isaiah 25:6-9Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 23:1-62nd. Reading: 2 Corinthians 5:1, 6-10Gospel: John 14:1-6
I had an opportunity to speak to the cantor/psalmist and keyboardist before Mass, just to make sure we were on the same page. (UPDATED 5/22/2021--I had the Entrance and Communion hymns reversed.) The hymns:
Entrance: Precious Lord, Take My HandOffertory: You Are MineCommunion: We Walk By FaithSong of Farewell: O Loving God (The text is a variation of In Paradisium, sung to the tune of "Londonderry Air".)Recessional: On Eagle's Wing