Fourteen years ago today, I lost my mom to breast cancer. I've been working on a memoir about her and wanted to pay tribute by sharing some excepts from the book.
Let me start with the end.
On my 30th birthday, I spent the night in the same hospital I was born in, as my mom went through massive rounds of chemo and waited to undergo hip surgery. After a three year battle, the cancer had spread to and weakened her bones. Despite the situation, that night we laughed at how everything had come full circle. "Here we are back again, 30 years later."
Patty grew up over a bake shop. She used to tell me the stories of smelling the fresh baked goods her dad would bake every night and the one time a whole shelf of pans fell on her as a little girl. My dad would always tell me about dating my mom, and the strict rules her mother, Alice, enforced. If my mom’s curfew was 11pm and he brought her home at 11:01, there’d be a note on the back door to the bake shop stating “Mr. Jourdan, see me!” After which he’d leave with his ass in his hand and live to see another day.
After my parents got married, they moved into a house down the street from my mom's parents. There has to be a pretty strong bond to agree to live that close. I loved it - living by Nana Alice had its perks. She bought me clothes and toys, she took me to school, and she taught me sarcasm. We'd all sit around her kitchen table, her and my mom smoking, drinking Seagram's, and talking, and me soaking it all up.
I stayed with Nana Alice the day my sister was born and I remember her taking me to the store to buy the Debby Boone album with “You Light Up My Life” on it. My mom loved that song. I recorded it on my Mickey Mouse tape recorder by holding it up to the stereo and letting the record play. When it was over, I spoke into the mic, “I love you, mommy.” She saved that tape for the rest of her life.
As I got older, my mom kept a tight leash on me. I didn't go to too many sleepovers as a kid, wasn't allowed to ride my bike off our block, was always dropped off and picked up from school while other kids got to walk home or ride their bikes. Even in my 20's, when I was clearly old enough to make my own decisions and choices, it was a constant struggle and often a fight with my mom. She always wanted to know where I was, who I was with, and what time I would be home. If I was going to be even ten minutes late she expected a phone call saying so, and this was back when cell phones didn't exist. There were several battles that, to this day, haunt me. The funny thing is, I totally get it now. I know at all times where every family member is, and if I can't get a hold of my sister or my husband or my dad, I go into a panic that would make Patty proud.
After twenty-five years as a homemaker, my mom finally started to live her own life and got herself a job. This was a big deal, since most of my life, my mom never really left the house and she never liked to drive alone. Granted the job was only a few blocks away, it was still something outside of her comfort zone. I was amazed at her bravery but didn’t think it would last very long, especially since the doctor’s office she worked at was moving to a larger location a few miles away from where we lived. There was no way was she going to move with them to the new office. But she shocked us all when she decided she liked these people enough to attempt the longer drive away from home. Of course, there were a few practice runs, she had my dad go with her to see which was the fastest, safest, most familiar way to get there.
My mom loved her job so much, she worked full-time through her first round of chemo in 1997, never giving in to the sickness she occasionally felt. But it became clear three years later, in 2000, when they started finding more evidence of the cancer in her bones, that her time with us was going to be short. At first, she slept on the couch, sitting up, because it was more comfortable. We had a hospital bed brought into the house around the middle of March and by then, she had signs of cancer in her ribs, her hips, her skull and her liver. When she broke her hip, she was admitted right before my 30th birthday so she could start massive doses of chemo and wait for surgery. Since the cancer had hit her liver, she was in a really good frame of mind, almost loopy and unaware of what was happening to her. On April 6, two days after my birthday, she passed away from complications after the surgery, which honestly, was the best way it could have happened. I'm not a religious person but I will admit it was a blessing. She would've spent the remainder of her life sick and in pain. It would've been an ugly way to go.
Even after 14 years, there are still triggers for me that remind me of my mom: Giorgio perfume, Seagram's 7, Cardinals (the bird not the team) and my sister - we are both more like Patty than we care to admit sometimes but there are days when the words coming out of my sister's mouth sound like my mom's. Even her tone. It's...crazy. And admittedly there are days I wonder what my life would be like if she were still here. Would we still battle over me wanting to live my life a certain way, or would she be proud of all that I've accomplished in the last 14 years? Knowing my mom, she'd keep us all on our toes, muttering a few F-words (a habit she picked up later in life which was terribly funny) and telling us how much she loves us. And I'd be sure to ask her for her damn lasagna recipe because I still can't replicate it. I'm sad she isn't around to enjoy all that my sister and I have - our kids (regular and extra furry), our homes, our husbands - I especially miss her when I see how lost my dad is without her, how much he misses having that companionship. But I know every time we see a Cardinal flying around our yards, we all feel a little bit of peace as we think "ah, that's just Patty checking on us. We're gonna be just fine."