Monday, July 28, 2008
In 1984, my father was on his deathbed and I made him a promise. Or more accurately, he asked me to do something and I agreed. I mean, how can you say no to your dying father? He asked me to stay in Lawrence and watch over my mom as long as she lived. I agreed. I was bound by that promise for the last 24 years.
Over the years, as I passed up opportunities to live and work elsewhere, I often regretted making that promise. Not because I didn't love my mother (I do-- a lot), but because I felt as if I was being pulled down by an anchor. I felt as if I was drowning. As an only child, I had no siblings to rely on. Thank God for my wife Teresa. Her help and support made it possible for me to keep my promise.
In fact, that promise is one of the reasons I went to law school. I needed to find a different way to support myself without leaving Lawrence. Or at least I thought I did. I was actually feeling like I was imprisoned and confined by Lawrence and I needed new intellectual challenges.
After awhile, I began to think that maybe the "promise" was something I'd conjured up in my own imagination; an excuse to take the safe path and not blaze a new trail for me and my family. A few days after my mom's death, an aunt told me how proud she was of living up to the promise I'd made. I'd forgotten that she was in the room when I made the promise. I wasn't imagining the promise.
Today, the promise I made has been fulfilled. But instead of feeling that I am no longer under anchor, I feel as if I've lost my mooring. I feel as if I've been cast adrift. I don't feel free; I feel lost.
Wrapped up in all of this is the Kansas Bar Exam. I am sitting for that exam tomorrow and Wednesday. It all seems so ridiculous and insignificant today. Maybe I'll feel differently in a week or a month. Maybe I won't. There's just too much uncertainty right now. But one thing is certain--I am again at a crossroads in my life. And to be honest, I don't know what path I will choose, what direction I will sail. My mooring is gone and I'm not sure where the tides will take me.
Friday, July 18, 2008
My mother died this morning, so when I got home from the hospital, I Googled her. Her name is Wilma Richardson. I found a single entry matching "my" Wilma Richardson. And that single entry was as the grandparent of one of my daughters, not for something she did directly (although she has been a mighty influence on all three of my daughters). Just Google any celebrity and you'll find literally millions of entries about stuff that is absolutely inconsequential. For instance, Britney Spears has about 91 million entries on the World Wide Web. There's probably not much about Ms. Spears's life that is unknown. Further, in the grand scheme of things, there's probably not much that is really of any real consequence. I mean, who really gives a rat's ass about whether she or K-Fed get custody of their children? Or as someone once said, "two billion Chinese couldn't care less." The world's lack of knowledge about someone who lived a quiet life centered around family and friends for three quarters of a century needs to be remedied.
My mom was born in the midst of the Great Depression in a tiny Kansas town. She was one of eight children. They were poor, but they didn't complain. They just worked. She was forced to quit school after her junior year of high school when her father got sick and she had to help support the family. She married my father in Raton, N.M. in 1954. I was born in 1960. After I was born, she worked a variety of jobs from nurse's aide to a floor coordinator in a large grocery store. She was widowed the last 24 years of her life. She's lived in the same small house for the past 40 years. But despite all her ordinariness, two things stand out about my mom.
First, she was one of the most unassuming people I have ever known. She always told you what she thought, even if you didn't like it. She was brutally honest. She didn't put on airs. She didn't dress or talk fancy. In fact, as I was going through her closet looking for clothes while she was in the hospital this week, I discovered a bunch of new clothing purchased by friends and relatives during her recent battle with lung cancer. She had never worn any of it. She was always more comfortable in pair of khakis and a golf shirt. She wasn't about to change now.
But her simple and unassuming ways pale in comparison to what I've witnessed the past 9 months. She was diagnosed with small cell carcinoma in her lungs. By the time doctors discovered the tumor, it was more than 8 centimeters. She opted for chemotherapy. The first four rounds worked--the tumors began to shrink. But then this insidious monster began marching back in force. She tried a second, then a third round of chemo. The cancer kept growing. She had two goals: see my daughter, Aimee, and I graduate from law school on May 18th, 2008, and attend Aimee's wedding on September 27th. She fought it as hard as I've ever seen anyone fight anything. She made it to our law school hooding. She was choked with emotion when she gave me a hug after my hooding. I had to be careful when I hugged her. I was afraid I'd break her frail body.
Finally, after 9 months of fighting, she decided to suspend chemotherapy. That was on July 7th. By July 12th, she was in the hospital. It was clear that she wasn't going to meet her second goal of attending Aimee's wedding. What I witnessed over the next six days took my breath away. She fought the cancer and its effects on her failing body like a tough old alley cat. By this point, the cancer had spread to her spine and brain. She was in excruciating pain. She was perpetually nauseated. However, she just kept fighting. Right up until 4:25 a.m. this morning, when what little lung capacity she had left was spent. And even when I thought she had drawn her last, she was still valiantly fighting for one final precious ration of oxygen so she could get one last glimpse at her beloved family surrounding her deathbed. I hope that as she left this world, she wasn't too disappointed with the five of us (Teresa, my daughters and I) as we sobbed at the loss of this brave, strong, simple soul.
The pain we feel now is unbearable, but in time, I know it will soften. While we'll never forget the excruiating agony of her death to lung cancer, we'll also never forget her honesty, bravery and valor. After what I saw over the past 9 months (she NEVER complained once about the ravages of cancer and chemotherapy), I now know what "toughness" and "love" truly mean. She exhibited a toughness I have never before witnessed and she didn't do it for herself. She did it out of love for her family. She didn't want to disappoint anyone. She didn't want to let anyone down. Trust me Mom, you didn't disappoint anyone. We loved you all the more for your bravery.
Hopefully others who never got a chance to meet my mom (she was described as a "force of nature" by one of my friends), will happen across this blog and take some inspiration from her battle and her toughness. We need a lot more Wilmas in the world and a lot fewer Britneys.
I love you Mom. I am sorry for all the times I never said it. However, you will always be an inspiration to the five of us in the room this morning who had a front row seat to a monumental struggle. We saw you battle cancer and saw cancer blink.