What is a mom but the sunshine of our days and the north star of our nights.  – Robert Brault

I had just finished babysitting my granddaughters for the day and stopped in for a quick visit with my parents. It was my birthday, but the real reason for my visit was to check up on my mom who was battling cancer.

She was sitting in her recliner looking tired and weak, but immediately put a smile on her face and offered a “Happy Birthday!” when I walked through the door. It didn’t take any medical expertise to realize that she was having a particularly rough day. Maybe it was the paleness of her complexion, the frailty of her body, or the fact that her hair was nearly all gone, but for the first time since her diagnosis the harsh realization that she might not be with us much longer struck me hard.

I sat on the sofa and we talked about her symptoms and this time she did not hide the fact that she was suffering. Our conversation was often interrupted by her frequent visits to the bathroom. As I watched her resignedly take little steps while clutching her abdomen, I felt guilty for feeling so well, yet sometimes complaining about minor aches and pains.

But soon she was back determined to continue our visit. Her next appointment was fast approaching, but she did not know if she wanted to continue her treatments. She candidly said, “What is the use if I can’t do anything or enjoy life anymore?”

She was frustrated at not being able to do all the little things that she enjoyed and wished for a peaceful end when the time came. As she shared her feelings, she started to softly cry, and my mother was not one for crying.

Seeing her so helpless and vulnerable just broke something inside of me. Before I knew it I was kneeling on the floor in front of her, grasping her knees, laying my head on her lap and sobbing my heart out.

I had turned 59 that day, but when my mother patted my head murmuring, “It’s okay, don’t cry,” I felt like a child of nine again.

When she stroked my hair and said, “Your hair is so nice. I like it this way”, I sobbed even harder because she was losing hers. Between choked sobs I expressed my frustration over feeling so helpless at not being able to do more. She assured me that I was a big help by driving her to all her appointments in the city, calling her up every day and trying to assist with household chores. Again I felt like a youngster with my mother praising my efforts.

Finally my crying subsided, I got a grip on myself and we went back to our adult conversation.

As I drove home later that day I replayed the afternoon visit over and over. I was supposed to be strong for her and there she was comforting me. I had wanted to lift her spirits, but she ended up easing my sadness. I had hoped to brighten her day, but tears had prevailed.

Had I been selfish allowing myself to succumb to my emotions? Yet my mom had seemed to find some solace in soothing me and she seemed to have cheered up despite my meltdown.

I don’t know what thoughts might have gone through her mind, and I certainly can’t pretend to know what she was feeling, but maybe for those few minutes she forgot she was a cancer patient. Maybe for a few minutes she had a job to do. Perhaps for a short time she felt like a mother again, able to do what mothers everywhere do best – comfort their children in their time of need.

*I lost my mom before my next birthday, but I will always cherish the gift of her love and strength that day.  


4 thoughts on “At my mother’s knee

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