The Other Side of The Phone Call


Breast cancer survivor approaches the phone with dread with Mom in hospice with breast cancer.

I answered on the first ring in the middle of the night. I had been dreading the call for weeks. It came shortly after 1 a.m. on a Friday.

“I am sorry. Anne died a little while ago. The aide checked on her an hour ago and then came back a little less than an hour later and she was gone.”

“Oh no,” was my response as the tears started to come. I had been with Mom briefly that afternoon. The only hope when I heard the phone ring at that hour of the night was that I would have time to get there to be with my mom.

Some part of me always suspected that Mom would sneak away in the middle of the night. She had always been a private person. It fit her style. Still, I was heartbroken when the call actually came. With the death of the last parent, an adult only child, I felt so alone.

It has been a month, and the tears still come as my fingers type. In case you are wondering, yes, it was cancer—breast cancer, a different kind than mine. A few years ago, we had found a lump. She chose to have a lumpectomy with no additional treatments other than hormone therapy. Next, when it returned, Mom had a mastectomy. She chose a double mastectomy because she didn’t want to feel lopsided. Again, Mom chose not to have any radiation or chemotherapy. When it came back a third time, there were lesions on her skin marching across her chest and a tumor in her brain. At age 84 with other health issues, the doctor suggested hospice and Mom chose hospice. I started to cry. Mom said, “Well, let the party begin!” I looked at Mom and asked her why she wasn’t reacting more like I was. Her response was precious, “Because someone I love isn’t dying.”

Hugging her in the doctor’s office, I told her that I would love her forever and miss her every day and that I would be OK. It was a raw and tender moment. After that, we stopped and had an ice cream treat on the way back to her assisted living apartment.

I could feel my heart breaking. After the diagnosis, things just seemed to happen too fast. The brain tumor seemed to change her quickly. Each day I stopped by, it felt like I was interacting with a different person.

Losing aging parents is an absolutely normal horrible event. Every day, I just want her back. Every day, life goes on, regardless. I just got through my seven-year mammogram after my own breast cancer. I don’t know what to think.

I have a strained relationship with my cell phone. I carry it with me and check it, but I wonder why? The horrible phone call I was waiting for has already come and gone. It is strange. I just want my mom back.

With time and faith, things will get better. I believe this. My circumstances are not unique or special, except to me. There is no wonderful moral or special ray of hope or bullet-points list of wisdom here. Except, well, maybe this—we don’t know what disease or loss or grief other people are carrying in their hearts around us each day, so it makes sense that we step up to those around us and try our best to be brave, be gentle, and, above all, be kind when we interact with each other.

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