This story is by Melissa Bisbano Guckin and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The pregnancy came as a welcome surprise and as with any expectant mother,the news of her offspring started the ticking countdown in her mind. Nine months. Not now, however. More like just under seven to prepare now for this wild ride called motherhood.
Funny,how quickly the months she thought were marking time,like an out of step high school band member,were now like smoke through a screen. Gone, with hardly a trace. Now she watches her child master the art of rolling over and holding up her head like a ‘Big girl’.
She knows soon enough,she will be crawling and walking and running and talking. Relishing now the time she has with her child,who lifts her head and looks with wonderment upon her,for she knows this time is like a fickle bedfellow and like those seven months gone by, will soon be gone from her.
Kindergarten graduation day. Amazing to her how fleeting time actually is. Recalling how it felt like just yesterday,the two of them were standing there on the very first day of school sobbing,clutching onto one another, aching with the knowledge that their five hours apart daily,would most certainly be so traumatic and life-altering,that only the most acclaimed therapist would ever be able to repair the damage.
With an “I did it,Mommy” grin,her girl takes her seat among the fellow graduates adorned with their smiles and paper tassels.
Sitting in the stifling auditorium,she watches as her daughter has traded the paper tassel for one made from polyester and string of green and white. An “I did it,Mom” grin catches her eye as she watches flashbulbs illuminate the stage as her daughter walks across. With a handshake and a smile–it’s official. Her daughter is a high school graduate.
How they survived the ordeal is anyone’s guess. Those high school years were trying times. From leg warmers, earth shoes and the “right” designer names to keg parties and tantrums about experimental drugs and “Expressing my individuality!”…just like everyone else. Behind her now are the years of eye rolls and snorts of derision,for how could her mother be so stupid. Teenagers,the human race’s reason for why the animal kingdom eat their young.
They did it,they made it,and tonight, they celebrate it.
As a joke,she loaded all her daughter’s belongings in the back of that Dodge Monaco,waiting to move the young woman into her first year of college. Her daughter simply laughed and said “Nice try mom,no on-campus living at a community college.”
“But all the other mothers get to move their kids off to college…it’s not fair!” her mother retorted with a tongue in cheek smirk. She teased her daughter,yes,but secretly she couldn’t be more pleased to know she had more time with her ‘child’. Time was ticking away much too quickly and she knew all too well her girl would be gone soon enough.
The two-year degree took a bit longer than anticipated but there she was watching her daughter cross the stage once again,this time,with a tassel made of silk and an “I’m going to be a new mother” look upon her face. She reflects back to her own countdown to motherhood. Seven months of waiting and planning seemed like a lifetime and now,the cycle begins again as an expecting grandmother,only this time she knows how quickly those seven months will bring her own daughter right back to this very place in time.
The diagnosis was shocking but didn’t come as a surprise. Her mother’s plausible deniability had been a bone of contention between them for quite some time. “ Not knowing what to do with a boy” as an excuse not to babysit was not sitting well with her. Noting her mother’s weight loss,she knew there had to be a more extreme reason being hidden from her.
The doctors called it “The Whipple Procedure”. Having found cancer in her pancreas,stomach and liver. They were told it was the best way to “remove it all” and avoid chemotherapy and radiation treatments. This procedure would normally be used for tumors found at the pancreas’ head. The surgical team opted using this operation however,when the cancer was at the tail,in order to capture what was also in her stomach. It sounded like a viable option. It was also the only option being offered.
When the surgery was complete the Doctor came to talk with her. “We got it all”,he stated,“she will recover up here for a few days and then move to a facility of your choice for rehab to learn how to eat again”. Relief flooded her,bewilderment too. Why would her mother need to relearn how to eat? “I’m confused”,she questioned,“learn how to eat? “ With a kind apologetic smile the Doctor responded how they needed to remove half of her mother’s stomach and all but one- quarter of her pancreas. “I’m afraid it was the only way to remove it all.”
“Her liver…?” she heard herself asking although too numb to formulate a valid question.
“It’s all set,there was nothing there”, the Doctor glossed over,“let’s get her on the road to recovery and I will see her in my office in four weeks.” And with that,he was gone leaving her with the question of ‘Then where did it go?’
The road to recovery was a bumpy one. Her mother continued to lose weight and was now a shadow of her former self. She had no appetite and what she could get down was only mere bites for the size of her newly formulated stomach, but recover she did. For two years mother and daughter enjoyed what felt like old times.
The call came two days before Thanksgiving. She was found at the bottom of her driveway,lying in the gutter of her yard. This wasn’t the first time she had fallen,it was beginning to happen more frequently as of late,but this was indeed the most severe. “ She bent to get the newspaper,fell and rolled to the bottom of the drive,”it was explained to her as she stood by her mother,fighting back tears. She knew it was only a matter of time.
The E.R. doctor confirmed her fears, the cancer was back and had spread throughout her mother’s frail body like a wildfire. “ In her brain?” she mouthed to the doctor. A simultaneous eye close and head bow in affirmation and she had her silent answer. “Take her home and enjoy your holidays.”
Her mother didn’t feel like celebrating,truth be told she couldn’t remember what holiday was at hand anyway. Not wanting to place further stress on her mother,she spent Thanksgiving with her own children and her husband. She needed to remember that she did still have a lot to be thankful for although she felt bitter at present.
Eleven days later,the day after her mother’s birthday,a Hospice Nurse was assigned. She reminisced with her mother about the countdowns in her life since the day she learned she was pregnant with her. Now another would begin. Everyday sitting with her mother was a countdown in itself. Would today be the day she’d stop counting? She prayed for just one more day,but alas, time marches on and time ticks to zero. On Christmas morning she would watch her mother take her last breath. A mother’s countdown now complete.