My first motivation to actually start living life again came about fourteen months after losing my parents 31 days apart in the summer of 2018–my mom died first from Multiple Myeloma cancer in May (at 64) and my dad followed in June when he suffered a stroke following life saving open heart surgery (at 65). As the only child with an extremely close relationship to them both I ended up suffering with severe depression, anxiety, and was diagnosed with PTSD following their back to back deaths. I became a shell of a mom and wife and laid in a daze on our couch for months on end until one day I finally decided to live life again. Here’s what took from the darkest of times to finally seeing a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.
As I laid paralyzed on the couch another day my daughter was practically in tears begging me to “get up”, “open [my] eyes”, “sit up”, “play with me”, “can you see me mommy”. Whoa, that was the first time I’ve actually ever shared ‘out loud’ ever because I am so ashamed. It hit me like a ton of bricks, I was ruining her little three year old life and I was the person she spent the most time with as a stay at home mom. My mind starting racing… in a somewhat joking manner and the thought that the “ghost of Rhoda” (my mom) was going to come kick my ass for not giving Emmy the life she deserved because I was grieving the loss of them (she expressed this concern for how I would handle her death daily during her last month of life and get this, she had no clue my dad would follow so shortly after– I thank God for this all the time). She would be FURIOUS with me if she was looking down at that moment which I always imagine she is. She was always blunt with me, and oh how I miss that every single day, to the point she more than once, straight up admitted she loved Emmy more than she had loved me as a child. And the momma in me wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. So if at all possible that ghosts are real, Emmy would be the thing she felt was worthy of a “ghost of Rhoda” haunting visit for sure and she wasn’t coming happy with me! To quote her the day Emmy was born “I walked in your hospital room and laid eyes on Emmy for the first time and felt an overwhelming sense of love, one that took years for me to feel for you”. I can still hear her saying that and I smile oh so big.
Humor aside, I realized the greatest thing I could do to honor my parents was to live a life they would be proud of and be the best mother I could be to Emmy against all odds. Not that I would be magical unicorn mom, but I would fake happiness and enjoyment of life again for her the best freaking way I could and would give it MY best because she deserved it. I want that precious little girl to have a better childhood than I even had and that is a whole lot of pressure on me because my life was pretty spectacular and full of the happy memories of time spent as our little family of three. I was truly blessed. I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade the 33 years I got with my parents for decades more with any others.
Kids are so dang intuitive, even so young, and I had to face the harsh reality of the effect my mood had on her life and it’s been so hard to accept because it’s been filled so much negativity, sadness, worry, and anger during her short four years of life (my mom was diagnosed when she was only nine months old, right when I was finally getting out of struggling with postpartum depression).
I want my daughter to remember how during the most difficult battle of my life I still tried to be the best I could for her. I don’t want her to remember me feeling defeated laying lifeless on a couch every day. I want her to remember how hard I fought every single day to be even the tiniest bit better than the day before. That’s respectable in my opinion. I want her to remember my perseverance, not defeat. Maybe one day she’ll understand the amount of love it took and even be proud of me.
Two years and eleven months…that’s how long it took for my life to go from blissful to black.
As my husband and I excitedly sped down the interstate on our way to the airport for our first trip away from our eight month old daughter (to Mexico) I distinctly remember seeing a billboard for MD Anderson and thinking to myself with actual smugness how it didn’t apply to me. Little did I know it was an ominous foreshadowing of what was about to turn my happy worry free life upside down.
For background… I am the only child to two of the best parents that anyone could ask for and we were an exceptionally close family. My parents were married for 45 years and my mom and I were everything to my dad. Life was great. I married Derek and they loved him like the son they never had. Two years later Derek and I were having our first child, their first grandchild, life was perfect to them. My dad was recently retired, they were traveling, and now they had their precious Emmy. Devastatingly, this blissfully happy family would only last for eight months.
My mom had been having severe back and neck pain for years and she had an appointment for an MRI to see what they could do surgically to provide relief. My dad was worried about keeping our daughter, Emmy, because he knew how much pain my mom was in and feared that she would be scheduled for surgery within in days to provide relief and it would be while we were in Mexico. He asked me not to go on the trip and I was furious. I had this goal of Mexico to motivate me to lose the baby weight I still held onto and it was the first time we were getting away as a couple since having our first baby and I wasn’t going to let my dad, who in my mind was overreacting, ruin my trip. I grimace every time I recall the argument I had with my dad and my pure selfishness. Of course, my mom, who always wanted me to be happy, called her best friend, Sandy, to come and help with Emmy just in case she needed surgery and to help my dad out allowing me to go on my trip.
We were in Mexico for less than 48 hours before my dad called me and said that we had to come immediately that my mom had cancer. What do you mean cancer? Her back hurts she doesn’t have cancer. The MRI showed not a compressed disc as expected, but lesions covering her spine and neck EVERYWHERE. She had a lesion that was growing so rapidly she was experiencing paralysis on her left side due to the compression onto nerves, and she was losing renal function. She couldn’t even sign her name on her hospital admit papers she was declining so rapidly.
My mom was officially diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma, a type of blood cancer that while not curable was “treatable” and patients tended to have a life expectancy of ten to fifteen years with the advancement of treatments such as stem cell transplants and immunotherapies. My mom had a stem cell transplant in the Fall of 2016 and was the model patient and was released earlier than anticipated. In February 2017 she needed a bone marrow biopsy to ensure that there were only trace amounts of cancerous cells left and the test revealed not only had she already relapsed, but it was even worse than before. Her physician told me there’s no way the results were correct and he was having the lab re-run them. At this time my dad was in the hospital as a patient so I was running back and forth. She was then sent to MD Anderson (she was previously being treated at Methodist) to see if they had other treatment options available or clinical trials, but their more in depth testing revealed she had the one strain of MM that was untreatable and all we could do is try to get as much time as possible with the strongest chemo (which patients typically can only endure one to two rounds of). On round three she didn’t recover from the treatment. We only got fifteen more months with her after her relapse.
My mom passed away on Mother’s Day, May 13, 2018. I wish I could say it was peaceful, but it was horrific. I watched her screaming and moaning in pain for the entire last month of her life and lose mental lucidity due to decreasing kidney function. During the her last month she was constantly worried that day would be the day she died and my selfless, loving dad never left her side putting his own health aside because he refused to leave her. How he took care of her to the level in which he did is truly a miracle as most patients with his heart function require their own caregivers. He promised all of us he would make his health a priority after her services so that he would be here for me, Emmy, and Derek.
At my mom’s funeral everyone was shocked by the state of my dad’s health. He was so pale and yellow, could barely breathe, and had to sit often as he was so fatigued. As promised the week after her funeral he was admitted to Methodist and tests revealed his heart was only working at 13%. They decided that it was time for an end of life treatment where they performed open heart surgery and implanted an LVAD heart pump to do the work for the heart. This was called a “bridge to transplant” and allowed time for him to be put on the organ donation list and get healthy again to receive a heart transplant in the future. Surgery was scheduled for June 13, 2018 exactly one month after losing my mom.
The surgeons came out to update us on my dad’s surgery and told us it was “textbook perfect” and we would be able to see him at the next set of CVICU visiting hours. My dad wasn’t waking up from anesthesia by the last set of visiting hours at 11pm, but I was assured there was nothing to be worried about and that as soon as he woke they would call me if it was before I returned for the next visiting hours. At 2:15am I received a call asking me to return to the CVICU immediately that my dad had suffered a blood clot to the brain and was in imaging to see the extent of the damage and if it was still possible to stop it from progressing. What this actually meant (stroke) did not register with me as I walked from the Mariott back to Methodist. Upon arrival I was ushered to the closet like “bad news room” that contained chairs and a box of Kleenex. A shaking resident sat across from me and my dad’s two sisters all alone, as it was the middle of the night, and stated “this is the part of my job I hate so much” and clearly he was terrified. He quietly uttered that my dad had suffered a “massive stroke” and it covered the entire left side of his brain. I was in complete shock. There was a 2% (if I recall correctly) chance of stroke during surgery and I had just lost my mom, there was no way this was happening to me. My dad promised me in pre-op if he saw my mom he would tell her he was headed back to his girls for her and would see her again soon.
We disconnected all life assisting devices on June 15, 2018 and my dad peacefully (well not completely thanks to Methodist DeBakey heart failure physician forgetting to turn off his defibrillator which continued to shock him for five hours when he was supposed to pass in approximately 30 min at max we were told. Inexcusable in my opinion and very traumatic to watch. That grievance is a post in itself.). He finally went to be with my mom and only had to endure 31 days of life without her. He simply never woke from anesthesia and one month and two days after losing my mom I now had lost my dad. There I was 33 and an “orphan”.
Before the past year of my life I was never a “strong” person, I was still dependent on my parents and husband more than I ever realized, shamefully so. Three years ago I would have told you I have no idea how I would ever survive losing my mom at any point in my lifetime and if you asked me about losing my mom and my dad a month apart I would have told you there’s absolutely no way I would recover. Six months ago I would have told you there’s no way I would find happiness and peace again and have the desire to enjoy life again.
I am still grieving to this day and have a long journey ahead of me, but unlike six months ago, I believe I will be okay, not just okay, but stronger and a better version of myself because of it. I feel like my perspective on life has been completely transformed and what I value has shifted dramatically and I’m actually so grateful for my new “insightfulness”.
The first time I realized I had to get off the couch I laid on all day for numerous months and resume some form a normal life for my daughter and husband came from imagining my mom haunting me because I wasn’t being the mother I should be to her precious Emmy (stay tuned for more on that theory 😂🤷🏼♀️). I knew she would be so disappointed in me and I decided I wanted to live a life she and my dad would be proud of.
My journey to where I am today is a whole post in itself that I cannot wait to share because it still astounds me.
I will leave you with the two quotes by Rachel Hollis that helped pulled me out of the darkest time of my life and began my journey into the person I am today. I still have a long way to go, but look where I’ve come from!
“You can survive the loss because living is the greatest honor you can give the [people] you lost.”
“The very fabric of your being will be shaped by this journey because it’s the toughest one you’ve ever taken, surely, but you will become something greater because of it. You have to otherwise what was the point?”