The call came on an ordinary Sunday afternoon. I was folding laundry - shocker - while formulating dinner plans and triaging the week's deadlines. Then, the ringing phone threw the gerbil off the wheel spinning in my brain.
It was my mother (who else calls me on the land line these days?). She asked to speak to my husband first, confirming my suspicion that nowadays she liked him even better than me. Curious, I tried to listen a bit while the gerbil picked up speed again. Since their conversations are usually full of teasing and banter, it was strange that he'd hardly said a word. Something was up.
I took the phone and prepared for her to tell me some bad news about my brother, or my aunt, or something, anything but the words I heard next. Carefully, my mother broke the news. She had cancer. The spinning wheel came to a grinding halt as I absorbed her words: "Cancer."
I was stunned and speechless (and silence is not my strong point). My response was to choke back brimming, silent tears until my mother told me she heard them coming, that it was OK for me to cry.
That's my mother. She'd just been diagnosed with cancer, faced chemotherapy, surgery and an uncertain future, and what does she do? Comforts me. She asked to speak to my beloved first so I wouldn't have to tell him, so he could comfort me when our phone call ended. In a measured, cheerful cadence she told me she felt optimistic, that she was doing her homework and trusted her doctors. That she knew it was all in God's hands.
My mother made certain that even in the midst of her own fear and pain, she continued doing what she's always done, put me and my brother first. It's what mothers do.
In the weeks that followed, friends and family members in my "foxhole" have generously prayed for my mom, and asked how I'm faring. The truth is that I've had enough life experience to expect pain, illness, death, unexpected loss and tragedy. Life often hurts.
But it was my mother who modeled resilience in the face of adversity, raising us alone. I watched as she walked her own mother through cancer, managing her care, preparing meals and asking us to gently say our goodbyes. It is only now I can appreciate how she managed to do that and balance working and taking care of our needs.
Now, it's my turn. How I am handling my mother's journey with cancer? Just like she is... prayerfully, faithfully, hopefully. I won't say I don't worry who will possibly love me as much as she does if God calls her home. No one else on earth has been so relentlessly in my corner. But I trust in God's promises; and I know He'll be with me as I hop on a plane to fill her fridge and hold her hand. In the process, I'm teaching my own children a valuable lesson about how to care for mothers in turn; to "arise and call her blessed" (Proverbs 31:28) in her hour of need.
And that's what I plan to do, because it's what my mom taught me.
Happy Mother's Day!