Today was finally my day off, after working hard for this past weekend. I could talk about how I spent the day doing nothing, even taking a two hour nap mid-day, buying dinner at a local restaurant called “Pick and Eat”, and spending the rest of the night watching Netflix and playing video games. But what I forgot when I woke up today, was that it was my Mother’s Birthday. So that’s what I am going to talk about, because she was one of the most incredible people that I have ever known. So strap in, because we’re about to get emotional.
When I was around the age of 9 or 10, my mother was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer. The survival rate of this type of cancer is very low (“for all stages of pancreatic cancer combined, the one-year relative survival rate is 20%, and the five-year rate is 7%.” This comes from the American Cancer Society), but I knew that my mom could fight it; and god damn did she. After battling with this cancer for around two years, going through chemotherapy weekly, we were informed by her doctor that she was cancer free. We were ecstatic. We began living our lives like normal once more, and my parents even began planning a family trip to Disney World for the summer. My parents always tried to take the family on a summer trip to somewhere special; it was usually a road-trip to amazing places. One year we took a road-trip out west, to visit the Grand Canyon, as well as other parts of that part of the US. But we had never been to Disney and they thought it was finally time. However, as we began discussing where we were going to visit, and the parts of the park we definitely wanted to go see, my mother was informed that the cancer had come back; this time worse than before. She was given six months to live. I worked hard to stay positive, lying to myself, saying that it was going to be okay. She were going to beat this. And I truly believed that. Unfortunately, she could not beat this horrible disease. I had to watch as my mother slowly succumbed to this cancer. No matter how hard she fought, she was losing. I still have how she looked in the end, as well as that fateful day, burned into my memory. I remember by the time school began, my sister and I were beginning our seventh grade year, and my brother was beginning his eighth grade year, my mom didn’t even have the strength to get up off our couch. I remember coming down the stairs to head off for school, saying “Bye mom, love you!” and all she could muster was a jumble of nonsensical words. Because of this cancer, my beautiful, articulate mother, who was an editor for a nature magazine, was reduced to a frail helpless body, only able to lay down and wait for death. It sounds so fucking morbid because it is. My mother’s skin and eyes began to get this slight yellow pigment to them as the cancer took over. She lost the ability to speak, and had to be fed by my father, since she couldn’t move on her own. She could barely swallow.
I will never forget the day she died. It was August 25th, 2008, which I totally forgot about on Saturday, because I was too busy going delusional at work. I remember family and friends were gathered around my mom on the couch for support. My brother, sister, and I were right next to the television off to the side of the room. My brother was watching some TV show, while I watched my sister play Webkinz. I remember my dad turning to us from across the room and saying, “She’s gone.” I remember running into the kitchen, getting on my knees and crying out “Why God?” I remember crying for hours and hours. Days and days. I remember not going to school for a week. Going to her funeral at our church, where my dad and sister cried, while I tried to keep strong. I remember people coming up to us and saying “Hi, I’m your uncle”. “Hi, I’m a friend of your mother’s”. I had never met them before, and I couldn’t tell you what any of them looked like. I remember finally going back to school, and having random kids walk up to me in the hall, saying “I’m sorry for your loss”. And I have to say, it got old. Fast. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice to have friends there to support me through this. But people I have never talked to in my life, who didn’t give a shit about me beforehand, coming up to me was honestly obnoxious. I don’t like feeling pitied. I never have and I never will. I didn’t like feeling like I had to be coddled. Like people felt like I had to be held and comforted and reassured. No shit I did, but not by people who didn’t know me or my mom.
My mom’s death was the hardest thing I have ever dealt with to this day. The scar will always be there, resting on my heart and soul, never fully healing and never going away. But because of my mom’s death, my family has become so incredibly close. We may fight and disagree at times, even butt heads, but nothing will ever separate us. We are a team. I remember my dad was recommended to put all of us in a group therapy called Bridges. (I think that was its name) In that therapy, we were with a bunch of different families who had also lost someone very close to them, and it was supposed to help us all heal. Yeah it didn’t work very well. Many of the people there are in much worse shape than the four of us, crying about losing their great uncle, while we’re decently put together after losing a wife and mother. Now I know that may sound insensitive, but to us it was ridiculous. My dad loves telling the story of how on the first day, we were all instructed to get into a circle and hold hands. As we all get into a big circle, my brother is standing on the outside, not moving. They say “Why don’t you come on in the circle and join us?” His response? “I don’t do circles”. My dad always says how he wishes he had the balls to say that, since he didn’t want to be doing this stupid shit, either. But despite how pointless this therapy was, and how unhelpful, we all still saw it through and went for the 4 or 6 weeks. And honestly those times really helped us stay connected and bond. Not in the way they wanted us to, but in our own, Saunders way. And for that I am forever grateful.
No matter how shitty that part of my life was, it still made me the person I am today. Because of my mom, I have become a much stronger person, and I strive to be kind to all those I can. Because my mom was the most incredible, kind and caring woman I have ever met. She always worked to help everyone around her, from working on the PTA Board in my Elementary school, to planning and helping out with events at school, to creating Easter Egg Hunts for us and all of our friends, to setting up Trick or Treat groups on Halloween. To explain to you how much detail and thought my mom put into everything she worked on, for the Easter Egg Hunt, she would hide 50-100 eggs (maybe more) throughout our yard for around 20-30 of us. Within those eggs were held a number of prizes, from little chocolates to gold coins, to numbers with paper written on them. If you got an egg with a number inside, that means you got a big prize. These big prizes ranged from smaller chocolate rabbits to 1 or 2 big-ass ones. Like damn this woman was insane. She worked so hard to make sure everyone had a great time, and it worked like a charm. We did these Easter Egg Hunts for a good 3-5 years if I remember. She also loved animals, and would take care of them whenever she could. She called us ? “The Turtle Patrol”, and whenever we would see a turtle crossing the road while she was driving, she would pull over, and we would take the turtle home. There we would put it in a box and take care of it for a few days, before releasing it back into the wild.
This is how I will always remember my mom. Though I will never forget how she passed away, I will always remember how she was in life. How incredibly caring and kind she was. How much love she felt for us and everyone around her. How incredibly strong she was, not allowing herself to show us how afraid she was, even when it was the end. I remember someone once told me that my mom’s smile could light up an entire room, and they were absolutely right. I want to someday be able to put that much kindness into the world, and smile so brightly that it lights up wherever I am. I love my mom and miss her so much every day, but if there is a Heaven, I know she is watching my dad, brother, sister, and me, and I know she is proud of all of us, and how far we’ve come.
Happy 59th Birthday Mom. I love you.