It’s hard to comprehend what this day marks. Something so hard to grasp, so hard to believe. It still amazes me that time has gone on the way that it has. That life continued. That we continued to grow and thrive and build lives for ourselves. We took risks, created memories, found adventure. We stuck together, we leaned on each other and we accepted that we needed each other at a time when we felt so lost; but not alone.
Five years ago today my mother in law lost her battle. Her short, fifteen week, memorial day to labor day, grueling battle with cancer. Fifteen weeks that changed my life.
In those weeks I learned so much about her, myself, my soon to be husband, about his entire family. I learned how to be strong when the pain inside hurt so bad. So, so bad. It’s so easy for that pain to come back in an instant, still to this day.
I learned who my true friends were. The one who drove me home that day she was diagnosed. And stayed with me until I was able to make the hour-long drive to meet Al and his family at the hospital. The ones who made food and checked in and all the ones who supported my first ever half marathon run, which was supposed to be in honor of her… but instead was in memory of her.
I learned in those fifteen weeks, as a young 22-year-old professional that there is nothing, no job, no work, nothing, more important than time with loved ones. I used to leave work in the middle of the day to drive for 40 minutes, 20 there and back just to see her for 20 minutes at the hospital. I recall one time I only got maybe five minutes to see her because the traffic was so bad. But I didn’t care. Five minutes was more than zero.
I loved connecting with her. I hated the circumstances. I was a part of her family for nearly ten years but this time we had together was so different now than any other. I cried constantly for fifteen weeks. I cried in the car, at work, at home, in public, to sleep. All the time.
The toughest memory, but one I’m most grateful for during that time, was on my birthday. I had taken the day from work and her and I were planning to go see the movie Mama Mia. As I was gearing up to leave the city and meet her at the house I got a call from Al’s dad. He was too far from home due to work and she needed to get to a hospital now, due to complications.
We spent the next nearly seven hours between doctors offices and the cancer center for tests and blood work. But I was content because we spent all the time together. Talking, laughing when we could, and engaging. If we had seen the movie it wouldn’t have been the same. As I was leaving I got in my car and just sat there. Hysterical; can’t catch your breath, sobbing. In that moment everything all of a sudden felt so real and I remember thinking I have to be strong for Al. I have to be strong, I have to find my strength, I have to do this for Al. Like the saying goes, “you never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have.”
To this day when I think of that summer I think of that day. Every year on my birthday I think of that day. When I think of her I think of that day. That last day we had together, just her and I.
I can instantly recall her voice. Something reminds me of her every single day. I can remember the way she answered the phone. I remember her laugh. I remember the taste of her meals. I remember the little things in life that made her happy.
It’s hard to realize that it’s been five years. And it’s amazing to think of all the life events that have happened in those years amongst Al, his dad and siblings: two marriages, one engagement, a move to Wisconsin, a move to Nashville, a move to Colorado. A grand baby that was in preschool and is now in third grade. Job changes, holidays, vacations.
We’ve leaned on each other. Our family has grown, we’ve helped each other. We’ve made new traditions, not forgetting the old. We talk about her, laugh at the memories. We still ask why, and likely always will. Life has a funny way of testing your limits and your strengths, that’s for sure.
Her memory lives on though, and that’s one constant that will never change. We miss her everyday, but we live our lives to make her proud.