What Doesn’t Kill You…

by Laura

…makes you stronger. Right?

It was the end of September, 1998.  We’d had a wondrous, glorious Summer that year.  Mom and Dad had celebrated 55 years of marriage that June.  But they opted to go somewhere other than Hawai’i for their traditional anniversary trip.  In recent years, Hawai’i had changed; some of their favourite places were gone, or had morphed to accommodate a different sort of traveler.  The resorts they had stayed at in years past were becoming more crowded, less quiet and restful.  It just wasn’t fun for them anymore.  So Mom decided she wanted to go back to Europe.  Apparently, it wasn’t the best choice.  Later, she really regretted that trip.  My Dad loved Hawai’i; loved the sun, the sand, the beach, the warmth.  Europe, that year, had none of that.  It was cold, rainy, and unfriendly.  And Dad apparently wrenched something in is shoulder.

Or so we thought.

My eldest daughter, Diane, was back at University that September.  Rick, my (late) Husband-the-Pilot had bid for and got a great pilot’s position in his company.  We were finally getting ready to buy a house where we were, settle in, and grow some roots after 21 years of moving around, tracking his career.  Julie, my younger daughter, had graduated from High School. She was starting University that Autumn.  All was well.

Or so we thought.

My Sister and her Husband had their first child.  A beautiful bouncing Baby Boy.  We all drove up for the Shower in August and, darn! if she didn’t pop while we were there!  It was quite the surprise.  Dad celebrated his birthday later in the month and we went back home, happy, content to get The Girls settled in their respective schools.  Again…it was a happy, lovely summer.  So many blessings.  So many memories.

Or so we thought.

So back to September. I get this email from my Mom.  Yeah, we were pretty technologically savvy way back then.  I still remember most of what Mom wrote, “We’re not sure where this is going, so keep it to yourself.  Dad may have cancer.  He doesn’t want you to know yet.  When I know more, I will let you know.  Love, Mom”.

And cancer it was.

At my Nephew’s baptism in October, Dad was in obvious pain.  And he was weary.  The chemo and radiation was intense.  He had lost some weight, but he was looking pretty good, all things considered.  By Thanksgiving, all bets were off.  Then came Christmas.  By Christmas, Dad was sleeping in a hospital bed in their TV room.  My Sister, the nurse, was pretty much living there with her Firstborn, caring for our Dad while breastfeeding her Son.  Mom was doing everything in her power, quietly, efficiently, for the love of her life.  We drove home before New Year’s to get everyone back to work; back to school.

On January 2nd, Mom called.  I remember crumpling to the floor, weeping.  Rick was outside, vainly shovelling the falling snow.

Mom called during the worst blizzard the Midwest had had in a decade, maybe longer.  It took us two days to get Diane home from University, a 90 minute drive; 18 hours to drive up to Chicago…normally a 6 hour drive.  The Interstate had been closed through most of Indiana ahead of us, and they were closing it behind us even as we drove north.  So we drove the back roads, begging local sheriffs to let us through because…because…  I couldn’t talk.  We concentrated on driving.

But before Dad died, back during our Thanksgiving visit, before we went to have Thanksgiving dinner at one of my cousin’s, he and Mom wanted to talk to me about something; something important.  Mom and Dad were sitting in the TV room.  It went something like this:

We have a family lawyer, my cousin, Paul, who is married to my cousin Bev.  Dad put Paul on retainer back when he passed the bar in the 1960s.  So I’ve known Paul for.ev.er.  Well, Dad says to me, “Paul is ready with whatever you need if you want to pursue this through the courts.  We love you; we’ll always love you.  And we are here to help you and support you in any way we can.”  And he hands me a legal document.

Dad hands me their original copy of my adoption papers.