This I Believe

Stephani - Newton, Massachusetts
Entered on June 1, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: death, family

I believe we don’t fully appreciate the gift of life until we’ve suffered its loss. A lucky daughter, I had a mother who was like a sister to me. I called whenever I wanted, always sharing silly details of my life that I knew no one else would care about. Mom listened intently with support and empathy, and laughed with me about my many ridiculous life experiences. In return, I got to hear tales of her latest adventures with my nephews or the first time homeowners she was helping out. We were each other’s cheap talk therapy.

In 2004 we learned that cancer threatened my mom’s life. When diagnosed, they told her it was stage 4, so that’s what she told people. It’s also called terminal cancer but she avoided that phrase.

She forbade the doctors to tell her how long she had to live. She wanted to think positively, take the medication, do her best to continue to get up and go to work every day. And she did.

Through all the pain, radiation treatments, steroids, horse-sized shots and hormone treatments, she continued to help people with low credit scores buy their dream homes. She treated them with the utmost kindness, and patience. Her colleagues thought she was nuts for taking on these high maintenance loans. I joked that her business cards should read “social worker/mortgage broker”… in that order. But these things mattered to her, they’re what got her out of bed, dressed, and on the road by noon when others would have stayed home and collected disability payments.

She looked amazing, her spirit was light — so positive. She was never one to complain. She even voluntarily skipped Novacaine in favor of natural dentistry.

On Thanksgiving of 2005 we found that her cancer spread to her brain. Two weeks later she elected to have a scary operation that involved installing a chemo port in her head to treat the cancer. This was going to give her an extra 2-3 months. Routine brain surgery, they said. But there were complications and she fell into a coma. She died in hospice 7 short days later.

Nearly a year before her death my Mom experienced a sentimental phase. I wasn’t in a relationship at the time, and had no children, but she gave me beautiful baby clothes. “In case I’m not here to give them to you in person someday.” Our smiles filled with tears and we sobbed and hugged.

On my first birthday after her death, my fiancé and I discovered I was pregnant. A gift from my mom! I smiled and was comforted by the thought, overwhelmed with gratitude and love. But the following week, on the first day of our vacation, I began to bleed.

We lost our baby.

I was devastated. Nothing made sense. No one knew about it yet, it was too early. But we were already attached to Olivia, Liv. I liked the name because it had a built in declaration to embrace life, to live. Live Livvy, live!