How I became an Orphan
They say that there can be no growth without pain.
Becoming an orphan, at least for me, was very painful, but, it also offered an opportunity for profound growth.
It’s a strange thing…to be an Orphan at my age….but that’s just what it felt like to me. My anchor was gone, I had to be the grown up now….I didn’t want to go there, but…
“So, the CT showed something”, mom told me. That something was a 4 cm. tumor in her right lung. After further testing, the doctor called my sisters and me out of her room and into the hallway----not a good sign. I went into that little protected place in my brain and only heard the words, terminal, nothing left to do, make her comfortable, 8-10 weeks.
My mother was born to my Lebanese, immigrant grandparents in 1928. She knew hardship, she knew poverty, she knew sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather, she knew parents struggling to make a living, and she knew pain in the form of a congenital deformity of her feet. Her name was Dolores, which means “sorrows”.
My mother also knew the love of strong family ties, she learned how to sing and laugh, she learned how to rise above all the pain and hurt, and, she loved to tell jokes. She knew the value of a dollar and she knew how to work hard. And, she knew how to cook….my, did she ever know how to cook. She used to look for a reason to throw a party. If there was a party to be had, it was at our house. Mom once threw a Surprise party… for herself, where the guests had to guess the occasion of the party. During the party she uncovered a cake and a photo celebrating the anniversary of her First Communion. Now that was a fun party.
Despite financial hardships and opposition from her peers, Mom chose to continue her education. She got a job as a secretary right out of high school. She worked her way through college earning a degree in Business Education. She became a teacher, married my father and continued to work and earn her Master’s Degree at a time when that wasn’t a popular thing for women to do.
She was passionate about her family, her work and her life. She was successful by most standards, but she always felt it was a responsibility to give back…to do more.
It was a common thing at our house to share a meal with a stranger that came to the door looking for a handout. She and dad would offer odd jobs to some and just offer a meal and acceptance to others.
Mom had two heart attacks and two By-Pass surgeries before she became a widow in 1997. She struggled with Diabetes and her deteriorating feet. Somehow, she never lost her sense of humor.
Fast forward to 2002. Mom developed pneumonia twice that summer. We were just returning from a trip to Baltimore where we celebrated my youngest sister’s 40th Birthday. Mom had created a poem for the occasion, as she did for me and my other sister when we turned 40. Her doctor called me on my cell to tell me to take mom directly to the hospital---don’t even stop at home. It was something serious.
We were devastated. Her future was decided in that hospital corridor and we knew what we had to do.
My sisters and I left our homes, jobs, and families and moved back “home” to take care of her, ….for as long she would stay. With the help of our local Hospice, we learned how to care for her….and of ourselves. During the next several weeks we sisters laughed and cried, we argued and prayed, we cooked, we drank wine, we survived without sleep…. and we grew…..We grew thin with worry, we grew strong in faith, we grew courage and….we grew up.
It was almost 10 weeks to the day that she died. It was the Sunday before Thanksgiving in 2002.
She took a part of me with her that day she died, but she left me the gift of memories and time spent with her and with grown-up sisters. It was the best of the worst of times, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.