We all have defining moments in our lives…those days when something happens and you can never go back to the way life was. I clearly remember what would be my very FIRST defining moment.
I was 10 years old and home from school with a fever. My Mom ALWAYS pampered me when I was home sick. This day was different. Her friend Shirley was coming over to stay with me. It’s funny how accepting I was that this was normal, as it wasn’t for us. My mom ordinarily would never leave me home with a neighbor if I was sick. My parents explained that they had a meeting in Brooklyn with my Mom’s sister about their childhood home.
My parents left and Shirley and I had a great day together. She made me egg noodles. I can’t remember what we played. I can’t remember what we chatted about BUT I can clearly remember tasting EGG NOODLES for the very first time and thinking my Mom needed to get on board with this.
My parents arrived home late that afternoon. I was excited to see them and ready to give a full report on the egg noodles and hear about their meeting. We all sat down in our den to catch up. They looked serious, they couldn’t hide their fear. I felt it right away. It was strange. My Dad offered that they really weren’t meeting with my aunt about the house. I remember feeling so confused as they NEVER mislead us. He then went on to say that they were in NYC to see a special doctor who diagnosed my Mom with acute leukemia. I had never heard of leukemia UNTIL just one week before when I was at my friend Patti’s house watching the movie “Eric” with her family. The character Eric was a high school and college star soccer player and he died of leukemia. I clearly remember sitting on her shag carpet in front of the TV crying my eyes out. It was so sad. And now my Mom has THIS horrible disease. I blurted out “Is Mom going to die?!?!”
My Dad was an honest man. He could not humor me. With his voice cracking, he answered “We hope not.” We all hugged and cried. In that moment my Mom who I always looked at as this strong, funny, loving, party planning lady seemed fragile. I wanted to protect her from EVERYTHING to keep her here forever. Egg noodles seemed so unimportant now.
The next 10 months were tough. Toughest on my mom as she became weaker and weaker and sicker and sicker from the chemo. She remained in the hospital more than she was out of the hospital. We barely saw her. It felt so strange and foreign to how we used to live. My Dad gave us daily updates on her blood counts. We kept close track of them because we knew if they were at a certain level she could come home. We lived for those rare occasions when she was able to come home. So, our new routine was this…we’d wake up, go to school, have dinner with my Dad and then he was off to NYC for the evening to stay with my mom. He’d come home late at night, go to sleep and be off to work by 6AM to do it all over again. As sad and depressing as this all sounds, the one light in all of this was our friends and neighbors who rallied to make sure we never had dinner alone. It’s just a meal. Does it really matter? My Dad could’ve ordered pizza for us every night. Neighbors could have dropped food off. The BEST prescription for a scared and lonely child is the care and comfort of friends and family. Most EVERY night we ate AT our next door neighbors house, the Ryans. They had 6 children of their own and made room at their table for the four of us. It was a party!!! We were always close with the Ryans but you can only imagine this experience glued us together for life. They loved us and we loved them. Mrs. Ryan would tease us when we were eating at someone else’s house for the evening “Oh, you’re not joining us.” She actually would look disappointed. When I think back to how she pulled dinner together for 12 almost every night I MARVEL at her grace and generosity. I could go on an on about this family and what they meant to us but I need to get back on track…
My mom was weak, tired and very sick but always kept the most amazing attitude. She believed she was going to get better and “beat this.” She prayed and prayed to God and Saint Therese the Little Flower. She asked everyone to pray for her. She believed that if you said this prayer for five days in a row and saw a ROSE on the fifth day, your prayer would be answered. You can only imagine how hard we prayed and how eager we were to see roses. Sadly, I remember being disappointed that I wasn’t seeing roses on the fifth day of saying this prayer. We still never gave up hope.
My mom didn’t either. She fought hard until her body just gave out from all the medicine. I did not get to say good by to her. I can’t even recall the VERY last time I saw her but I do remember one special evening we spent alone, not long before. It was Parent Teacher Conference week at Winnicomac elementary school. My mom laid in bed weak and unable to attend my conference. Mr. Block, my 5th grade teacher, had suggested they could do it over the phone. When the phone rang, I excitedly answered it and handed it over to my mom and then left her bedroom. I eavesdropped from my room and I remember how her voice changed with pride “Oh, thank you Mr. Block. Oh, thank you Mr. Block.” She kept saying it over and over with such love and pride. She called to me as soon as they got off the phone. I laid down next to her in bed. She couldn’t wait to rattle off all the sweet things he had to say about me. (I’m sure if I was a tyrant there was no way he was going to ruin this poor woman’s night… lol)
After my mom passed away my Dad planted a rose garden in our backyard in her honor. I used to tease him and ask why he hadn’t done it earlier. We picked out a beautiful headstone for her grave and had roses carved into it. Roses would soon become a sign throughout my life that my Mom was with me. They always seemed to pop up at the EXACT time I’d be looking for a sign of comfort or reassurance.
Fast forward 19 years…While I was on a vacation in the Caribbean I met Peter. We had spotted each other from across the pool deck. After one blissful week, we were falling in love but initially had no plan for how we were going to pursue this long distance relationship. I lived in NY. He lived in Michigan. We met up in Chicago for our first reunion and thankfully discovered that our “island spark” was still there and it wasn’t just a vacation attraction. After that, we coincidentally both had trips to New Orleans planned for the same weekend. It would be the first time there for the both of us. I was going to visit a friend who had been sick and he was traveling there with family. We decided to meet up. He showed up at my hotel room with a box. I opened the box and inside was a ROSE he had carved from scrap material that he cleaned up off the floor of his wood shop. It…was…perfect. I paused for a moment thinking about how I had never shared my “ROSE” story with him. He went on to say that he had never made one before but “something” (or maybe it was “someone”) inspired him. I truly believe he was heaven sent because he was everything I was ever looking for and I think, no I know, my mom approved!
THIS wooden rose has moved with me 4 times and it resides on the side of my bathtub in our master bathroom. I love to look at it EVERY day as it reminds me to keep looking for the signs. They are always there!