My first post for the Mamas was supposed to be about how I am excited to be a first time mama myself, but then, as the saying goes, the rug was pulled out from under me.
Within four days, I lost the two women who would’ve taught me to be the best mama I could be when my baby boy enters the world at the end of August – my mom and grandma.
It was a Saturday night when I got the call from my mom in Pennsylvania. She asked if I was alone and where I was. She told me my gram had passed away. Gram had fallen earlier that day and was taken to the hospital. Hours later, she died.
Unable to get home in time for the funeral, I spent the next three days on the phone with my mom, crying about Gram, the woman who had taught me to sew and to bake apple pies and molasses cookies. When I was a kid, my mom would shoo me out of the kitchen, but Gram would shoo me in, excited that one of girls in the family was interested in perfecting a perfect, flaky pie crust.
In between cry-fests over the phone with my mom, the only other solace I found was outside. I’d walk my rescue mutt, Maya, on the trails around Bozeman in the spring mud. I’d sit on benches and think about Gram, and I’d allow myself to cry.
It was a Tuesday, the day of Gram’s funeral back in Pennsylvania, that I hiked up one of these trails, sat at the top and heard a distant train whistle below. Gram had never made it out to visit me in Montana, but she always said she wanted to take a train ride west. I imagined Gram on a train, finally, seeing the West, the land that romanced her granddaughter into staying and setting up shop in its grand mountains.
When I got home, I called my mom. That night we talked and I cried. I told her she was the best mom and that she was the only one who was making me feel better. I thanked her for putting up with my range of emotions – the crying, the anger.
“I’ll always be there for you,” she told me. We told each other “I love you” and “good night” before hanging up the phone that night. Mom never liked saying “goodbye.”
The next morning, I was at work when I got a call from my Dad.
“Mom passed,” he said between his own tears and choppy, panicked voice.
For the past year, my mom had battled esophageal cancer. Things were looking better at the end of last year when a tumor was removed and chemo and radiation seemed to zap the cancer out of her. But cancer works fast. In just a couple months she went from celebrating its exit from her body to having another surgery for another tumor. The cancer had spread. While doctors were still talking about chemo and a feeding tube to help her eat, Mom’s oncologist told me over the phone that there’s was no way to stop it.
Mom had hope until the end. She thought the feeding tube would help her put back on all the pounds she had lost. She thought the chemo would erase the cancer. She thought it would buy her enough time to meet her grandson in August.
Unfortunately, she was wrong.
I hurried home to Pennsylvania. The next three weeks disappeared in a blur. I would look at the clock and it would be 6 p.m. and I would wonder where the day went and what I had done with its time. We planned a funeral. Family and friends came to visit and offer comfort. Services were held. And on a sunny, warm day in rural western Pennsylvania, my mother’s body was laid to rest in the earth.
And, as with my Gram, the only place I could find comfort was outside. I walked along the Allegheny River. I went running with my oldest friend. I sat on a swing and tried to read.
When I couldn’t make it home for Gram’s funeral, I had told my mom that, while I wanted to be at the service, for me, spirituality doesn’t happen inside a building. I told her I felt more at peace and comfort outside. That’s where I feel more spiritual, I told her. My mom told me she felt the same way.
Now when I walk the trails, I know I’ll be feeling a connection with my mom. When I hear a train whistle, low in the valley, I’ll picture Gram finally taking that trip West. And as I pound the dirt with my running shoes, inhale the deep scents of spring and haul my growing belly up mountains over the next few months, I’ll know that Mom and Gram are with me.