March has always seemed like such a magical month to me. It’s the very beginning of spring in Alabama, the return of outdoor activities, and most importantly, it’s the month of my favorite person in the world’s birthday. My mother.
An Idyllic Childhood
To say I hit the jackpot of moms is an understatement (in my humble opinion). I grew up in a large Catholic family with four older siblings. Our home was often filled with cooking, chaos, music, and movies. We dutifully went to church every Sunday, and almost as religiously watched the same movies over and over — often a Lifetime network drama or classic musical if my mom had any say in it. We loved to recall the same family stories and pick on my mother’s hilarious idiosyncrasies as often as possible, like how she would pronounce French words with a French accent, or almost never say a celebrity name right. We spent hundreds of hours of our lives sitting on my parents’ house front stairs, talking, laughing, venting, or crying with her. Our house was full of life and love, and I always knew that I was one of the lucky ones — the one with a family that chose to be friends after family, even though we could have easily drifted apart.
A Startling Discovery
When my youngest daughter was not even a year old, in 2016, our lives changed forever. What started as a small but persistent backache was discovered to be something we never thought we’d have to face in our happy family. My mother was diagnosed with stage-three ovarian cancer. We were absolutely rocked. Where did it come from? Why were there no symptoms until now? What were her chances, and were we going to lose her? When? These are all questions we, as a family, asked ourselves after a whirlwind of doctor visits and a mountain of information that seemingly crushed us all.
Ironically, my mother was the only person that could even begin to walk us through this. Never one to take anything lying down, she and her doctors decided on an aggressive course of treatment with chemotherapy and a debulking surgery to try and eradicate whatever cancer they could. My mother remained strong and determined — if nothing else — to have as much normalcy in her life as she could. She encouraged our visits, and attended whatever school plays, neighborhood parades, or life events she could with a bright smile on her face. A lot of those first days were really good days, where her positivity seemed to make the cancer seem like it had zero chance of taking her, or us, down.
As she became weaker, our visits became more about being in her presence than relying on her as our mother. Our roles as her children began to change from company to caretakers, some more than others. My father took on the role of a home nurse, administering her medicines and popsicles dutifully. I think he would have spent every day of his life doing that if he had the chance. Unfortunately, none of us did.
In November of 2017, I got a call from my parents. “They’re putting me on hospice,” my mother told me as I drove home from church with my kids screaming in the background. “What does that mean?” I asked her. I knew what it meant. But I needed her to say it. I needed to hear it from her that my worst nightmare was coming true. “It’s a box they check. It can be checked every six months, Dominique. It doesn’t mean anything.”
Two months later, after one last beautiful Christmas, my mother left this earth on January 3rd, 2018.
What’s a girl to do without her mother?
We were devastated. I kept trying to imagine never calling her again after I dropped off in carpool, or never hugging her or kissing her cheek again. I couldn’t picture walking into a house that I had spent every major holiday in since I was five years old without seeing my mother sitting in the den screaming at a football game or watching some version of CSI. It seemed so surreal. It seemed like I would never get over it. And the truth is, I never will.
When my mom first got sick, I had been away from the church for a long time. I drifted slowly from faith in college, and never really found my way back. I walked into a small Episcopal church at the recommendation of a friend, and the first person I met I told them, “I don’t go to church and I don’t know what I believe, and my mother is sick, and I need some kind of community to help me.” To my surprise, I got a warm welcome and a nod of understanding. It’s been almost four or five years since I walked in that door, and I’m still a member of this wonderful community. I’m not saying that my spiritual life is perfect, but I know that I’m on a path I was meant to be on, and I can say with great confidence that my mother’s unending faith is what brought me there.
I’ve changed in so many ways since her death. I value family more than ever, even though everything seems incredibly different when I visit my home these days. There’s a quiet that came when she left, despite being just one 5’2” person. Her very presence was a burst of life, and her absence will always be painfully noticeable. However, our family persists. We talk about her daily, we often ask for her intervention, and we still love to laugh at the memories of her unintentional comedic moments. She will always and forever be my favorite person. Happy Birthday, Mama.
Ovarian cancer counts for more deaths than other cancer of the female reproductive system. An estimated 21,410 women will get an ovarian cancer diagnosis in 2021, according to the American Cancer Society. The best course of action is vigilance with your reproductive health and yearly checkups with your primary care doctor.