I can remember exactly where I was when I heard the word: on my way to teach at George Mason, on a side road that passes a McDonald’s as it dumps onto Braddock. I was in holding the phone in my right-hand and driving with my left. It was between 10 and 11am.
That was the word Mom said into the phone. “I just want to know what our next steps are. Chemo, Radiation, Palliative care. I just want next steps.”
“I can understand that,” I said, trying to keep my sobs from reaching my throat. “Hopefully, the doctor will be able to give you some answers.”
We continued our conversation about small talk – how one does small talk in this situation I cannot even begin to explain – and hung up.
No one had said anything. Not Dad. Not Mom. Not until now. I th
ink I had known – known she was going to die since the weekend of her birthday that we all spent together – but no one had said anything. Now, with that one word lodged in my brain, now it was real.
Within six weeks, my mom was dead, given over to the cancer that we had hoped they’d be able to treat as they had for the last 36 years.
I had lived my entire life with her cancer, the disease she was being treated for when she, accidentally, got pregnant with me. I had known for every day of my existence that she might die. But it wasn’t until that word – palliative – such a quiet, soft, calm word – it wasn’t until she said that word that I knew.
It’s amazing how ten letters can change the world.
Andrea Cumbo is a writer and writing teacher who lives in rural Virginia. Currently, she is working on a book about the slaves on the plantation where she now resides. She will, also, write about her mother and her mother’s death, but she is not ready to do that yet. You can read more of her work at http://www.andilit.com.