by Karen Rudd
In the late 1960s, I was 17 and my mother was stricken with colon cancer. She was given six months to live. She asked my father for one thing: that we would all start going to church.
Shortly after her diagnosis, she asked our new pastor if she could be anointed with healing oil and prayer. She did not ask to be completely healed, only that she be given life long enough to see that all her children were safely on their own road to life.
She became ill for the last time when my baby sister (who was 11 when mother was diagnosed with cancer) graduated from high school. Seven years after her diagnosis.
During that last hospitalization, I watched her mental condition deteriorate to the point that she began to get confused. Her kidneys were shutting down, so her blood chemistry was completely out of whack. Tumors had been found in her brain.
Several days after she was admitted, I arrived for my daily visit only to have her question me angrily about not telling her the “real” reason she was in the hospital. She went on to explain that she was really in the hospital for her nerves, not because of her cancer.
I didn’t know what to do. I was 24 at the time, and had never dealt with someone dying. I was paralyzed by indecision and fear.
In the midst of this turmoil, my brother arrived for a visit. I watched my mother start to tell him the same thing she had told me. My heart was pounding as I wondered how he would deal with her confusion.
Calmly, he pulled a chair up to her bed and took her hand. As he held it gently in his, he said softly, “Mother, you know you will not be leaving this hospital alive.”
Tears welled up in my eyes, nearly blinding me, as my mother covered his hands with her own, and in a moment of lucidity, she whispered, “I know.” I stayed long enough to watch the two of them face her frightening future together.
They spoke of death as an inevitability instead of some far-off enemy. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was giving Mother permission to stop the war against her disease.
She went into a coma that night, and two days later she died.
I’ve never forgotten the courage I saw my brother summon that night. He had taken a difficult walk with my mother from her state of denial to the peace of acceptance.
That moment has been a life lesson for me. It has helped me face my own mortality and the mortality of people I’ve known who’ve died since then. Perhaps my brother thinks that what he did that day was nothing special, but it was. Sometimes truth isn’t pretty or pleasant, but it can set us free.