by Karen Rudd
When I was seventeen in the late 1960s, my mother was stricken with colon cancer. She was given six months to live, so she asked my father for one thing, that we would all start going to church until the end.
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 eleven at the time mother was afflicted with cancer) graduated from high school. Seven *years* after her diagnosis.
While she was hospitalized, 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 terminal condition.
I didn’t know what to do. I was twenty-four at the time, and had never dealt with someone dying of disease. I was paralyzed by indecision and fear.
In the midst of all 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 near her bed and took her hand. As he held it gently in his, he spoke 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 to face my own mortality and the mortality of people I’ve known who’ve died since then. Perhaps my brother thinks what he did that day was nothing special. It was. Sometimes truth isn’t pretty or pleasant, but it can set us free.