I empathize with the hardship that it is to be by the side of someone you love facing such difficult road ahead, the struggle that family live in overcoming this disease. That is why I feel that is important to help such novel cause and support the Susan G. Komen foundation.
Victor De Santiago
A Letter to all…
I do not seek to inspire you, or move you with my words. I simply would like to tell you a couple of things that come to mind. First, please do not ask how she passed away. It may come across as morbid, but with the lack of understanding loss and how we fear death as a society; it’s clear in every person I meet. I came to the realization at a young age that life is not eternal. The more important question should always be how she was during her life. You will find that all of the inspiring stories, funny anecdotes and embarrassing moments lied behind that simple question.
So to answer the question, “How did she pass away?” is simple. Her battle lasted close to two years. After the first year she went into remission and I thought that it was all over. I was thirteen at the time and I was glad that we could put all of that behind us. I wanted to move forward, enjoy other things, something else than doctor visits, chemo, sleepless nights with frequent visits to the emergency room. Very little was explained to me at the time and even less was talked about amongst my family after her death. In retrospect, as successful and well educated as my family was, they had little understanding of the situation or how to explain it to me. So they found comfort in the idea that some things were best not be said.
July 8th, 1990 at 12:48am she ceases to be present. That is the time and date that was stamped on her chart. The truth was that she took her last breath six minutes before that. Like I said, I was thirteen at the time and my emotions understood the matter at hand less than I did. I had been staying at the hospital for 2 days, at a separate wing for hospice patients; before advantages of cells phone, texting, IM, or a clear understanding of what hospice was and how they help us. A landline in an empty waiting room late on the night of the 7th was something that gave me comfort. I talked to a girl I liked for hours. Nothing that important I can imagine now. I hung up the phone around 12:30am and walked to my mother’s room. Her sister was sleeping in a bed next to her. The door to her room remained open and illuminated by a dim hallway light, which made it easy for me to find my way into a hospital reclining chair. The clock on the wall and the sound of my mothers’ breath was the only thing that I could manage to focus at that moment.
12:42am was what the hands of the clock read. Six minutes after that a nurse came to tell me what I already knew. It has taken me 21 years to understand those six minutes. Why I did not move or call for help? Was I bad son for not moving? Clarity can come from the most unusual people in the most unexpected times in your life. Mine came from two girls both survivors in their own way. One lives a constant battle with multiple sclerosis. She said to me one day, as she explained what she faces every day, that even if we are dying and our bodies seem to be fading everyday, does not mean that our spirits should do the same. We always want to keep some dignity, it is human nature. She highlighted that the memories of my mother that I need to remember should be the ones before her illness and not the struggle she faced. I had to accept what was inevitable. So should I blame her for not wanting to talk about what was going on? No need to worry about the things we can not change. It was typical of her; she was a beautiful strong minded woman. What she faced was not easy for her and she embraced it with the respect it deserves. I know she did what she considers to be best for me in the end.
My second moment of clarity and the one that got me a step closer to the idea of closure came during dinner with a friend, a girl that had lost a close friend recently to breast cancer. She is an endurance athlete like I hope and aspire to be. She said to me,” In any race it is just you, prepare the best you can and when your moment comes, you perform, simply do what you have been training for.” A marathon is personal; you cannot expect to run it with someone by your side, you simply need to find a pace that works for you. I am fascinated with all that our body and mind can endure. Life is like a marathon, in every step there is a sense of fear and anticipation to the finish line. We go through it numb, unaware of what is going around us, but we do it. Not for glory, fame, or because we have to. I have never met anyone that just runs 26.22 miles just to simply do it. The meaning is personal, it is up to you to find the why. The only shame that I realize is that we forget that the journey is as important and meaningful as your final destination.
In the end, I did not need to find closure. That may be because I found it, but I can assure you that it does not feel like that some days. People often do not know what they are talking about when it comes to death and loss. The one sure thing you can say about death and loss is that there isn’t much you know about it. Not that you should not try, you can make analogies and work to find meaning in all of it. Find joys in how they lived, find joy in how you live; because every step you take is one closer to your own personal finish line. Usually if someone asks me how my mother died, I would say, “painfully and pumped full of drugs, hopefully aware that we were by her side”. So I would encourage you all to ask, “Tell me how she lived”. After all life is race and you just need to find your sweet pace.
An Endurance Athlete