10 years ago today I was 17 years old and came home from work to see a bunch of family members standing in my driveway. My uncle walked over to me as I got out of my car and told me that my mom had just lost her short and intense battle with pancreatic cancer. I stood there silent as everyone hugged me. Then my dad came out of the house and I immediately broke down when I saw him. He told me she was gone and that my sister was on her way home from a friends house. It was the first time I had ever seen him cry. He asked if I wanted to come inside and see her before they came to take her away. I knew right away I couldn’t do it. I remember looking around at everyone who was crying and staring at me and I felt an overwhelming feeling of needing to get away. I could not be there any longer- I had to leave. I got in my car while hysterically crying and started driving. Not the most safe thing to do, I know. My dad knew I needed to leave and let me go. I called my best friend Christy and as soon as she picked up the phone and heard me she knew. I drove to her house and shortly after my other best friend Sandy came over. We sat together and cried. I didn’t know what else to do. Eventually I went back home to a house that felt (and still does feel) empty and like something was missing.
We knew it was coming, as she had come home from the hospital and been put on hospice a week or so before. The hospice nurse told us to go ahead and say our goodbyes, because she would probably be unresponsive soon and was sedated with pain meds. Sadly, I don’t have very clear memories of our last conversation, except that it was short and full of tears. I remember her apologizing for not being able to see me graduate, get married, have kids. She told me she loved me and she knew I would be okay. That’s how she was though, selfless and never thinking about herself- always about others. She was not only an amazing mother to my younger sister and I, she also worked full time and volunteered at our local fire department as a fire fighter and she drove the fire trucks. She’s everything I hope to be as a wife, mother, and woman.
I remember everything that happened 10 years ago today and how I felt so vividly like it just happened yesterday. But some of the details leading up to that day are foggier. It all went downhill so quickly, with only about 10 months from diagnosis to death. I kept a private blog back then with detailed accounts of every day, but still to this day can’t bring myself to read it because the memories of my mom towards the end are so painful. I don’t want to remember her that way, and I want to protect myself and my fragile heart- so I just avoid it and pretend like it doesn’t exist.
Since then I’ve done a lot of the same thing in terms of actually dealing with the emotions I have around losing my mom so quickly. After graduating high school two months later, I left for college summer session in late June and didn’t talk about it. Instead I drowned my sorrows and numbed my pain with too much alcohol and food, until I drank too much and it would all come pouring out in drunk tears. Luckily, I had some friends who came with me from high school to college who understood and helped me through when I was a mess. I dreaded coming home because the memories associated with where I grew up were too painful to handle, so a lot of times I chose not to. I went to summer session at my college 3 years in a row and then studied abroad in Australia for 5 months. I couldn’t have gotten any farther away by moving to the other side of the world. After graduating college I moved to Virginia to teach, and that is where I still am. When I look back on all of this now it’s really clear to me what I was doing although I didn’t realize the time. I was a poster child for avoidance.
During this time I spent a lot of time writing about how I felt. I’ve always been better at expressing myself through writing and find it very therapeutic, which is part of it reason why I blog. Throughout all of this I also found running, and I think that has been the key to finally helping me process and deal with losing my mom. I worked through a lot of emotions and did a lot of reflecting while I ran, and still do to this day. There were times when I would literally be running and crying at the same time. It actually happened this morning when I was running and thinking about this 10 year anniversary. At my RRCA class my teacher made the comment that, “We are all running from something”, and I think that’s true. I was running from the pain and emotions that I had and didn’t want to face, but in the process I found something else. I found peace and clarity and acceptance. I’ve had moments while running where I feel her with me, like in my last marathon. Truly magical moments where her presence is undeniable. It is amazing. Those moments are what I live for. I am always looking for more ‘signs’ that she is with me, especially as more and more time passes between the last time I saw her and now. I just want to stay connected to her and remember her as best I can.
Losing my mom so young has shaped me in so many ways and is a big reason why I am the way I am today. People who meet me at first say I can be quiet and guarded until they get to know me better. That’s how I was when I first moved here and was making new friends, when I started dating and when I met my husband. The truth is, I am that way because I’m afraid to let people into a heart that’s already been broken. Along with this comes tremendous anxiety as well, because I am terrified of losing other people that I love. It has definitely shaped me as a wife and mother too, because I know that every day is a precious gift and tomorrow is not guaranteed. Today while rocking Kevin before his nap I let him sleep on me for longer than usual before putting him in his crib, and just soaked the moment in. I can’t even imagine how my mom must have felt, knowing she was going to die and leave behind two daughters who were only 17 and 14 years old. I can’t imagine saying goodbye to my baby.
This post is basically a long dump of a lot of emotions, but I really wanted to capture my feelings on this 10th anniversary. Sometimes I feel like it’s been 10 years and I should be more “over” it by now. But I don’t think if will ever be. I’ve come a long way but I still have work to do. I still feel guilty about a lot of things. I feel guilt towards how I treated her at times when I was a selfish teenager and even at some points when she was sick, guilt that I didn’t want to see her once she had passed away, guilt that I left my family and wasn’t there when we needed to be together. By writing this post I am trying to face my feelings and overcome some of the avoidance I have had about this important aspect of my life, so I can move on and focus more on the positive.
I also spent time today looking at a scrapbook I made for her when I was 17 that I have avoided looking at for years. It was filled with her obituaries, the eulogy I read at her funeral, poems and pictures, tons of cards and letters from friends and family, notes from her, and even a letter I wrote to my future self. It was amazing and heartbreaking at the same time. Nothing will ever fill the void she left, but by thinking of all the great memories we made together, how her influence affects the mother I am today, and knowing she’s still with me through it all is definitely comforting and is allowing me to start to heal.
Along with focusing on the positive, my sister and I have decided to celebrate our mom’s life and remember her on this 10th anniversary by running the PurpleStride 5K, which benefits the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. The statistics for pancreatic cancer are sadly very grim. It is the 4th leading cause of cancer death in the United States, and is anticipated to become the 2nd by 2020. It has a five-year survival rate of just 6%, and 73% of patients will die within the first year of diagnosis (this included our mom). Despite these statistics, pancreatic cancer is the most under-funded and least-studied of all major cancer killers, with only 2% of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget dedicated to researching it. This is why we are hoping to spread the word and raise some money to help fund pancreatic cancer research.
If you are interested in donating to this cause in memory of our mom and to help fund pancreatic cancer research, ANYTHING, even $5, helps. We would also love for others who live in the surrounding area to join us at the race, which is on May 31st in Wilmington, Delaware. You can run, walk or even just spectate to show your support. If you decide to run or walk with us, join our team Strides for Staci, and your registration fee will become a donation towards us. You can register or donate here.