Eight years ago today me and my sisters, brothers, dad, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law and a future sister-in-law sat in one of those anonymous rooms hospitals seem to have in abundance, listening to the doctor. The news he had for us, while not unexpected, was still the sort you never want to hear.
Our mom, the woman who’d raised all five of us, who’d beaten cancer 12 years prior, and who was doing a pretty good job of beating it again, had fallen victim to what my friend The Doc would later describe as an “opportunistic infection.” She’d breathed something in during the previous week and that little bug had quickly taken advantage of an immune system weakened by chemo.
The doctor (as opposed to The Doc), gently laid out our slim options (option) and then withdrew to let the family talk amongst ourselves. As I said, the doctor’s news wasn’t unexpected, it was just the time to make a decision had come so much sooner than we’d expected. Even though we knew what the decision had to be, we still took time to talk about it.
We had but one request: Could the doctors wait one day? One more day would make it Nov. 1. One more day would make it not Oct. 31. One more day would make it not our sister’s birthday. On this we were agreed.
My dad got up, walked to the door and started down the hallway toward the room where his wife of 43 years lay to tell her doctors the family’s decision.
The door closed and it was just us, the five kids, three spouses and a future wife. The silence, as you’d expect in such a situation, was deafening.
And then one of us, and to this day I couldn’t tell you who it was, broke the silence in a way that brought a little light into a very dark day.
“Well, there go a lot of secrets.”
I smile even now thinking about it, because it was the truth. Our mom had been our secret keeper. More than 100 years of childhood secrets would now be forever safe. Not that any of them were really bad. Some instances of drunk and stupid – my dad knew my sister split her chin open during homecoming one year. What he didn’t know was that prior to putting in 20-plus stitches the doctors probably didn’t need to give her anything for the pain since she’d had an entire bottle of Jack right before she fell. A minor brush or two with the law – like when … well, we’ll leave those to your imagination. Bad report cards. Letters from teachers. Emergency loans (OK, grants) to pay the rent because maybe, just maybe, you used the money she gave you last week to buy a keg. For that spring break trip you told them, really Mom, you weren't going on.
The list goes on and on and on. All those things you thought you got away with, trust me, your mom knows. That’s her job. The good ones give you enough rope to go out into the world thinking you’re on your own. But that rope, instead of being there to hang you, is there to hang on to. It’s a safety line back to mom, one you can always tug on twice knowing there’ll be someone there to pull you back and rescue you from your stupidity.
Those of you who’ve lost your moms know this. Those of you who still have your moms, well, you might want to think about giving them a call to say thanks for keeping your secrets.