A wise woman once told me to treasure every second of life. I had called home to complain about the minutia of my college life. I was an early twenty something navigating my way into full-blown adulthood. I needed my mom to not only listen but to point me in the right direction. She did that night, just as she always did when I was younger and just as she continues to do today. She told me that time will only go by faster as I get older, to be the best version of myself every day and that life always goes on no matter the circumstance.
Ten years have passed since that conversation with my mom, and yet, I still think about those words every day. Each year that goes by seems to be faster and more of a blur than the year prior. Time seems to be whirring by as I go about my days. Most of those days are filled with laughter, routine, joy and love but then, there are some days that are unexpected. Last Friday was one of those days.
Time seemed to stop as details came out about the Newtown, Connecticut shooting. There were so many precious and innocent lives taken too soon. My stomach lurched into my throat and a sadness came over me. It wasn’t the first time the holidays came with bad news. A few years ago, while I was home to celebrate Christmas, my mom learned she had breast cancer.
My mom was the first person I called when I left work on Friday. Her words were echoing through my head.
Always treasure every second of life…be the best version of myself everyday…life goes on no matter the circumstance…
The day I found out about my mom’s cancer is one that is etched into my memory. It was a few days before Christmas when the phone rang. My mom left the room to answer it. She had been holding the phone, as if expecting the call. I sensed something was wrong.
“Was that your call?” my dad asked.
“Yes.” They both disappeared into the kitchen.
My heart fluttered in my chest. My niece and nephew were crawling on top of me. We had been playing all afternoon. I don’t get to see them very often so every chance I get is a blessing. But I couldn’t stop my mind from shifting to my parent’s quiet whispers in the other room. I didn’t know what was happening but I knew it wasn’t good. We aren’t a family that keeps secrets.
The kids were oblivious to the change in the room as my parents emerged from the kitchen with forced smiles on their faces.
“Do you want a glass of wine?” my dad asked.
“Yes.” It was only three in the afternoon but we both needed it – although I didn’t know why. My mom came back to her recliner and gave me a smile.
“Is everything okay?”
“No, but I want to wait until your brother is here. I’d like to tell you together.”
I took a gulp of wine. My thoughts were running rampant. My sister, Lana, wasn’t getting into town for another day, and my other sister, Avery, wasn’t able to come home this year. We were each going to have to hear the news at different times.
Just as time stopped on Friday, time stopped on this day. My senses were heightened, and I was worried. The conversation felt forced as we talked over the elephant in the room. When my brother arrived, I was cautious and quiet. I didn’t want to start the conversation but I was anxious for it to begin…it never did. There was never a good time for my mom to tell us. My nephew was old enough to understand, and she wasn’t ready for him to know too.
The next day, my mom and I were running errands when her phone rang again. This time it was unexpected, and it was her doctor. When she was finished, silence hung in the air.
“Mom. Are you sick?” I knew the answer before I asked. Tears were welling in my eyes.
“Yes. They found a lump. I had a biopsy last week, and it’s cancer.” At a time when I should have been the strong one and be there for my mom, as she always had been for me, I wasn’t. I started crying. I was overwhelmed with emotion. The idea that my mom was immortal was no longer true. The reality hit me like a rock. I was numb.
“Elyse, please don’t cry. I’m going to be okay.”
This Christmas will mark the third year my mom has been in remission. While it’s hard not to think about that painful day every year as Christmas approaches, it has also become an important reminder. Life is precious, and we only get one chance at it. I am living the words my mom told me in passing a decade ago, and creating my own words too.
1. Do one thing every day that makes you happy
2. Give hugs to those you love frequently
3. Remind yourself, that this too will pass