Last month I sat down and typed out the hardest thing I ever had to write: a farewell letter to my mother.
This past July my mother, Grace Groom, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, sarcoma, that had seeped into her bones. At first, things moved so gradually. When we picked her up to join us for the Fourth of July celebration, one of my sisters told me that Mom wasn’t feeling well. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, figuring it was the aches and pains of getting older. The following day my mother received the results of a biopsy that confirmed the presence of cancer.
The “c” word, though, was danced around rather carefully. Soon we found out that it was sarcoma, the more deadly and much rarer form of cancer, and not lymphoma.
How my mother contracted the disease is a mystery. Supposedly, radiation is to blame, although my mother was at a loss to explain how she could have come into contact with radiation.
My mother was taken to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan a few times for chemotherapy treatments before, realizing it wasn’t doing any good, she put a stop to them. Her condition steadily deteriorated as the cancer did its terrible work.
She became bedridden, but she wasn’t alone. Staying at my sister Joanne’s place, she was visited by her four children, six grandchildren, other relatives and friends. Joanne, by the way, is a living saint. A registered nurse, she was at my mother’s side, day and night.
I wanted to say some things to my mother while she was still of sound mind and able to converse. Because I am a better writer than a speaker, I conveyed many of these thoughts to her with my pen. On Oct. 4, I wrote a letter that I handed to her to read at her leisure. I reiterated how loved she is by her children, how she has kept our family together, how during trying times she made things better for us through her thoughtfulness, her love and her understanding. I wrote that many of the virtuous qualities that can be found in her children can be attributed to her.
Writing that letter brought back memories, like when my mother took to me to kindergarten for the first day of school, and when she joined us on a first-grade class trip to the Bronx Zoo. Then there was the time when I was in sixth grade and the school had me take an eye test and found that I needed eyeglasses. I told my mother it wasn’t my fault that the eye chart was blurry. She looked at me in amusement and said, “That’s your eyes!”
My mother told me she had read the letter and liked it. I could feel comfort in knowing that nothing was left unsaid before she passed away. All of her children told her they loved her and would see her again.
Then things started getting really bad. The hospice nurse told us it wouldn’t be long before my mother’s struggle came to an end.
Being a lover of history, I couldn’t help but think of the horrific death George Washington suffered. Lying on his deathbed, Washington told his doctor, “I die hard.”
My mother also suffered a hard death. She stopped taking food. She got to the point where she couldn’t talk or even move much, aside from slowly opening her eyes. Her organs were shutting down. She was dying in front of our eyes, and there was nothing we could do but pray that the end would mercifully come.
And it did. My mother drew her last breath at 10:48 a.m. on Election Day. She was 70 years old. Rain and tears fell when she was buried on Tuesday.
Nothing can quite prepare you for losing a parent. I learned that when my father died 25 months ago. You have only one father and one mother. But to watch your mother die a terrible death is beyond description. Now that it is over, my siblings and I are relieved and tired. We are relieved that my mother’s pain — a four-month nightmare — is over. The stress is exhausting and has taken its toll on all of us.
My mother was a kind-hearted, hard-working woman who cared deeply about her children and grandchildren. I closed the letter that I wrote to her with the following words: “All I want for you is what I’ve always wanted for you: peace and happiness. For all of the good that you have done, you deserve no less.
“With love always, your son Bob”
Bob Liepa is a sports editor for Times/Review NewsGroup. He can be reached at [email protected]