I went back and forth as to whether I’d actually post something about my mother–it was around this time, last year, that my mother’s battle with lung cancer finally ended. My story is quite personal, private, but at the same time, I know there are others who may be going through (or have gone through) very similar experiences and they could use some companionship …some “I know what you’re going through. Been there, done that.”
Something was up.
It was unusual, no, unheard of, that my husband would show up in the salon where I was having my hair cut and styled. The only reason he knew I was there was because he had just dropped me off about 20 minutes earlier. He planned to run some errands and return for me an hour or so later.
My hair was still wet and Debbie had only trimmed a small portion when he appeared in the doorway of her little styling alcove.
“Your sister can’t find your mom.”
“Your sister can’t find your mom. She’s not at the house. The car is gone. She’s gone.”
I wasn’t hearing properly, not comprehending.
“Your sister has been calling you. Your mother got in the car and drove away without her cell phone. Your sister doesn’t know where she is.”
It still was not fully sinking in.
Debbie understood. She could hear it in my husband’s voice, the concern, the worry. She began cutting quickly. She knew this appointment needed to be wrapped up in 5 minutes, max.
Instinctively, my sister knew my mother’s little trek was not a good thing. And, instinctively, my sister knew she needed reinforcement, someone who would understand, blood-kin, sister.
Up to the where my mother had taken her Sunday drive, my mother was seemingly just fine. She had just recently begun to complain of pain in her back, but other than that, she appeared normal, herself. If you didn’t know she was wearing a wig, you didn’t know she had cancer. She had full capacity to think, eat, talk, walk, whatever…except drive. And that was really only because my sister had begun to drive her to her treatments and such, and besides, I think my mother liked having a chauffeur.
She hadn’t driven for over two months. I guess I just assumed she would drive again, once the back pain subsided and her treatments were over. After she had healed.
That’s what I believed. She would be healed. Or, maybe I just didn’t think of the opposite of that. I had no room in my brain for thoughts of her mortality. Besides, she just didn’t act like someone who was dying.
Until she got in that car, alone, and drove away.
Thank the Lord for On-Star. Even though my mother did not answer the On-Star car-phone calls immediately, she eventually did. My sister and I both were able to speak to her. In our individual calls, we each demanded she pull over and stop driving.
She said she wanted Chinese food.
Normal for anyone else to get in the car to get themselves some Chinese food, but not for a woman 6 months into inoperable, incurable lung cancer. In hindsight, we now know that the cancer had spread to her brain by this point, but at the moment, all we knew was something was not right.
We simply did not know where she went. Was she driving to Dallas for Chinese food? To Austin?
Did she even know where she was going for said Chinese food?
No. She didn’t.
When my sister spoke with her the first time via On-Star, she couldn’t describe well where she was. She could say only that she was crossing a bridge–she said it very matter-of-factly–but without really knowing which bridge she was crossing.
Now, whenever I see the electronic highway signs alerting me to be on the lookout for an elderly person’s car and license plate number, my heart sinks. Then, I say a prayer. It’s terrifying, the thought that your elderly parent or grandparent is driving and doesn’t know where he or she is or where they’re going. Terrifying.
Long story, short: thankfully, we did not have to call in the equivalent of an Amber Alert. Fortunately, my mother had driven the roads she was familiar with and did not go too terribly far. She finally agreed to stop and wait for my sister to meet her (i.e. come get her).
And, no, she never got her Chinese food.
In the meantime, my husband drove me home so I could throw a few days’ worth of clothing in a suitcase.
I then began the 4 hour drive to my former home. …the home in which I grew up. …the home where my mother still lived.
I needed to be with my mom and sister for a few days.
Little did I know those few days would turn into three long weeks.
Little did I know in those three long weeks, I would watch my mother completely and utterly disappear before my eyes.