This is the speech I was asked to give at my mom's funeral yesterday. When she asked all of us kids to speak, I was a little shocked, seeing as it's me and all, and I tend to say exactly what she doesn't want me to say. But I figured she must really want me there, and how could I deny her her dying wish? Some of the references are to inside jokes, so you may not understand. The hump refers to my buffalo hump on my back, it always sweats. The sweaty eyeballs are because I don't cry, my eyes sweat. So here it is. Enjoy.
This summer our family took a vacation. Not the kind of vacation that involved sun, or sand, or even a tropical Wal-Mart. It was a completely different kind of vacation. This vacation consisted of finding the meanings of colors. Let's call it cancer summer camp. None of us wanted to go there. We were afraid of what we might find. But once we got there, we had the time of our lives.
The first color we discovered was Yellow. Also referred to as flavescent, sallow, or xanthous. But we'll just stick with yellow for ease and proper pronunciation. Normally associated with flowers or the sun or a baby blanket, our yellow became a frightening signal that life was about to change. We knew that things would be different from then on, but we had no idea how. After a weekend of joking about sharing bottled water and spoons, and contracting the dreaded yellow, things suddenly felt different, and we knew it was time for answers.
The next color we explored was black. The telephone that taunted us late into the night was black. Finally it rang, and all I could see were black ants circling on the floor as I heard words coming from the receiver. I felt the blackness of unconsciousness encroach, but it was staved off by sheer determination to get answers. Blackness of night, as we sat rocking in the swing outside, crying, groaning, and even laughing. Blackness of sleep, welcome yet disturbing all together.
Blue. Mom's favorite color. Dad has blue eyes, I know she always loved them. The hospital had blue carpeting in the hallway, and we brought her her favorite blue robe. The now infamous "Cancer Sucks" pin, written in blue was pinned on, and never left. The scrubs on the doctors and nurses were blue, and they whirred in and out as the days passed by. The sunny blue sky outside the hospital room window seemed to be ever present, somehow keeping us all in a better mood.
As we saw how all these colors became representative of an emotion or condition, we each began to take on our own roles. We suddenly became aware of the years, yes years, some of which may have involved me making out with one of our male nurses 15 years or so ago, of preparation that have taken place to bring us to this very moment in our lives.
Meg became our personal assistant. She was ever willing to run errands, make phone calls, and chat with visitors. She knew when something needed to be picked up, washed, or dropped off. And it was always done in high style.
Jill is the proxy mom. She cleaned up the house for Frieda, ushered muddy kids back outside to wash off, provided towels and swimsuits effortlessly, and kept the groceries stocked. She even shops like mom, up and down each aisle, picking the perfect bag of ranch rolls and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.
Troy became the favorite. I only say became, because after all these years of us knowing it, Mom finally admitted it. And we completely agree. Troy is the rock. He says the right thing. He knows when it's time for a time out, and he makes things happen. But he is the most tender hearted, and finds inspiration among daily life. He held mom's hand, kissed her cheek, and gently guided her where she needed to be. A true gentleman.
I, of course, became the meek one. Humble, and quiet, I kept the air of reverence abounding. Even though no one but Mom could ever understand my problem with heat, I think we crossed over that hump. I'm fairly sure it was I that got us kicked out of the hospital. Twice. I'm also fairly sure it was I that invented sweaty eyeballs. One thing I know for certain, is no matter how flabbergasted mom pretended to be at my latest "too much information" comment, she knew she was thinking it, and I was the only one that dared say it. I hope she is thankful for that.
As our roles became more established, our summer camp continued. More colors were to be found and mapped.
Purple. Bright, vibrant, elegant. The color of choice for my wedding day, and many others in the early 90's. Not exactly the first color you think about when you hear the word cancer. But from now on, purple will represent the fight against pancreatic cancer that mom fought so well.
Gray. Those last few days were shrouded in a mist of gray. Unanswered questions, words left unsaid, and looks of pity filled our minds with confusion. Was it time? Was she ready? There was so much gray area that we all had an opinion. Dad knew. And he fought hard for what he knew. It was time to make that call, and she was ready for whatever lay ahead.
That gray area was the hardest day of my life. Inspiration was not hard to find that day, but still it became easy to dismiss. It was no accident that we were all in the same place at the same time that afternoon. It was no accident that as we lay at her bedside getting in those last precious moments, the kids entertained themselves effortlessly, leaving us with more precious time than we ever expected.
White. Pure, peaceful, graceful, cleansing, final. The heaven on earth we knew it would be. Mom fought a good fight. She fought hard, but knew when it was time to surrender. I think Troy said it best when he said some people are just too good for this earth. Mom is definitely one of those people. She was too good to too many. She worked hard, and prepared us well, and we are so proud of the life she lived. "Birth and death, near and far, it all depends on where you are." Carol Lynn Pearson.
As we depart this summer camp, we are grateful for the weeks we spent with each other. We were so scared of what we may find, but as it turned out, it was one of the best experiences of my life.