Wednesday, June 14, 2017

“An Angel without Wings”

Where to start? There’s so much to say about my mother, but who would listen, or better yet, why would they listen? To some she was just a stranger, someone they blindly crossed paths with during their journey on this planet of ours, but to others who were lucky enough to know her, she was a pure blessing, a bright light in this otherwise dark world of ours. Was she perfect? Of course she wasn’t, just like none of us are. However, in my eyes she was pretty damn close. I am extremely proud to call myself her son.

She grew up in a simpler time, one where Elvis wasn’t able to shake his hips on television and where most people preached peace and love over hate and condemnation. The world around her may have been black and white and as carefree as an episode of I Love Lucy, but her personal life was anything but. Throughout her life she experienced abuse on many different levels, physically and emotionally, some of which would make toughest of us wince in pain and would fill the most joyous of hearts with tremendous sorrow. She kept much torment and regret locked away in her soul. She did her best to overcome it and make her life, and ours something better than what she was used to.

One would think that considering the circumstances she would be jaded, that her glass would forever be half empty. That wasn’t the case. She loved and showed compassion towards everyone, unfortunately sometimes even to a fault where she was taken advantage of and undeservingly hurt. She would try to find the good in everyone; she would constantly be digging through the weeds of one’s heart trying to find the single rose that she believed existed. She was the epitome of what I meant to be a human being; she did our species as a whole very proud. She wasn’t a kind and giving person because it was the hip thing to do; that’s who she was to her very core.

She also had an amazing sense of humor. She would laugh her ass off when someone fell, and yes, even before checking if they were alright. There was just something about people losing their footing and falling to the ground like a ton of bricks that struck her funny bone and left her laughing hysterically like a hyena on laughing gas. When you tripped and/or fell around her your best bet was to swallow your pride and laugh along with her, because no amount of bruising, body or ego, was going to keep her from enjoying your balance mishap. She didn’t do it to be hurtful, she just couldn’t control herself.

My mother was one of the most sarcastic and quick-witted people I have ever known, no matter what hand life may have dealt her she was always ready to up the ante with humor. If you weren’t laughing and having a good time when you were in her presence it was most likely because you were the one who busted their ass or dared to take her on in a battle of wits. Thankfully her wonderful sense of humor was passed on to us because it really helped us through this difficult time; many tears were overshadowed by laughter.

She had plenty of reasons to be hateful and spiteful, yet she still maintained hope and love. She was afraid of the dark but had a personality that would light up a room. My mother didn't just want to know you, she wanted to embrace you, and she wanted you to feel as if you mattered. She loved sharing stories about her past; it meant the world to her when others took an interest in who she was, in what made her tick. She never had a problem comforting your tears, if anything she welcomed it, and never judged you because of them.

2017 was not a pleasant year for her. Shortly after it began she was diagnosed small cell lung cancer, which of course is aggressive and unfortunately for most a death sentence, which come to think of it pretty much confirms her theory that if it wasn’t for bad luck she wouldn’t have any luck at all. As she put it, she suffered from a bad case of the maloikies.

The last few months of her life was spent running back and forth to various doctors, extended hospital stays and fighting just to live her life as normal as possible when she did get the chance to be at home. Needless to say it wasn’t a “happy” new year for her at all. The chemo, which did give her a little more time with us, was destroying her body and making things very unpleasant for her. She couldn’t eat because of sores in her mouth, standing up was a chore in itself for her and with each passing day she was looking less and less like herself. Needless to say it wasn’t easy, but she stayed with it and never lost her smile. I remember when she would leave the chemo room she would pass by others who were in the same situation as herself, but instead of complaining about how bad she had it, she wished them all good luck and cheered them on.

Right before she was intubated for the last time, of course with the hopes of helping her breathe better, we were all in the hospital room with her for moral support and encouragement. We all got a brief moment with her to say a quick something then we had to leave the room to let the doctors do what they needed to do. My turn just happened to be last, and as I leaned in to let her know that I loved her and that everything would be alright, she grabbed my shirt and pulled me close and said, “Don’t let them do anything to me”. I knew what she meant, she wanted to make sure that everything that could possibly be done to keep her alive was done, she didn’t want the “plug pulled” if you will. My mother believed in fighting up until the bitter end, if it was up to her Terri Schiavo would still be here. She always said, “Where’s there’s life there’s hope”. Unfortunately those were the last words she ever spoke to me, and I hope and pray that she was happy with how I handled things from that point on.

Living a nightmare! Sitting in her hospital room waiting for her to leave us, listening carefully to her breaths, anticipating the final one and at the same time praying it never comes. Having to wear gloves and a mask like we were robbing a bank, while the whole time I wanted nothing more than to grab her and hug her one last time. That day, and every day afterwards, if my tears were rain I would have filled an ocean with as much as I’ve cried.

Regrettably the disease finally ended her life on the 4th of June, and not because she gave up. She fought valiantly to the end with everything she had in her, but rather because when all was said and done it was just too much on her, both physically and mentally. June 7th was the day that my mother was laid to rest. The end of a chapter. Her soul was already flying high with the angels, and now her physical remains and her memory were honored. One of the greatest people I have ever known. Her light was extinguished before its time, leaving our world a little colder from this day forward. May she rest well in heaven and rejoice in the fact of just how loved she was.

As many of us know cancer is a horrible and devastating adversary, one without compassion and/or concern for whom it attacks/hurts, and if it doesn’t end your life itself, the treatment and/or complications from it will. Now of course it doesn’t always win, but it definitely does make its presence known and will make sure you respect it.

Cancer has a knack for attacking the good, the kind and the gentle, taking its time devouring their souls and leaving them battling beyond belief trying to conquer it. You get angry because you know there are individuals more deserving of this dreaded disease, of the pain and the suffering. You wonder how is it possible that they can keep going on living without seemingly a care in the world, when others are ravished and abused by this disease. That is at least how I felt during this horrific experience.

You cannot give into its evil, because then not only did it steal your loved one from you but it also beat you and changed you for the worse. As I said prior, I felt this way, the anger grew inside of me like a cancer (for lack of a better word), but I realized that my mother wouldn’t want me proceeding down that path, my thoughts wouldn’t make her proud, so I have been trying my best to change that. I would be lying to you if I told you it was easy, it’s not by any stretch of the imagination, but for my own well-being it is necessary so it must be done.

Our final journey with her was rough one, with a heartbreaking end, but I can honestly say that I am forever thankful that I was able to be her side during this whole ordeal. She is now buried under dirt for all eternity; her earthly remains like a seed that I pray by our actions bring fourth many beautiful flowers in her honor. We cannot let her passing be in vain, we must show the world what having her in our lives truly meant.

You were an amazing individual. A true testament of what it means to be a human being. You never saw the bad in people, only the good, even when you were hurt, taken advantage of or looked down upon as a result. You never swayed or faltered from who you were or let hate consume you, you’re a true inspiration. You still continued to move forward and spread love across this planet of ours. You made this normally dark and dreary world more beautiful, more precious and more of a reason to be part of it. Her presence made it feel like a summer’s day, but now without her it’s like a never-ending winter’s night. I know a lot of people are in pain because you’re gone, but at least you are not anymore. You can rest easy knowing that your time here was not fruitless and that you truly were loved in every sense of the word.

When you lose your mother you lose all the stories you two shared, all the heartache you two embraced and all the trials you two have overcome. You’re losing the love, the comforts and the good times that now seem so far removed. You're losing more than just a person; you're losing a part of you, a part of your soul, a part of your being. She can never be replaced. She can never be thanked enough for all she did. Her passing left lots of regrets, lots of “what ifs” and of things left unsaid. Sleep eludes you as if you were playing a game of tag with it. You feel as lost as the kid on the back of the milk carton. The horror of the loss binds you like heavy chains, grips you tightly and unmercifully constricts when you try to escape, it is torture on another level. The day I lost my childhood is when my mother lost her life.   

Unfortunately I have many regrets when it comes to the passing of my mother, lots of things that I would have done differently if only I would have known that our time was limited and coming to an abrupt end. Although, one thing I do not regret is that I was able to take care of her as she did me many times during my lifetime, and that I was able to protect her when times were tough and she thought she had no one else in her corner. As much as her death weighs heavy on my heart, her life was truly a blessing that I will forever be thankful that I had the good fortune to be a part of.

Losing her was one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure; it tore me in two knowing that what once was is now nothing more than a memory, and regrettably none new, just recollections of ones past. Sadly there will be many wonderful experiences that will be left unfulfilled by her absence.  I know that someday the pain will subside, slowly fade into the distance like an image in the rearview mirror as you drive away, but she will never leave my heart or be forgotten. 

My mother taught me that life, unlike her now still heart, never skips a beat, it continues on full steam ahead without any concern for casualties and mourners. Life is cruel and unfair, but we must do everything in our power to conquer it, to make it work for us instead of against us. She taught me how to survive and flourish and not just exist and concede. She taught me that every problem has a solution, might not always be the most convenient or the most enjoyable, but nevertheless it does. Her passing will haunt me for the rest of my days, but I will not let who she was and what she stood for go unrecognized. People will see her in me; they will appreciate who I am because of who she was. My goal is to honor her memory and to make her proud.    

Mom you can now sit back and rest while we, your children, take the reins and proudly steer your memory to greatness by our actions. The skies have cried every day since your departure, as if to show us that the heavens share our pain. I feel lost without her, but I am forever blessed for knowing her. Kathleen Sarah Canaley may you rest in peace. You will be forever loved and missed. The angel without wings that once walked the earth with the rest of us is now flying high with her own set of brand new wings.

Her story ended abruptly and in a manner completely undeserving of someone of her caliber, but I personally couldn’t have asked for a better supporting actor in this crazy show we call life. When the curtain came down for the final time on her performance there were many on their feet giving her a standing ovation, an ending fit for a summer Hollywood blockbuster and a woman who made the lives of anyone privileged enough to know her that much more special. Thank you mom!

I want to apologize for all the times I've said “she” (and her) in this piece, especially since my mother, Kathleen, would be driven completely nuts by it, because as she always said, “She has a name”.

This piece is dedicated to the memory of my incredible mother, without you this journey is going to be hard, but because of you it’s going to be possible. To all my siblings and their significant others, without you these past few months, and many years ahead, would be difficult, unforgiving and soul shattering to say the least.