to rest

Posted by Alex, age 16, to Instagram at 10 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2021, the day of his mother’s passing. Republished with permission.

Alex and Jen on July 28, 2021, the day before halting cancer treatment.

For almost as long I can recall, Mom was sick. It was impossible for me to comprehend what was actually happening. And in many ways, that hasn’t changed.

Stage 4 breast cancer. That was the diagnosis ten whole years ago. Alongside a devastating prognosis, the uncertainty of what the next steps were was a nearly insurmountable blow to my family. But she pulled through. It took surgery, radiation, intense chemotherapy and perhaps a million thoughts and prayers, but it ended.

Until cancer reared its wretched head once again.

I’m still processing what I began learning about over a year and a half ago. I couldn’t understand. She seemed fine. She had lost her hair again, but she was still here. She was with us. We’d go out just for fun and get dinner or something. No problem.

She put a pause on chemo a few weeks ago. It was necessary. Her body couldn’t handle how aggressive the treatment was. But it seems like her body can’t quite handle what came next, either. She got exponentially worse.

At the end, I could no longer speak clearly with her. Eternally tired, occasionally delirious, and depressing every time. I didn’t get to say goodbye, really. I could have, but I was unconfident in her ability to hear it. It was so quick. I don’t know where she went so quickly.

Jen receiving an infusion at Kaiser Moanalua Hospital on July 14, 2021.

She would always have something to say. A joke to add, a movie reference to make, some incomprehensible southern humor we tried our best to understand. She was quick-witted. She loved puzzles and brain teasers and board games and BOOKS.

My god, the books. She lived in them. Enough to bring down bookshelves. We know because it happened. An incredible collection she must have by now. She was a huge history buff. There are so many books left unread in her catalogue. We would always joke that she wouldn’t ever get to them. She’d just keep buying more and more books and not reading the ones she already had.

A good mom, she was. She always worried she wasn’t. She always wanted to know what was going on with us, asking us about our day and actually caring about the answer. A heavenly source of comfort for Kate, an eternal muse for Zac. It took me a while to realize, but we were really all she thought about. (Besides the books, of course.) I’m ashamed to have not lived for her as much as I should have.

Just several months ago, we would go to CPK to dinner, just for the hell of it. Go out and celebrate someone’s birthday. Or in me and Mom’s unique case, both of our birthdays. August 13 and 16. It was our time, every year. It was great.

Just a few months ago, we were at Olive Garden for my brother’s birthday. We all playfully and quietly sneered at someone who wouldn’t give up their seat for her, a woman with a cane, in the waiting area.

Just a few weeks ago, I would hear her and Dad watch a movie in the other room. She’d be laughing her ass off at some parts, or maybe yelling— literally, yelling— at some jumpscare I had also heard. I’d swing by before I took a shower and ask what it was all about before swiftly dismissing it as something I wouldn’t be watching myself.

Jen in home hospice. Folded origami cranes by Alex’s friends.

Just two weeks ago, we were driving to the hospital for a routine checkup with her oncologist. On the way there, I played some of her songs in the car. Only this time, with a newfound struggle on her part. She was trying to sing. But she wasn’t able to move her muscles very well, including her mouth. Not only that, but she was struggling to remember the words to songs that were extremely familiar not too long ago. In that moment, an incredible melancholy filled the car’s cabin more than air.

The last days were the longest. It seemed like it had been weeks. It had only been five days that she was in hospice in our living room, hospital bed and all. With her was my dad, ready to take action on her every need the moment she had it. He was prepared to be spoon-feeding her cups of Jell-O between her constant naps, which in all likelyhood were riddled with nightmares.

Now it’s just going to be us and dad. A tiny house. A tiny, tiny, tiny, house. We lost Grandma not much longer than a month ago. That was its own shock and ordeal. There was six of us. Now there will be just four. Dad and three children. A tiny house.

But on that note of those children— Mom, I need to tell you something. I failed to get this out to you in time. I tried to tell you in that Mother’s Day card, but I’m unsure how well I did that. If I told you yesterday, I don’t know if you’d have heard it. So, I’m just going to leave this here— for you to read wherever you are.

I don’t know how you did it. Look at us. You did this. Three whole, incredible, beautiful, human beings. We squabble, sure. We, at times, aren’t exactly each other’s best friends. But look at us. Throughout your entire life you were petrified that you did it wrong. I never understood that. Even less now. You did so well. You did so well.

Some parents leave their children emotionally scarred and terrified for the real world. And though it is true, we are all woefully unprepared to move forward without you, I am convinced that we’ll grow and learn with you in our hearts, forever and always, as you always hoped you’d leave us. I truly don’t know how you did it. You did it while riddled with cancer and, at times, hopelessly depressed. It’s incredible.

You’re incredible. Once-in-a-generation kind of strong.

I know you wished you had more time with us, as we do with you, but let me try to calm and assure you that, even if we don’t feel ready, we’ll be okay. Thank you for working so damn hard. Thank you for being there so damn much. Thank you for fighting so damn hard. Thank you, because we never said it enough. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I love you. I’ll miss you. You did good.

And now, as I lay here, unsure if what I just wrote is even intelligible, I hope I got my messages across. I hope everyone now knows who she was. And what she was like. And what she went through, for us. You had no idea, but your world was better with her in it.

Whether you read the whole thing, or just skimmed it, or just the first and last paragraph, thank you for indulging me in this. If given more time, I would have written a shorter letter.

Hang in there, folks.