My daughter, Kristin, her husband, Justin, and their son, Noah, will be moving soon to a new house. On Friday, we were packing boxes in the old house, or the one they will be leaving. The one already packed with memories. Kristin handed me one as we were working.
It was a note I had written about my mom in November, 2002. It was about her battle with breast cancer, which had been diagnosed in August, 2001. It focused on family and faith, and how we shouldn’t need that kind of wakeup call to appreciate each moment we have. I read it during a Thanksgiving service. The Monday after Thanksgiving, my dad had a rupture of an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He died the following Sunday.
Finding the note that I had written on November 8, 2002 transported me back to a time when Mom and Dad were still alive. Before I knew about Dad’s aneurysm and felt encouraged by Mom’s cancer treatments. The doctors thought, that with treatment, Mom might have a year. She exceeded that by a year and eight months.
Kristin also pulled out a note that my mom had written to her when she was battling an illness. It said: “When you first got sick, I wanted to run out and buy you cards and flowers, but my legs don’t run, just my thoughts, and my love.”
That was Mom. Always encouraging others and putting their needs first. On a Friday night when I was down, she came home with something that lifted me up — Meet The Beatles. That launched my love of The Beatles and deepened my love for her. When she caught me smoking a cigarette in the basement, she said her biggest disappointment was that I hadn’t told the truth; that made a bigger impression than if she had simply punished me. When I landed a job as a sportswriter, she bought me my first typewriter; yes, it was that long ago.
She shared her passion for baseball with me. She was a Jim Gentile fan and took me to get his autograph. She told me, several times, that “you won’t believ-a Tony Oliva” just to get under my skin. She made Doc Edwards feel at home when he came to our house for a visit because he and my Uncle Gene had served in the Navy together.
Mothers never stop having an influence on us, whether it’s in how they tell us about life’s challenges or show us. When my mom had surgery for breast cancer, doctors removed a fist-sized tumor under her left arm but couldn’t get it all because it was wrapped around nerves. When she came out of surgery, her first question was: “Am I going to die?” My dad told her what we knew, which wasn’t the news we had hoped for.
“I wouldn’t have wished this on myself, but now that it’s here, I’ll just have to deal with it,” she said. “I don’t want to leave my loving family; it’s worth fighting for.”
She fought with courage and a sense of humor. She could always laugh at herself and make others laugh. Cancer crushed her body but not her spirit, even after my dad — her partner and caregiver — died suddenly. She stayed in the house they had shared for more than 40 years until the treatments became more intensive. Her family was with her when she died, which is what she wanted.
Which brings me back to the note, and the thanks I expressed on Thanksgiving 2002. Would I have written it differently had I seen what was around the bend?
I see my mom’s words: “I wouldn’t have wished this on myself, but now that it’s here, I’ll just have to deal with it.”
There are things I wish I could change, but I realize how much of life is out of our control. And I would never want to change the moments and memories we shared, even though you can never have enough of them.
My mom died in April, the month before we celebrate Mother’s Day. In reality, though, we celebrate it every day, or at least we should. Mothers deserve that, and our thanks.
And, more than anything, our love. Forever.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.