A dose of mortality

“Hi Donald, it’s Mom. Have you got John’s phone number handy? I wanted to give him a call.” I thought it was a strange request, but passed it along without much thought. John is family. Maybe Mom just wanted to discuss an idea for the upcoming Christmas holiday.

As a young person in America it is easy to forget how short life really can be. Fortunately there are those moments – two to be exact – when all of the dreams and unfinished plans rush back to ultimately remind me there is much to be done and little time for it. The first, taking-off and landing in an airplane. Something about the bumps, various tones and bells, and of course leaving the ground that is the perfect recipe for a sobering moment. The second, receiving a phone call from my Mother about her reoccurring brain tumor.

I first learned about meningiomas when returning home during the winter break senior year of college. My parents sat me down to break the news to me; my younger Brother was not yet home. They offered to have this chat at the kitchen counter, or to sit down in the living room. This peculiar behavior certainly had me exploring the realm of possibilities. Could my parents be getting divorced? Maybe they had decided to move south? Mom was always malcontent for the cold and the often obnoxiously dreary winters of southern Maine. I was overcome with impatience and began blurting out all of these thoughts and more. Nervous smiles crept onto my parents’ faces as Mom shifted closer to me on the couch. I recall my Dad sitting more distant in an adjacent chair. I took the hint and shut up.

“You know all of the headaches and visits to the Doctor’s office? Well I had an MRI done and they diagnosed me with a brain tumor.” Shell shocked, I searched for some comic relief. Finding none, I asked what seemed like the most reasonable question: what does that mean? Within a couple of minutes they had relayed the only bit of knowledge they had on the subject. And I lunged at my Mother, squeezing her tight and not letting go. I later learned the tumor was a meningioma, a type of tumor that develops on the surface of the brain. They continued to tell me they had found all this out a few weeks prior, but did not want it to distract me during final exams. And they told my friend and mentor, John, so he was prepared to talk with me about it.

I became obsessed about brain tumors and even asked my aunt to fax me what seemed like endless pages from the National Institute of Health, the World Health Organization, and whatever other credible information sources were available.

It was hard to say what was in store for her and for us. She was still — and would always be — my mother, but this was a revelation I had not ever considered. (No surprise there.)

Shortly thereafter, while driving from Worcester back to his house, I asked John — always a spiritual person — what is God? “Who is someone you care about?” John asked, not seemingly answer my question. “Mom”, I responded. “Where is she right now?” “At home”, I said defiantly. “But how do you know that?” He asked, sure I would have no response. I guess I did not, but it was a Sunday and where else would she have gone? The fact was, I was so comfortable knowing exactly where she was at that very moment without any evidence to support it. I could picture her and everything.

“That’s God,” he said. “God is love.” I’ll never forget it.

Originally written in 2009 at the suggestion of a dear friend, Houman Younessi, who always encouraged me to write and “write what you know”. It doesn’t get any more personal than this, I suppose.

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