I went to camp Tel Yehudah the summer of 1985 for the first time. Momma wanted me to go to be around other Jewish teenagers but I wasn’t so thrilled about the idea. However, once I went I had the time of my life and had high hopes to return there the next summer.
While I was at camp my parents had moved to a new city. I was excited for the move because the new city had Jews living in it. OK, so there were only a handful but that was a ton more than from where we had come. Also, we were only 45 minutes away from our Synagogue rather than an hour in a half. For some reason that made a difference to me. I was excited to see our new house and especially my new room.
When I returned from camp and my parents picked me up from the airport I was hoping Daddy was in a good mood. If he wasn’t then I could kiss being able to share my stories about camp goodbye. And I wanted to share them so badly because it was such a fantastic experience for me. Honestly, I can’t remember how Daddy’s mood was but I remember telling Momma all about camp which was all that mattered to me.
That evening when Momma, Daddy and I were eating dinner I noticed Momma had a cough that seemed to get her choked very easily. I then saw where Momma looked swollen. But Momma only chucked it off as a cold or allergies. I remember taking a mental note of that moment and feeling as if my life was going to change soon. How? I had no idea but I could feel something was going to happen.
About two weeks later Daddy came home from work but without Momma. Momma was his secretary in his law practice. In Daddy form he told me he wanted to talk to me. We sat down in our den and Daddy told me that Momma had gone to the doctor for her cough. He stopped for a minute and then he told me Momma had lung cancer and her prognosis wasn’t good. He told me it was up to Momma. If she was willing to fight then she had a chance.
Momma refused to do chemotherapy like she had done when she had breast cancer. Instead she did radiation treatments which were just as hard on Momma’s body. Initially it looked good because the cancer was shrinking. Little did we know that was customary for that type of cancer to shrink at first and then to grow with a vengeance.
Momma was in and out of the hospital for a few weeks. In mid September Momma was home but she looked very weak. I’ll never forget this one particular Saturday. I was mad at Momma for something. Hey, I was 15 so who knows what it could have been. Anyway, angry with her I went into my room, slammed my door and turned on my record player as loud as I could. As I was listening to my music I could hear Momma from her bedroom which was next door to mine. I thought she was yelling at me. But, Momma didn’t do that. She didn’t stand and yell. If she had something to say she’d come get me. I turned down my record player to hear what Momma was saying.
What I heard that day and what I went through for the the next couple of hours will always stick with me. I have replayed that day in my head over and over again and always felt so guilty.
What I heard coming from Momma’s room that day was her crying and yelling. I had never heard Momma cry, so I knew something was wrong. I ran into her room to find her walking around her bed in a daze repeating over and over again,”My god my legs are killing me. Why does it have to hurt so badly?” I tried to ask her how I could help. I was thinking she had a cramp in her legs but why was she so discombobulated? I told Momma I’d rub her legs if she wanted to lie down. She lied down on her bed and I started rubbing her legs. She kept yelling at me that wasn’t the right spot. She kept yelling for me to rub higher up on her legs which I did as she requested. Finally, I had hit the right spot. Momma yelled, “That’s it. Right there! See, I told you it was higher up on my legs.” I was totally scared at that point. See, I wasn’t even touching Momma’s legs but I was rubbing her lower back.
I told Momma I should call Daddy. She jumped up off of the bed begging me to not call him and she started crying hysterically. I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to listen to Momma but she wasn’t acting right. I don’t know how I remained so calm but I did. I was able to calm Momma down. I called Daddy. He spent a little time on the phone with her but sadly he didn’t seem to have any patients for her. Momma handed the phone to me and Daddy told me to call the ambulance to take her to the hospital in Savannah. He gave me this list of things I was to do and how I was to get Momma to go into the ambulance. I was scared. Momma was begging me to allow her to stay home. All Momma wanted was to stay at home and I betrayed her and called the ambulance as Daddy instructed. I know today I didn’t betray her and Daddy should have never put me in that situation but at that time for many many years after, I held onto a lot of guilt for doing that to Momma.
Momma never came home again. She remained in the hospital for 4 months because Daddy didn’t want to care for her at home. I rarely saw her during those months because the hospital was almost an hour away and Daddy was always too busy to take me. I was left alone at home for weeks at a time never knowing what was happening.
On January 15th a Wednesday afternoon Daddy called to tell me that Momma had gone into a coma. Daddy said it was just a matter of time before she’d die. He also called my sister who lived with her husband not too far from where we lived. Daddy asked if they could pick me up and bring me to the hospital.
When we arrived at the hospital my sister, brother in law, and I walked into Momma’s room to see her. I remember how empty it was. Her flowers were gone. Her get well cards were gone. Her pillow was even removed. There was no sign of life in that room. l took a moment to look at her. I couldn’t believe how much she had changed. Her beautiful olive skin had turned yellow, her large amount of jet black hair was replaced with only a few strands and all of her upper teeth were gone. I walked over to Momma’s right side as my sister and brother in law went to her left. My sister was too upset to talk but took Momma’s hand. I leaned towards her and said,”Momma, we’re here now. It’s me, Morrie and Leon. We’re here.” Just as I told her we were there, a tear fell from Momma’s eye and rolled down her cheek. I could feel a lump in my throat. I wanted to cry but held back. At that moment I was afraid to cry because I wasn’t sure if I’d ever be able to stop. My sister was really upset so I pointed to the door for us to go out.
Daddy hugged my sister as she cried in the hallway. I leaned against the wall, held my head to the floor and started counting the tiles on the floor. I just didn’t want to cry so I needed to tune out anything that could possibly make me.
My sister wanted to go back into Momma’s room by herself. As soon as she walked into the room my sister immediately ran back out yelling,”Something happened to Momma!” A nurse went into the room and came back out to tell us Momma had died. It was just after 8:30 in the evening of January 15th. Our rabbi was there and we all went back into the room while the rabbi read a prayer. The nurse had covered Momma’s body with a sheet so I stood there staring at it. I kept thinking she’d pop up telling us it was all a joke. When that didn’t happen, I had hoped to see her move just her arm letting us know she was still with us. Unfortunately, it was true and Momma was gone.
While the Rabbi was chanting and my sister was crying, I tuned them out making the room very quiet. I didn’t want anyone to see me crying. Daddy had always said it meant we were weak. And, I was not weak.
While I made the room quiet I told Momma that I loved her and didn’t want her to go. I felt bad I had been so angry with her those last months. I wanted to take it all back. During that time I could hear her telling me she wasn’t in pain anymore. She was smiling at me while waving goodbye and then before I knew it, she was gone.