See Part 1 here.

See Part 2 here.

See Part 3 here.

See Part 4 here.

See Part 5 here.

See Part 6 here.

See Part 7 here.

See Part 8 here.

See Part 9 here.

See Part 10 here.

See Part 11 here.

See Part 12 here.

See Part 13 here.

See Part 14 here.

See Part 15 here.

See Part 16 here.

See Part 17 here.

The Birthday


In my rush to get home and see what I could do to help, I neglected to look at the calendar.  Even if I had, I must admit I’m horrible with birthdays.  I remember Saleah’s birthday and my little sister’s birthday. Outside of those individuals, I can’t keep those dates straight.  It’s just not a strength of mine.  I usually remember the month of the birthday.  I’d reach a new month, and awkwardly try and recall which relative (or relatives) of mine was born in that month.  Social media has been a huge help in that regard.

Turns out, my best friend and sister took me to visit my mom, and that stay would mean my brother-in-law wouldn’t be able to spend his son’s birthday with The Boy (my nickname for my nephew).

I felt a bit guilty, but they didn’t seem to mind so much.  However, this birthday created opportunities for our family to live and work together.

My first night staying with my parents, I was playing solitaire. Cards have always been the thing my family does together.  My mother taught me, and her mother, whom we lost not too long ago, taught her. It’s a family tradition I intend to continue (also, I’m crazy good at cards). Mom’s illness shook that. Her ability to read and understand information is different at best. So while I played solitaire she remarked that she was sad she couldn’t play.

I don’t do well with words like “can’t.”

So I offered to play a game of cards with her.  She said she was worried she wouldn’t be able to, so I suggested we play War.  It’s a simple enough game that I thought shouldn’t have been overwhelming to her.

We sat down, shuffled the cards, and got to playing.  It was hard.  But I wasn’t sad because she struggled with playing a simple kids game.  I was happy.  Why? The answer is the reason she was struggling.

Years ago, the game of choice went from Rummy, to a game called Hand and Foot. I’m not honestly sure how obscure or not that game is. I don’t know a lot of people who play it, and I won’t explain the rules.

While I kept trying to play War with my mom, she kept trying to play Hand and Foot. Matching cards instead of finding cards of higher value. As soon as I noticed it, I decided to switch things up.  We played a game of Hand and Foot.

It felt a bit like back when my family taught me how to play. Here I was teaching the woman who taught me how to play the exact same game.  Only, it was more of a refresher course. Gentle reminders and some leading questions helped her get through the game, which she won for the record.  I didn’t willingly let her win, but neither was I making an effort to win myself.  Like always, I tend to play the game simply to get time with her, and this time was no different.

From then on, Mom would watch me play Solitaire. I’d let her help and ask her questions, taking comfort in how well she was retaining the information. We did this while watching some of her favorite shows (Cancer, age, and illness will do no injury to my mother’s love for Murder She Wrote).

That simple activity really soothed my heart and gave me confidence. No, it wasn’t the same, but it was close.

During one game of solitaire, my mother expressed her desire to make sure The Boy had presents for his birthday. My mom’s always shown her love through gifts.  She even tried to talk to me about what to get me for my birthday, an event I try very hard not to live with any ceremony.

No amount of reminders that she’d already sent gifts to Phoenix could dissuade my mom from buying more presents.  I think some members of my family thought she’d forgotten she’d sent the gifts, and that might be true.  However, my mom was fully aware that the presents she did buy were on the way to Phoenix, and The Boy was here in Yuma.  This was unacceptable.

So me and my two most immediate siblings headed out to set up a party.  The party was an event that made me immensely proud of the family. All the siblings in the area stopped by. My cousin and her kids were there. My aunts stopped by. Through the whole day was Mom, talking to everyone, and making sure The Boy had a good birthday. The most dramatic moment was the candles.

My friends will tell you that I have the strangest sort of bad luck with birthday candles, one of many reasons I’m just not fond of my birthday. So I lit The Boy’s candles and started singing Happy Birthday.  However, the super-powered ceiling fan made putting the candles in front of the boy a bit of a challenge.

Mom wanted to help blow the candles out. Some of us weren’t sure what was going on.  Mom was trying to get up. They were trying to stop her and ask what she wanted. She kept trying to handle the emergency of blown out candles without a wish.

Things cooled off as soon as I rotated the cake to her and got the candles blown out by human breath rather than a fan.

The sadness was in the reason for the conflict. Mom has trouble explaining things.  It’s at its worst when she’s trying to take action she feels is urgent. We try to understand what she’s up to, but she’s driven to handle it. She gets mad. Her emotions are on edge. She used to be the shot-caller in the family.  She never had to explain what she was doing or justify her efforts. In our desire to make sure she’s safe, she’s frustrated at how little she’s allowed to do.

Candle-related drama aside, the party was a huge success.  The Boy got a call from his dad. The kids had a great time. And my siblings and I put our energy into being happy aunts and uncles. I was proud. It was a good day absent of bickering or grumbling.

I don’t want to present this picture of a bunch of us constantly yelling like some bad early ’90s comedy about a dead billionaire and his greedy relatives. We’re not nearly like that. The thing is, there are very clear hot buttons and hot issues with each of us, and when one family member hits one of those buttons, we bicker. I’m not certain these arguments are unique to our family or even uncommon.  Those little spats combined with some of the underlining tension our family history has gone through cause greater tension than necessary.  On that day, there wasn’t any of that.  At least I didn’t feel any.

The family headed out, and I bought a plane ticket thinking Mom’s treatment wasn’t going to be for another week.

What I thought was that I’d go to Phoenix to relax for a day before flying back to Maryland, but I still had a little bit more to do.

Questions and Revelations

What are the hot-buttons? 

It’s depends on which one of us we’re talking about. The identification of those hot-button issues are less significant than the focus on what we should do as family members.  This friction seems perpetual. It simply shifts. My sisters take the brunt of it. I’m not without fault or blame. Our fear of those hot-buttons can make any of us feel like we’re walking on egg shells to keep someone else from getting angry, but that only causes resentment. I don’t feel any of that was present that day.

I’m trying to worry less about the cause and focus more on the solution. Listen. Be respectful. I’m horribly inconsistent on this.  I’m currently studying the apostles. I find myself affiliating far more with the traits of Peter and John than I do of Andrew, whom I aspire to be more like. They weren’t bad. They simply had admirable traits that weren’t honed or tempered.  I am absolutely a man without temperament.

I’m absolute in my thinking, resolute in my actions, reliant on truth (as I see it), uncompromising in my beliefs, and passionate in my defense.

If you’re asking, “Why is that a bad thing,” it’s because you’ve never been on the opposite side of an issue from me. This passion without temperance is an issue I find myself trying to resolve. I have friends who said they’ve seen a change, but that change is how I don’t always react with that passion.  I’d like my passion to come through in my effort and ethic, not in how I respond to others.  I want to respond to issues with more love and understanding. I won’t ever compromise the truth. (Oh how like John I am in that regard.  For the record, that’s not a good thing.) However, I’d like to make sure that what I do and how I handle conflict is more with love than righteous indignation. I’ve already provided at least one example in an earlier segment of this story.

Perhaps I’ve grown and improved, but I have a long way to go. Until then, I’ll be less effective in being a peacemaker if I can’t get my own opinion or desires out of the way.

Why don’t you celebrate your birthday? 

I really try not to, but some who love me make that difficult.  I don’t get angry about it. The fact is, my birthday has had an awkward trend of drama and issues.  This has made me afraid that every time I try to celebrate my birthday, some sort of drama erupts.  This is less likely when we just let the day go by.

The other reason is that I noticed a lot of people acting like their birthday is something the world should celebrate.  I have no issue celebrating birthdays in general. But I’d noticed some were pretty self-entitled about it. “It’s my birthday, gimme something.”

I was like that too. I was also very spoiled. Birthdays and Christmases  were guarantees. I expected the newest video game system and coolest new toy.  After a while, I sort of figured it was pretty selfish. I don’t think it’s selfish to celebrate a birthday or have a party.  What I think was selfish was the expectation that everyone who even heard of it being my birthday must respond with the most lavish present one could afford.

So I decided to make my birthday insignificant.  I don’t share it willingly. I try to keep the date itself secret.

The final reason is connected to those above.  If the only time I see you or talk to you is on my birthday, why are we talking? Does that one day and one present somehow make up for the other 364 days you were nowhere? We can’t reasonably be in everyone’s lives every day, but if people don’t care enough to send a message or say hello on occasion, the celebration of the birthday feels, to me, like pretense. It feels like a small token demonstration, when what we should do is love and support the people we claim to love as often as we can.  Again, you can’t do it every day, but on occasion.

I’d rather be loved and supported by three people my whole life than have 100 people attend one birthday and then never so much as say, “Hey, saw you’re photos on social media, happy for you.”

I don’t expect anyone to follow this same belief. I simply thought you’d wonder why I don’t celebrate it.

If you have other questions regarding my faith or thoughts or actions at this point, feel free to ask, and I’ll add them to the blog.  I try to ensure these passages are self reflective. My chaplain told me to take this opportunity to look at myself, but at the moment, those were the only real thoughts going through my mind. Questions might help me remember other thoughts or parts of The Bible I’d overlooked while typing this post.

Thanks for reading


12 thoughts on “Testimony: My Trial of Faith as My Mom Struggled With Cancer Part 18

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