These things of the heart

That February Four Years Ago

As I mentioned in an earlier post, two Februarys stand out in my mind as being “cancer Februarys”, and I cannot forget either one. This particular post is a collection of a few random memories from that “other February four years ago.” They are personal memories that I somewhat hesitated to share, but as my friend Jackie from Dispatch From Second Base recently told me, “Never hesitate to write what’s in your heart, Nancy.” Thanks, Jackie.

It was February 2008, four years had passed since my mother’s initial breast cancer diagnosis in 2004 and we had just brought her home from Saint Marys Hospital in Rochester, Minnesota. She had been taken there via an ambulance after experiencing complications during a chemo infusion which I had accompanied her on.

We sent her off to Rochester, home of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, hoping for our miracle. People check into Mayo every day anticipating miracles. Some people get their miracles. Others do not. Ours was not to be.

We were sent home from Mayo Clinic a few days later without our miracle.

That February four years ago was when my mother’s youngest sister and niece flew in from Denver to visit with her one more time. Everyone knew it was a goodbye visit, though those words were not said out loud.

My mother spent the last days she would ever spend in her home that February four years ago. I watched her say good-bye to her little cairn terrier Mandi right before my brother pushed her wheel chair out the front door for the last time. She and Mandi both seemed to know she would not be coming back.

That February four years ago was the last birthday I heard my mother say the words, happy birthday, Nancy.

That February four years ago was when I foolishly left my house one snowy night around midnight (against my better judgment) and drove for over three hours in treacherous winter driving conditions in order to get to get to the hospital (a different hospital) in time because my sister had called and said, “Mother’s talking about dying tonight.”

That February four years ago was when my three siblings and I huddled together in hospital waiting rooms whispering amongst ourselves about what to do next while nurses walked by offering sympathetic looks and what seemed like little else.

That February four years ago was when we reluctantly settled on the nursing home option and started visiting several as if we actually had options. It was also the first and only time I ever saw my dad cry when he realized he would not be bringing his wife home again.

That February four years ago was when we ultimately checked my mother into a nursing home and I stayed overnight with her so she would not be alone. When I said I would gladly stay with her, she couldn’t stop crying, so neither could I. I spent the entire night wondering how many nights we had left and as it turned out, there weren’t that many.

That February four years ago was when my family and I decorated that nursing home room, creating a strange hodge-podge of winter and Easter decor. Easter was early that year and we figured if we decorated for Easter too, perhaps she would live until Easter. She didn’t.

In addition to the holiday décor, we carried in lamps, a card table and chairs, pillows, rugs, plants, books, cds, a cd player, a bulletin board, family photos and other miscellaneous things we hoped my mother might enjoy. She didn’t really. She was too sick.

Whenever we could, we paraded our various family pets in, never more than one at a time of course, in feeble attempts to make things seem more normal. All our attempts at normalcy were merely that, feeble attempts.

By that February four years ago, the only thing my mother could stand to “eat” were orange popsicles and sometimes we buzzed for them in the middle of the night and I would hold one for her because she was too weak to hold it herself.

That February four years ago was when my sister and I witnessed a transformation of our mother on one of those over-night stays; a transformation I am not yet ready to speak of or write about. That night in February four years ago was a night of desperation.

My mother survived that February four years ago. We all did somehow. But time was slipping away.

To most people that February four years ago was just another February now tucked away on “time’s shelf,” but to me it will always be so much more.




Do you have a loved one who’s died you’d like to share about?

Have you ever placed a loved one in a nursing home or in hospice care?

Do you have a “loaded” month, memory-wise?



43 thoughts to “That February Four Years Ago”

  1. I started writing about my brother and I couldn’t his loss is still so raw to me…..
    But as AnneMarie said we are here for you …

    (((((((((( hugggs ))))))))))

    Love Alli xx

    1. Alli, You will write about your brother when you are ready. I’m sorry for your loss. And yes, I know you are ‘out there’ too and that means a lot. Thank you.

  2. Dear Nancy,
    I recognize your pain and can see how much it’s still with you. Loss is something we never get used to. I’ve already survived the death of two husbands and my entire family, and I can see those surroundings as clearly as you’ve described that February.

    Writing about our life helps, so I agree with Jackie. We’re all drawn to one another for more reasons than breast cancer. We’re alike in so many ways. We’re tremendously supportive, and I think we can tell one another most anything.


    1. Brenda, I’m sorry for all your losses. Grief and loss are universal experiences and yet we hesitate to share much about them. That’s somewhat of a mystery to me. You know how I feel about the healing power of writing. Are you doing a lot of writing/journaling these days, Brenda? I hope you are. Thanks for your support. It means a lot.

  3. Nancy – thank you for sharing this very personal and painful memory with us. Your friend is a wise woman: “Never hesitate to write what’s in your heart, Nancy.” Thanks, Jackie. Sharing does not leave us vulnerable. It empowers us to sort through our pain and demons, and make sense of them.


    1. TC, You sound pretty wise yourself! “Sharing does not leave us vulnerable. It empowers us to sort through our pain and demons and make sense of them.” I like the way you think! Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  4. These don’t read like random memories, Nancy. They read as if they are written on your heart and from your heart. Thank you for this. Writings from the heart help us all to get to know each other better, in this place where we can’t look into each others eyes.
    Love, Ronnie xx

  5. Thank you for sharing that. We just lost my grandpa to cancer earlier this month. Mine is a much different story. He lived in Hawaii with his wife and I wasn’t able to see him before he passed. I don’t have the experience of seeing him deteriorate. Sometimes I feel thankful for that, but deep down I’ll always regret I couldn’t be there. As hard as it would have been, I wish I’d had those last few weeks with him.

    1. Trish, I’m sorry about your grandpa and I know it must be hard to have those regrets about not being there at the end. We do the best we can. That has to be enough. I wasn’t actually with my mom at the end either and that was hard in some ways to come to terms with, but in other ways, I was at peace with it for other reasons. I guess we have to be grateful for the times we did/do have together with loved ones don’t we? Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    1. Greg, I’m sorry about your mother-in-law. Sometimes this topic of loss/grief scares people off and I think that’s too bad. We benefit from sharing these experiences too. Thanks so much for taking time to comment. I appreciate it.

    1. Betty, Some of the memories are heartbreaking, but somehow that makes them all the more special, if that makes any sense. Thank you for remembering.

  6. Oh Nancy, I’m tearing up, both for your memories and my own. So very similar. I remember trying so hard to keep things normal, to practically ignore the situation right before my eyes. Good for you for sharing it now, four years later. I hope by doing so the burden has gotten lighter. Four years really isn’t that long a time when mourning a parent. Like I said, I’m teary and it’s been twelve years for me. Thank you so much for sharing something so personal. Much appreciated and love to you.

    1. Stacey, I know you’ve ‘been there,’ I find sharing about it to be helpful, though I did hesitate to publish this post because it is quite personal. Guess I just decided to follow Jackie’s advice! Thanks for “listening,” Stacey. Thanks for caring.

    1. Lindsay, I know it’s sad, but still we need to remember and share about it. Metastatic breast cancer still takes far too many women every single day. This message of loss needs to be get out over and over again. Thanks for commenting and thanks for being there “that February.”

  7. Only getting round to reading this now Nancy – sometimes I think I SHOULD hesitate first before writing what’s in my heart, but then I read writing like yours which makes me feel less alone and more connected in this world, and I see the wonderful gift it can be to share.

    1. Marie, I know, Marie, sometimes it’s hard to know how much is too much isn’t it? Usually I just go with it. I think you do as well. Thank you for your supportive comments.

  8. Beautiful Nancy. Thank you for writing this, it’s very very moving. And yes, as you say, this is why we need to write these stories:

    “Metastatic breast cancer still takes far too many women every single day.”

    This has to change.


    1. Being Sarah, Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I feel driven to share these stories of loss, to put real faces to them. We can’t forget. We just can’t.

  9. Oh Nancy,

    This post brought me to tears; it is so powerful and moving and just beautiful. I’m so sorry that you lost your mom, and I’m so sorry for all that you and your family have been through. Cancer is horrific, no doubt about it.

    As you know, I don’t have problems saying what is in my heart. I must write my truth. And Rachel’s and Susan’s lives being lost has triggered my other great loss, my dear friend Faun, as you read about. I just found out today that another friend’s leukemia may be back. I hope and pray it’s not so, but the losses are too much to bear.

    Thank you for posting such a poignant, heartfelt piece of work, Nancy. I’m just getting around to reading my fellow blogesses’ work. I’ve been in a funk lately, and I’m glad to be part of our collective conversation again.

    1. Beth, Thank you very much for your compassionate words. Yes, cancer is horrific for sure. I know you feel the losses very deeply too. I’m sorry about your friend, Faun, and yes I do remember reading about her and “hearing” you talk about her. I hope your friend with leukemia gets good news. It seems there’s been a shortage of good news of late. Glad you’re coming out of your “funk.” Take care and thanks for being part of the conversation. I’m so glad you are.

  10. I remember the day after Valentine’s, acutally 37 years ago, when my 23-year-old daughter called me screaming into the phone that her 27-year-old husband had been killed in a car accident. I wrote about it in my third book and was reading that passage at a Rotary meeting last Wednesday, again on February 15, and could barely get through it. How can things hurt so much for so long?

    1. Lois, I’m so sorry for that loss. The pain of loss never goes away does it? It’s no wonder you were emotional again the other evening when you read that passage. Loss is something we learn to live with, but we never forget. And certain days, weeks or months may have those permanent markers. Thank you so much for sharing and again, I’m sorry.

  11. Your story made me cry. I’m still crying. My mother died in 1985 not of breast cancer but quite likely of breast cancer treatment. They wouldn’t say so, but she died a few hours after her first radiation treatment. So many women die. The treatment for so many is so brutal. There has to be a better way.

    I just read Anita Moorjani’s book “Dying to be me”. She had lymphoma and was in a coma in hospital and doctors told her husband she had hours to live. At the same time she was in the midst of an incredible near-death experience in which she could see, hear and feel everything around her.

    She says that she felt light and painfree and amazingly good, but she was distressed at how upset her family was. She kept trying to tell them not to cry, that she was okay, that they had nothing to worry about.

    She had the classic NDE of meeting deceased loved ones, experience tremendous love and acceptance, and then being told that it wasn’t her time yet.
    She said it was really difficult to leave that love and lightness and that she could see why more people did not return.
    It’s all part of one universal picture, and she could see the whole picture and her part in it.

    She didn’t want to come back to a cancer-diseased body but was told that her cancer would clear up. After she returned, it did — in four days. This is medically attested.

    It gave me great hope to read this — but I still miss my mom.

    1. Judith, I’m so sorry about your mom. Sometimes the treatments are quite brutal. I can’t believe your mom died merely hours after her first radiation treatment. My goodness, that’s awful. The book you speak about sounds pretty interesting. Thank you for sharing about it. Of course you miss your mom, I miss mine too. That will never change. Thank you so much for commenting.

  12. Nancy, I suspect we all have “holiday triggers” of one sort or another that will always remind us of our losses. I lost my dad 4 years ago this past December and every Christmas is now another without him. It’s doubtful that will ever stop.

    I’m sorry about your Mom, and that February is one of your triggers.

    I look forward to hearing more about your mom.


    1. Renn, There are certainly triggers for all of us aren’t there? Sometimes it’s the ordinary things we miss most… I’m sorry about your dad, guess it’s been about the same amount of time for us… Thanks so much for commenting.

  13. Nancy,
    It took me awhile to be able to respond. The tears sure have been flowing easily the last few weeks.

    “That” transformation is oh-so difficult. I am very sorry that February is that month for you. I am sending much love your way.


  14. Oh Nancy, this post makes me cry. I remember when we had to place my mother in an assisted living facility. She lasted four months there, and it broke our hearts. My Dad was devastated. She passed away in October, 2004 from lung cancer. My oncologist believes it was due to second-hand smoke, so my anger flares up whenever I see someone light up without permission.

    I used to hesitate to write what’s on my heart, but not anymore. I find that readers enjoy writing that is honest and transparent, and their admiration for and trust in the author increases. If someone always urges the positive and never shares the struggles, you know that person is not telling the truth.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you this February.


    1. Jan, Thank you so much for understanding. I’m sorry about your mom and I know putting her in that facility was tough. I don’t blame you one bit for saying your temper flares up when you see someone lighting up. You know first hand about the danger of second-hand smoke. I think you’re absolutely right about honest and transparent writing, even when it’s hard to do. Otherwise, what’s the point really? Thanks so much for caring and commenting, Jan.

  15. I know this was not easy to write. I lost my husband to metastatic colon cancer 10 years ago after a 7 year battle. He was in Hospice for one week during the last two months of his life. It was incredibly difficult to leave him each evening but the respite it gave me allowed me to continue taking care of him at home until he died. Febuary 20th was our wedding anniversary so this time of the year he is especially in my thoughts.

    1. Kay, February is certainly a rough month for you isn’t it? I’m really sorry for all you went through and for your loss. Thank you so much for sharing these personal memories about your husband. It’s good to share about them. Thanks again.

  16. Nancy,
    Your wonderful writing is always so touching.
    I was thinking about you today and knew you would understand what I am going through with both my parents and my in-laws. My Mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s and it is so hard to see her slow decline. Her partner of over 60 years is struggling to cope with her care, the household cooking and cleaning. So far, he has refused all outside help.
    My Dad is watching with a cane now. Soon any staircase will be an impossible climb.
    I don’t have to tell you that watching beloved parents try to cope with the challenges of getting older is heartbreakingly difficult!!

    1. Jennifer, Oh my, you are dealing with a lot right now. I’m sorry about that. Watching the health of loved ones decline is just plain gut wrenching at times. It’s just really really hard. I feel for you and I do understand. Thank you for saying such nice things about my writing. Your kind words mean a lot to me. Good luck with things.

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