My mother’s breathing was ragged.
I held her left hand with each labored gasp. My dad, her husband of almost 59 years, gripped her right.
As she breathed slowly, shallowly, my dad cried out, “Save a place for me in heaven.”
Tears fell down the face of my sister, who sat at the foot of the bed.
We watched 79 years of life and an 11-year battle with breast cancer come to an end.
Our mother was gone.
The pictures on the bedroom wall spoke to what was important to mom: Family.
Photos of each of her three children and their partners on their wedding days stood like sentinels overlooking her bed. The faces of her seven grandkids peered out from picture frames. A devoted husband looked on adoringly.
I thought of my three daughters – all of whom were born during mom’s long fight with cancer. Days before her death, they stood at their grandmother’s bedside and sang “Jesus Loves Me.”
But what will they remember about their grandma?
For me, June 2, 2013, always will be a day of sadness.
Earlier this month, I donned a pink shirt in memory of my mother, Roberta Reeder.
To be honest, sometimes I think all of the October pink ribbons, shirts and merchandise trivialize just how pernicious breast cancer really is.
That said, I want my mother’s legacy to live on.
One good thing about Breast Cancer Awareness Month is it gets us thinking about what we can do.
Here are some thoughts:
• If you’re a woman, schedule your next mammogram today.
• Give a cancer patient the most important thing that you can: You. Cook a meal. Sit by a bedside. Comfort a family member.
• There are lots of charities that help folks with breast cancer. Please donate or volunteer. Your help is needed.
Folks from my hometown of Galesburg did all of those things for my family. It was most appreciated.
A cancer diagnosis can be overwhelming. When Mom first received her terminal prognosis four years ago, the family was devastated.
Shortly after she was told the cancer was beyond cure, we had a birthday party for my eldest daughter.
Mom wept while she sang “Happy Birthday.” Dad’s voice cracked while saying grace.
My wife, Joan, thought of her mother, who died of breast cancer a few weeks before our wedding.
At times, during this long battle with cancer, I was at a loss to know what to say to my mom.
The only thing that seemed just right was, “I love you.”
The chemotherapy left her bald. Sores developed on her feet. The cancer sapped her energy. Nausea haunted her for years.
It was not an easy life. But it was one she endured without complaining. Some folks call that courage. I call it character.
Despite her difficulties, mom always had a smile for her family.
When folks ask what I remember most, that’s it.
I love you, Mom.
• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.