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Sleep With the Angels

by Sueann Arens

My mother was a very intelligent, fun and giving person.  I was just starting to realise all the things I missed out on with my mom because of the lifestyle I had.  I am 32 years old and never took the time to get to know my mom. When I became a teenager is when life with “family” meant nothing to me, until now.

I always seemed to take the wrong pathways, my friends were all either on drugs or selling and making them. This at that time was more important.  I couldn’t even take care of my son because I was too young (all of 16 when I had him) and didn’t want to make the sacrifice.  So my mom took care of him, and I gave her guardianship. I did love him very much and felt so lucky that my mom was willing to help.

From then on it got worse.

I moved away from home with my boyfriend, got married, went to jail and even sold, used, and cooked drugs (methamphetamine). My house was raided a few times, I lost everything that I owned, had another son, and so much more.

I guess it was around 1992 when I moved to Arizona with my husband. This was after our youngest son was taken away from us by DPSS and he went to prison for two years. We wanted to start a new life. This was an ongoing battle from court to court trying to regain custody of our son.

We went to counseling and parenting classes as well as had supervised visitation for about three years. Finally we were able to get him back. After the long process our marriage was pretty much over. We didn’t really spend any time together, we lived together but I think it was just something that either one of us wanted to face.

Here it is now October of 1995, I called my mom in California (it had been a couple months since I talked to her last) she told me that she was sick with cancer and asked if could please come home to help out.

My father is an engineer for Union Pacific Railroad and is away from home days at a time. So I quit my job, cashed my check, packed my car and left. My husband was at work and I didn’t even tell him I was going. I thought maybe it would be best if I just went and called him when I got there.

When I got there it was not what I expected. I knew my mom was sick, but I guess I didn’t want to believe it was something so serious. So I did everything possible for my mom. I drove her to and from chemotherapy when my dad was unable too. If she needed anything I tried to get it. But her health was getting worse.

She seemed to get sicker each day; the doctors could not pinpoint the origin of the cancer so they did not know what to treat it as. They ruled out ovarian cancer (as well as removed the ovaries). Any female organs that could be removed were. So my mother went through several different types of chemotherapy and had undergone numerous surgeries. At one point they thought that she was going to be ok. This was when she decided to go back to work full time and started looking and feeling better.

My parents both worked for the railroad and they were offered positions up north, they decided to accept. So they bought a brand new home outside Sacramento and moved. This was early 1999. They had only been there about a month when Mom started feeling bad again. Sure enough the cancer was back and worse than before.

The doctors said there were masses everywhere, the disease was rapidly progressing. She had more surgeries and more complications. Then she got an infection, which caused what they call a “fistula”, this was a hole where her belly button was. The doctors could not close this hole and it was eating away at her skin.

Eventually she was told her intestines weren’t working, the upper ones just quit and she did not have enough lower ones. Then it got to the point where Mom could never eat or drink again. They put her on a TPN, which was an IV that was all nutrients and vitamins to keep her going.

I went to visit in April of 2001. It was then my mother told me she was going to die and they didn’t expect her to make it through the next Christmas. This was something I never expected to hear and I immediately broke down.

The entire week I was there I was numb. I was using every precious minute with my mom. We had never spent any time together because of me. This is one of the most beautiful memories I have, and I would have more good memories had I tried years ago to be a part of the family. The one week we actually were mother and daughter.

When I returned home I talked to my mom’s almost daily. Either we would take turns calling or we would talk on the Internet. Then she was in and out of the hospital for pain reduction; even then not a day went by that I didn’t tell her how much I loved her.

Then was told by my doctor that I have breast cancer. I let my parents know, and started chemo. I didn’t know much at this point except that there were two masses in my right breast.

About four months later on October 3, 2001 when I got the most terrifying phone call from my dad. He said to me: “Mom’s health has taken a turn for the worse, if you want to spend time with her or see her while she is still alive, you had better make it quick.”

I hung the phone up and just dropped to the floor.

I took a flight the very next morning. I arrived in Sacramento and went straight to the hospital. I walked in to my mom’s room. Here she is laying there looking so weak. When I took her hand and gave her a kiss she turned her head to me. With a smile Mom opened her eyes and said to me: “I love you, promise me you will never give up fighting the cancer.”

I just nodded my head. The tears were non-stop. I was so frightened but knew it had to be.

After that my mom never spoke to anyone again, nor did she ever open her eyes again. For the next three days we watched her laying there, eyes shut but there were tears running down her face. Her doctor came in on the second day and told us that it wouldn’t be long.

I knew and had accepted the fact that my mother is laying here in front of me taking her last breaths of air. I kept telling her “Mom let go”. I couldn’t stand to see her in pain anymore. My whole family told her “we are going to be ok, please let go”. This was the hardest thing for anyone of us to do.

On October 6, 2001, my mom took her last breath.

All I could think of was all the things I never got to say or do with my mother. I was sitting there still holding her hand with visions of my life without my mom. We were finally starting to become close. It had only been about the last five years or so that we actually got to know each other as friends, as mother and daughter.

This awful tragedy also made me learn some valuable lessons. Life is too short, family is so very important. You just never know if there is going to be a tomorrow.

There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of my mom. I see her in my dreams and each night I talk to her. I pray that this never happens with my children. My oldest son is like my best friend. I make sure to tell them every day “I love you”.

I know that my mom is no longer in pain or suffering. She is in a better place where there is no pain or sickness.

Each time I look up into the sky and see a star flicker I think it is my mom letting me know she is watching over me.

I sometimes feel as if she is here with me, walking me through my cancer holding my hand. Even though I know she is gone, I also know she is my own personal angel.

This is dedicated to the memory of my loving mother Susan L. Conklin, January 5, 1946 – October 6, 2001. Sleep with the angels.

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