A First Look At Death

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Just like any other day, I was dropped off after school at the end of my driveway. It was early fall and the leaves were starting to change colors. I could see the Mississippi over the bluff and it looked as beautiful as ever. I loved living in the country. Everything was so peaceful and quiet, the kind of place where every kid should grow up. When I got to my house, I could see my mom sitting on the front porch. She would wait for me there in that same spot everyday reading her book and waiting to give me a hug. When I approached, I could tell that something was different. I could see it in her eyes and her it in her voice when she said, "Hey buddy, How was your day?" All though I knew something was wrong, I didn't let it bother me. I was home and my mom was there.

That made me happy. She told me she loved me and said she needed to talk to me. Even though I was young, I knew something was wrong. I could just sense it. I was not prepared for the news that followed "Matt, honey, I wish I didn't have to tell you this, but today, my doctor found a lump in my breast. It's cancer." I didn't know exactly what breast cancer was but I knew my Grandma had had breast cancer a few years prior to this and it took her life. That was all I knew. Because of this, I jumped to the conclusion that my mom was as good as dead. All I could think of was what would happen if my mom died. Who would wait for me after school and give me a hug? Who would ask me how my day went? Who would be the one to wake me up in the morning and tell me it's time to get ready for school? This was too much for me to take. I didn't know how to deal with it. So, I ran.

I ran to a spot where I knew no one would be able to find me. I called it my thinking tree. This tree sat on the very top of a huge bluff that overlooked the Mississippi River. I went to this particular tree because it was different then any other tree. Its roots were growing out of the side of the bluff. The thick brown roots were perfectly shaped for me to sit on and enabled me to use the hill as a backrest. It was so quiet there and it held no distractions anywhere around it. I was free to just sit and think. And think I did for many hours. I sat on that tree and thought about what my life would be like if I didn't have my mom. I didn't know what to do. Finally, I decided that I wouldn't let her die. I wouldn't let her give up and I would do absolutely anything to keep her alive. She wasn't dying. End of story.

I could hear my dad coming down the driveway. He was late for dinner as usual. He worked very hard for us and we knew he would be home as soon as he could to spend time with us. Usually, when my dad came home, I would come outside and help him with his briefcase. But today was different. I did not come. He called for me many times, and finally, I did come. As soon as he saw me walking down the hill, head down and arms hanging by my side, he knew what was wrong. As I approached, I could see a tear forming in the corner of his eye. He said, "Hey buddy, what were you doing up there?" The only sentence I could get out of my mouth was, "I was just thinking Dad." He left it at that and said, "Let's go inside and eat. I'm sure your mother and sister are inside waiting for us." When we got inside, I could see my sister pouring milk for all of us. My mom was in the kitchen finishing up dinner. Usually she would say welcome home to my dad and give him a kiss, but that was not the case today. Instead, all they did was make eye contact and stared at each other. After a few moments of this, my dad lowered his head and headed downstairs to his desk. After he came back upstairs, we all sat down at the table and waited for my mom to join us. This whole time no one said a word. I couldn't keep my eyes off my dad. I had never seen tears in my father's eyes before and I did not understand. He was the strong one, the glue that held the family together. If he could not be strong, then who would be? Right then and there, I decided that to help my mom get through this I would have to be strong and show her that she could do it. I vowed to myself that I would not cry. I told myself that if I cried in front of her, it would be showing her that I was giving up on her and I didn't believe she could make it. I wouldn't give up, and I wouldn't lose my mom.

After a few minutes, my mom joined us at the table. We said our prayers as usual and went on with dinner. There was no conversation at the dinner table that night except for my little sister telling us about the drawings she did in school today. The three of us just sat there and ate while we listened to her talk. We said nothing.

When we were finished eating, I cleared the table and put the dishes in the dishwasher. I could hear my sister in the living room telling my dad about dance class and showing the new moves she learned. Soon, I heard my mom tell me to come in the living room when I was done. We needed to have a family talk. I wanted to run away again, but I knew I just couldn't. I needed to be there for my family. I knew I needed to show them that I was going to be the strong. When I walked into the living room, I could see my sister propped up on my dad's knee. This was her favorite place to sit. She sat on his knee at every available moment. I slowly walked over to my mom and gave her a hug. She broke down right then and there. I could hear my dad behind me start to cry, and I knew he could not hold back any longer. I went over to him and gave him a hug. He told me everything was going to be fine and that he loved me. I told him I knew, and that I loved him too. This was a strange situation for me because I was not used to seeing my dad crying like this. I understood though, this time was different. My sister had no idea what was going on, but when my parents started to cry, she started to cry, too. My parents even laughed and told her there was do need for her to cry. That didn't matter though. When she starts crying, there's no telling when she'll stop.

We sat and talked for a couple of hours. They tried to explain to me what this cancer could do to her, and since they caught it early, she had a very good chance to survive. They made an effort to assure me but none of it mattered. I knew she would make it and I stayed strong. She had her first chemo treatment the following week and it was hard to watch her get sick. I would sleep on the floor next to her bed and helped her when she felt sick. My dad was out of town a lot so my Grandma would come and stay with us. She was a lot of help, and she made things run a lot smoother. Along with her helping us, our family friends were very helpful. They would make us dinners and help us out in any way they could. This is when I started to see how important friends were and how much they really do care. I had never seen people be so supportive and so helpful before in my life. It made me realize that no matter what happened to my mom, I would always have people to look after me and help not only in rough times, but also in everyday life.

My mom's treatment went on for about six or seven months. Every time my mom went in for treatment, her sickness would get worse. After every chemo treatment she would be sick for about a week and a half. She would gradually get better, and as soon as she started to look and feel somewhat healthy, she would have to go in for another treatment. It was really tough to watch, but I just knew it would all be worth it in the end. I stayed strong and positive throughout the entire situation. I found that the best medicine for my mom was humor. I made jokes about her loosing her hair, and she loved them all. It kept her spirits up. One thing I did made her laugh for days on end.

On one special occasion, I stayed overnight at a friend's house for his birthday. A lot of my other friends were there. They all wanted to do something to help, but they never knew what they could do. Finally, I figured something out. My mom didn't like going out in public much because she had no hair. Her wig looked pretty real, but she just didn't like it. So, I decided to shave my head along with whoever else wanted to. Out of the fifteen kids that were there, none of them had any hair on their head by the end of the next night. Even my friend's dad shaved his head to show his support. I got this idea form the news. It had a story on a bunch of boys shaving their heads to support their fellow teammate and friend. They all played basketball together and one player was diagnosed with leukemia. He wouldn't show up to their games because he was ashamed of his baldhead. The rest of his team shaved their heads to make him feel normal. It made him extremely happy and it made his sickness easier to deal with.

The next morning we all went over to my house and served my mom breakfast in bed. When she saw us all with shaved heads, she smiled from ear to ear. I hadn't seen her smile like that in months. We took her out that day, and she had a blast. We went to the zoo and to a movie. For those few hours we had her out, all the problems we had been facing were erased and my mom was back to normal. She needed that. She was starting to loose hope, and she needed to see the world she would miss out on if she gave up. That experience might have saved her life.

She had a couple more treatments after we shaved our heads, but she was way more positive after those treatments than she had ever been before. When we brought her out, she realized what she would be missing if she gave up, and she realized that she couldn't stand to be a quitter. She saw how much everybody cared about her and realized that if she gave up, it was not only herself she was hurting, but also the people that had helped her in trying to beat cancer. She could not die happy knowing the pain she would cause.

Finally, one day in late spring I came home from school and saw my mom sitting on the front porch waiting for me to come home from school. I hadn't seen her there since she started treatment. I knew why she was there, I just knew it. I had never run as fast as I did that day. I had never been so happy. My mom was better and nothing felt better then that fact alone. When I got to her, I stopped and just looked at her. She looked at me and just shook her head yes. She had beaten cancer and won the battle