Bethany Broderick shares a story about receiving bad news and cherishing time with the people she loves. Now you can find the Kindred Mom book, Strong, Brave, and Beautiful: Stories of Hope for Moms in the Weeds, wherever books are sold. Subscribe to the Kindred Mom newsletter and receive a preview of the book today! Photo by britt gaiser on Unsplash
Why is my mom still in the bathroom? I asked myself as I welcomed family and friends into our tiny apartment for our firstborn’s gender reveal. With more guests than would pass a fire code, I didn’t want my mom to stay in our only bathroom the whole time. Besides, she was there to help me host—to celebrate finding out whether our baby was a “he” or a “she.” Why wasn’t she out here with me, joining me in the excitement of knowing what was growing inside my belly and helping me prepare for the journey ahead? Even though she rejoined the party as we shot pink confetti across our yard, I was hurt by how distant she seemed. Instead of being by my side that night, she stayed hidden away for reasons I didn’t understand.
Two weeks later she called me with the test results. The crimson surge that had plagued my mom at the gender reveal party—and for weeks before unbeknownst to me—was an indication of something much worse than a monopolized bathroom. I sat on my couch, seventeen weeks pregnant, shocked by the news that my mom had an advanced stage of endometrial cancer. The loneliness I felt at the party without my mom by my side flooded over me again. What if she isn’t able to be here for me when I become a mother? What if she doesn’t get to be a grandmother? I couldn’t bear the thought of my mom not being there in my new phase of life, and even worse, in my daughter’s life.
The next five months of my pregnancy were a whirlwind of anxiety. On top of the typical first-time-mom stress of wondering if I was exercising too much or too little, googling my latest symptom, and religiously keeping track of baby kicks on an app, I also felt the burden of my mom’s cancer treatment. I asked all the questions—How often are the treatments? What are the side effects? Is this the best doctor for you? There was one question that I never asked, too afraid to hear the answer: What is the prognosis? I googled it once and spent the next few hours sobbing myself to sleep. After that, my husband never allowed me to research online about my mom’s cancer again.
I have few memories of my grandmother—my mom’s mother—but as my pregnancy and my mom’s cancer progressed, thoughts of her began to lurk in the back of my mind. My memories of her are like blurs that flit through my mind. I never know if it’s a true recollection from my toddler brain or my mind making something up from a photograph I’ve seen or a story I’ve been told. Even so, I vividly remember sitting on my grandmother’s lap next to her record player as she played me her favorite vinyl: Southern Gospel mixed in with one or two children’s records she bought for me. We would sing and dance together for hours in the corner of her dining room.
My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was only a baby, and while she defeated the cancer the first round, it came back with a vengeance and took her from us when I was four years old. She stayed with us each week so she could be closer to the hospital for treatments, going back home on the weekends. Because both my parents worked full-time, my grandmother became my primary caretaker, even throughout all the exhausting chemotherapy. This went on for months, and I got used to my grandmother always being present. Thinking of her, I prayed for more opportunities for my mom to be present with me and my daughter.
I sobbed on the phone, thankful for the covering of a magnolia tree outside my office building, as my mom relayed more bad news about her cancer. More bad news—that seemed like all we ever got from her doctors. It’s always worse than they had anticipated. When I hung up the phone, I knew we had to move back home if at all possible. My husband took a new job, and we moved shortly after my daughter was born, only thirty minutes away from my parents. My mom had been there for my grandmother throughout her cancer battle, and I wanted to be there for my mom.
Her final chemo treatment coincided with the week I gave birth to our daughter. I have a picture of my mom and daughter wearing matching bright-yellow crocheted hats that covered their equally bald heads. I could tell my mom was as tired as I was. My body was spent from hours pushing out a new life; hers was spent from months fighting the death inside her own body.
While I was thankful for my mother-in-law and other helpers, I wanted my mom. When she visited, I watched my mom’s weak arms hold my daughter tight, wishing her arms were strong enough to hold me, too. I felt guilty asking for her help when I saw exhaustion much deeper than mine in her eyes. So we sat together on the couch—our bodies aching together, unsure of how to help each other when we were both in pain. When dreaming of this day, I had imagined my mom taking care of both me and my daughter. I hadn’t expected I would already bear weight of taking care of her.
My mom knocked on our glass front door last week after her immunotherapy treatment with a plastic bag hung over her arm. My two-year-old daughter yelled, “Present!”—barely waiting for me to open the door before jumping into her grandmother’s arms and rifling through the bag. It was another coloring book and more crayons. They sat down together at my daughter’s little table, and tears filled my eyes.
I’m told that my grandmother brought me little treasures in plastic bags every time she came to visit us. Even though she was worn from the struggle within her own body, she would bring me a Walmart bag with a new toy or activity for us to do. A Barbie doll, stickers, a Barney movie—it never mattered what was in the bag. It was the fact that I got to look out the door week after week and see my grandmother standing there.
I don’t remember the day my grandmother stopped bringing gifts in plastic bags. I don’t remember the hard holiday season when we said goodbye to her. I don’t remember what she looked like towards the end. In my mind, she’s always sitting by a record player, holding me in her lap and singing. What will my daughter remember about her grandmother?
Sometimes it seems history is repeating itself in the cruelest way possible—threatening death as we celebrate new life. I fear the timer has been set, and we will follow the same pattern as my mom did with her mother. I wonder how long my mom will be here with us.
I try not to let my mind drift that way, but every once in a while, it manages to get away unnoticed to the realm of what ifs. We praise God that the chemo worked miraculously in my mom’s body, defying the odds I had googled that one terrible night. Every four months, we breathe a sigh of relief when another set of scans comes back “clear.”
But I know that may not always be the case. I cherish every milestone my mom is here with us, knowing that one day she won’t get to be here. Like my grandmother, she might not be with us for my daughter’s soccer games or high school graduation. Maybe it won’t be until a wedding or a great-grandchild’s birth. Either way, I know there will never be a moment I don’t want her here with me.
Today, I open the door again to my mom standing there carrying a Walmart bag. I know she’s in pain from one of her latest treatments, but she doesn’t act like it when my daughter grabs her hand and yells, “Dance with me.” Instead of a vinyl record, my mom picks up a Roku remote to play my daughter’s favorite Spotify playlist. The audio quality may not be as beautiful as my grandmother’s vintage record player, but as I watch my daughter dance around the living room with my mom, I hope that my daughter will carry this memory with her for the rest of her life. I pray she remembers her grandmother there with her, singing at the top of their lungs and twirling around until they couldn’t stand anymore.
I watch them from the kitchen knowing I have two choices. I could fearfully save these memories in my heart, dreading the memories they may never make. Or I could treasure each moment—each photo I snap on my phone—with gratitude. Few moments in life are clearly defined by joy and grief; often they are a mixture of the two. We can pretend one or the other doesn’t exist, or we can hold both in our hearts, believing that each emotion enriches the other.
My daughter is only two, but instead of counting down the days until she gets more time with her grandmother than I had with mine, I choose to be present and rejoice in the days my good and loving Creator has given us together. I pull out my phone and start recording a video of my daughter and mom spinning in a flurry of scarves to blaring Disney music.
I pray that when my daughter’s toddler memories fail her, these videos will remind her in vivid color how much her grandmother loved her—just like the photo I have of my grandmother holding me in her lap by the record player.
Whether we’re given two more years or fifty, I want my daughter to know her grandmother will always be with her—even if it’s only in photographs and memories.
Bethany Broderick lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with her husband, three-year-old daughter, and eight-month-old son. A recovering perfectionist, she writes about resting in the faithful grace of God in the everyday moments of life as a woman, wife, and mother. She is on the blog contributor team at The Joyful Life and has also had articles featured on Risen Motherhood and Deeply Rooted. You can find her writing on her personal blog (dwellingword.com) and on Instagram (@bethanygbroderick).