Days, weeks, possibly months, but not years. She won’t be here when Ben opens his mission call or to choose a baptism dress for Mary. But we might be able to get her home—to have a few bedside tea parties and wheel her around her garden.

When I arrived Saturday she was a fragile as a cobweb, drifting in and out of consciousness, her features flattened by illness. I began to cry the moment I saw her but she took my hands and exclaimed, “You’re real. You’re really here. You’re real!”

My sister sat beside her, holding her hand and speaking to her gently, almost like a mother to a sick child. She stood to kiss her on the forehead, to murmur words of love and to brush back her sweat-dampened hair. I watched her, mentally molding my actions to hers and feeling a bright and vivid awareness of the burden my sister had been carrying these past weeks.

Ruth’s presence, along with the perfect climate, is what drew my parents to San Diego. Interestingly (actually, I can’t find the right word here—let me know if you do), Ruth’s husband Bill has spent the last five years studying palliative oncology at Scripps Hospital. Palliative care is to ease pain and increase quality of life for cancer patients who are dying. Liver cancer is treatable, but not curable. They can only treat my mom’s symptoms, not her cancer.

Baby-faced and quick witted, we always thought Bill would go into pediatrics or sports medicine. Instead, he is know as Dr. Death and reads books like The Nature of Suffering just for fun. And he is exactly who we all need right now.

Bill says my mom should be writhing in pain, that her decaying liver and pancreas would create almost unbearable agony. But when I asked, she shook her head gently and said, “Oh, you don’t get any pain with this.”

She is so sweet. Incredibly, indescribably sweet. It’s as if every bit of worry, anger, every wordly care have been burnt away and only her true essence remains. Even when asking the nurses to leave, she is gentle, kind—her love fills the room and pours out in the sanitized hallways. Her room faces the famous Torrey Pines golf course and hang gliders drift outside her window delicately balancing between ocean and sky.

Trivia doesn’t interest her. She wants to recall old memories, to read scriptures, to talk about the temple. But the moment we shift to what’s for dinner or what’s happening in the world, she becomes muddled and drifts away only to return after a restorative nap(but she lit up when I pulled out the rose purse and encouraged me to buy the matching skirt—‘cause that’s not trivia).

Ben brought his viola along(just because he loves it—can you imagine?) and drew out rich, golden tones. He quickly discovered that fancy concertos were out of place and switched to hymns and primary songs—“Come, Come, Ye Saints,” “I Know the My Redeember Lives,” “Abide With Me,” “I am a Child of God” and

“I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers
Confused at the grace that so fully he profers me…”

Her voice is an alto and during a few songs she sang in clear, sweet tones perfectly matched to the viola as Ben improvised and harmonized.

I had an afternoon with just my mom and dad where we reminisced and laughed and recalled every happy story. It’s like selective focus on my camera where the best, the most beautiful things are crisp and detailed and everything else creates a lovely, blurred background.

My parents told of how they met, their first date, their long courtship and it’s crescendo when my dad proposed at San Francisco’s Half-Moon Bay. They spoke like a duet, back and forth, filling in details and forgotten notes. And they kissed so much, so blissfully that I averted my eyes and watched a hang glider lift and soar; dip and glide.

And I wish I had a photo of that—of my dad’s forehead pressed to my mother’s; tears streaming down his cheeks and her peaceful, joyful smile.

She wanted to hear the scriptures and asked for specific chapters. And I thought, “Why these verses? There’s nothing comforting here.” But when I began to read the words came to life and filled me and overwhelmed me, until I had to pass the book to my dad and let him read in his calm steady voice. The spirit filled the room like a temple and we drank it in.

My sister read with her too and turned to Third Nephi where Christ is visiting the Nephites. He tells them he must leave and the people cry and beg him to stay a little longer. Ruth stopped, wiped her own tears and pleaded, “Can you stay just a little longer? We need you.”

She was quiet. And Ruth read it the words once more, and asked again, “Just a little longer?”

Her eyes were closed and her words came like the remnants of an echo, “I’ll try. I’ll try.”

So now we are driving to Salt Lake to shift and settle things before Mary and I fly back to San Diego later this week. It hasn’t been a completely solemn trip. It can’t be when Ben wakes up in the middle of the night screaming, “Spiders, spiders! Stefan get the spiders off of me!” and Gabe and Mary get an attack of the giggles that lasts during the entire 70 minute sacrament meeting (it’s always good to be obnoxious and loud when visiting another church) and Xander and Hans play a three day long battle armed with empty Gatorade bottles and Stefan endures game after game of 20 questions while the little ones fight over the prime spot on his lap.

But I want more time. I want more of this sweet new life with my mom. Can’t we play Candyland and hear more of her pig stories? Can we take her home and let her sit by the pool while the kids do cannonballs and play sharks and minnows? Can she watch her roses bloom this summer and pick ripe red raspberries in August?

And I have the inevitable regrets. Why did I have to hang on to my hurt? Couldn’t I have been the one to call her last year or the one before? I didn’t know our time was so short. Yet, at the same time I have the quiet assurance that this is the way it was always meant to be.

You’ve heard the following plea so often that it’s almost become cliché. But behind every cliché is something profound. So listen, reach out, heal old wounds, offer apologies and forgiveness. Live with an open and loving heart. Because we don’t know how much time we have and none of us, not one, has enough.

May 23, 2009



  1. Annie

    May 25, 2009

    I’ve been thinking of you all weekend.

    I’ve only been able to witness it a couple of times but I really believe that palliative time is sacred and sanctified. The chance to “catch the heart off guard and blow it open” (I love that line by Seamus Heaney). Mend past, store up for the future. What a tender time for all of you.

    Sending love.

  2. Selwyn

    May 25, 2009

    Michelle I’ve been thinking of you and your Mum.

    You are in my thoughts, and I truly believe you should be an obedient daughter and buy the skirt your Mum told you to.

    It’s not trivia. It’s love. It’s understanding. It’s a gift.

    It’s love.

  3. Tracy

    May 26, 2009

    Thinking about you all weekend. Your post was full of so many smiles and so many tears. What a sad, profound and yet seemingly lovely time for all of you to spend the time you have.
    Sending my love. xoxo,t

  4. Jessica

    May 26, 2009

    I’ve also been thinking about you all weekend. I kept asking my parents if they had heard anything. It sounds like you had such a sweet, tender weekend with your family and I’m so glad you were all able to go! Our continued thoughts & prayers are with you! xox.

  5. jess

    May 26, 2009

    can’t stop thinking about you guys… i wish i had something profound to say, but you’ve already said it all. my heart is full and anxious to share love with those closest to me. thank you for the reminder. much love.

  6. Jeanelle

    May 26, 2009

    Like everyone else, I’ve been thinking of you and your family all weekend and just cried reading your updates. Cancer is just so horrible and I will never understand why it does what it does. I’m so glad you took the time to go to San Diego and that you’re able to get back there again soon. I love your mom for ordering that darling purse for you. You do deserve and should have something so pretty and perfect. I love you and will continue to pray. And please, please please do not regret or beat yourself up over anything that happened in the past. Let it go and make the most of the time you have, okay? xoxo

  7. Travelin'Oma

    May 26, 2009

    This is a beautiful expression of how experience helps us gain wisdom, and recognize love.

  8. m_and_m

    May 26, 2009

    Wow. Just wow.

  9. Denise

    May 26, 2009

    Rarely do I feel the distance in miles between our two families. But today, I feel it profoundly. I’m so sorry I’m so far away. What can I do? There must be something.

  10. Christie

    May 26, 2009

    Just logging on now – haven’t read a thing for three days – and caught up on all your posts. I am in tears for you, my friend. A few for me, but most of them for you and what you’re going through. I offer you my heartiest online hug. 🙂

  11. Jan Russell

    May 26, 2009

    I hate cancer. And I hate that it’s stealing away someone you love very much. Love and prayers to you and your family, Michelle!

  12. martha corinna

    May 26, 2009

    I’m thinking of you and your words.

    Thank you for sharing your heart so freely. Love you.

  13. Denise

    May 26, 2009

    Oh and btw, I think what I would call the fact that Bill is in palliative medicine falls under the heading of “tender mercies.” Just another example of how you can be sure that He knows you, and all of us.

  14. Lizzy

    May 27, 2009

    I liked what you said about my dad ‘Dr. Death’. He really is. Do you know what his favorite song is? Go figure, King of Pain- The Police.
    P.S. I’m sure you’ve heard, but Grandma is doing better today.

  15. Carrigan Clan

    May 27, 2009

    Michelle so sorry to hear about your mom. Thinking of your mom brings back memories of her cute laugh and contagious smile. You have such a beautiful way with words and I appreciate the tender way you give us a glimpse into your experience. Please know that I love you, I am praying for you and even shedding some tears with you. I hope to bump into you at the mall again, sometime soon, with your adorable rose purse clutched proudly in hand.

  16. Tiffanie

    May 28, 2009

    I don’t know what to say. Thank you for sharing this. ((virtual hugs))

  17. Will and Joan Turley Family

    May 30, 2009

    Michelle —

    You are a wonderful person! Please know that my thoughts and prayers are with you!


  18. Momza

    June 2, 2009

    Well, this is the nearly the best blog I’ve read in a long time. No recipes, no etsy nic-naks to buy, no garage-sale finds…
    real life. Oh so refreshing. So livid and true.
    Thank you for sharing that special time with me.

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