Her maiden name was Ola Inez Hallford, which later became Gloria Ryan through a legal name change and marriage; but to me she will always be just “Mom.” She is no longer with us in body, though she always lives very much in spirit for me. My mother was born and raised in the Deep South and was fiercely proud of being
a “Rebel.” She was a woman of humble origins, who fought intensely to improve her position in life: socially, financially and intellectually. She could cuss like a drunken sailor, but would never do it, or admit to it in public. In fact if she can hear me telling you that now, I’m in a lot of trouble when we meet in whatever afterlife there may be.
Mom’s life ended quite a few years ago after a courageous battle with cancer. She was stricken with leukemia, a terrible, awful disease that strikes without warning, and afflicts a much larger portion of our population than most people realize. When fighting this dreadful disease, the cure is sometimes worse than the affliction. The chemotherapy, which was the only treatment deemed worthwhile for my mother, is basically a lethal poison injected into the body to fight the onslaught of the cancer cells. As most people are aware, it destroys all body hair, but it also severely damages the immune systems and in the case of a very proud woman such as my mother, it does terrible damage to pride and self esteem. She fought the image of a dying patient as hard as she fought the intrusion of this relentless killer.
I’m writing this neither to sadden anyone, nor to preach about the tragedy of cancer but to reminisce about the times we shared during her hospital stay. We had conversations that probably wouldn’t have occurred had it not been for her extended illness. During Mom’s hospital stays, my sister and I took turns spending the nights with her, while my amazingly inexhaustible father spent every day with her. She was understandably frightened of being left alone and she needed more attention than the hospital staff could provide.
During these sometimes terrifying nights in the cancer ward we shared some amazingly beautiful moments together. When confronted by impending death, it seems that the impenetrable walls of reserve and emotion come tumbling down. Subjects are approached that we normally would have shied away from discussing.
My mother told me tales of our family, which I had never been told before. She shared with me the truly romantic story of my parents’ first date, courtship and eventual marriage. I learned things about my aunts, uncles, other relatives, and even myself, which I probably would never have been told had it not been for the extreme seriousness of the situation. I learned more about her hopes, dreams and desires in those months of her medical battle than I had in my entire life before this struggle began. Through a plethora of tears and sadness on these extremely difficult evenings, we also shared some amazing moments, which I now consider priceless, though a little too personal to share at this time.
Sure Mom and I had our fights and disagreements during our lives before her illness. We could argue all day and night on everything from politics to how my chosen lifestyle differs from what she desired for me. You see, I never became the doctor she wanted me to become. It has a little something to do with me always passing out at the sight of blood. But, without realizing it at the time, these arguments and disagreements were only possible because of our mutual love and common moral beliefs. I think at times I enjoyed arguing with her just for the sport of it; for she was certainly a worthy opponent at any verbal jousting I could initiate.