Too Late to Say Goodbye // Too late to hear what she wanted to tell us

Chana Hershkowitz

I was alone in the hospital room, several hours after giving birth to my third child. The birth had been incredibly difficult, and I was in a lot of pain. When a nurse had offered Percocet, I’d taken it eagerly and told my husband that he could go home. All I wanted now was to let the medication kick in and get some much-needed rest and relief.

Just as I was about to doze off, my father suddenly appeared at the door. He was heading to another family simchah and had decided to stop at the hospital first. Had he called, I would have asked him not to come at all, but he was determined to see me to share what was weighing on his mind.

I was aware that my mother had been taken to the hospital at some point before I gave birth. I was feeling somewhat concerned but was sure that all would be well. Growing up, my father had been in and out of the hospital because of ongoing health concerns, and while the frequent hospitalizations had been rather traumatic, I had eventually adjusted to that reality. It was unusual that my mother had been admitted to the hospital, but despite some lingering anxiety, I expected her to be released shortly with some medication or instructions, just as had happened with my father dozens of times before.

What I certainly did not expect was to have my life thrown into a tailspin.

My father plopped down on a chair across from me and declared, “Di matzav iz nisht git. Mommy has yenna machlah, and the doctors say that her condition is critical.”

I listened in my drugged, semiconscious state as he explained that my mother had uterine cancer and that the prognosis was very grim. The doctors did not have much hope since the cancer was in an advanced stage. Nonetheless, they planned to operate at the earliest opportunity and would follow that with chemo and radiation treatment, hoping to save her.
“It’s bad,” my father concluded. “It’s very bad.”

I heard his words, but only vaguely. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I understood that there was a chance I would lose my mother, that she would not make it, but I could not deal with that reality right then. I just sat there frozen as my father spoke, and for the next six weeks nobody was allowed to mention anything about my mother’s condition to me. I was in denial and would not even allow anyone to broach the topic. In fact, when a close friend called me and tried fishing for information even as I kept evading the topic, I became so upset that I resolved to stop taking her calls.

For six weeks all I could deal with were my difficult recovery and the afterbirth hormones. At the end of that period, I suddenly broke down in sobs. I cried for several hours straight, releasing all the pent-up pain and fear that I had been suppressing all that time.

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