Thirty years ago, my whole life changed.
Just about two weeks shy of my 20th birthday, I arrived home from college, summoned by my dad.
My mother wasn't doing well.
She had suffered, silently, with leukemia for about 10 years, though I didn't know it for a long time.
My family moved from NY to Hollywood, Florida in June of 1971. I was eleven. Apparently, mom was already sick.
Dad ran a business, publishing magazines... Spanish language "girlie" magazines. Mom didn't work. Such was life a generation ago.
We moved from an apartment in Bayside, Queens, to a sprawling home in South Florida, and I thought life was good. That is, until one Saturday morning when I awoke to hear one side of my mother's phone conversation with a friend, and the words, "they did a biopsy, and it's malignant."
I was fifteen at the time, old enough to know what that meant. I confronted her and, only then, did she tell me the truth. She had been diagnosed with a malignant melanoma. But the bigger part was that she had been suffering with "chronic leukemia" for some time.
As a child, then a young teenager, I never questioned why my mother went to the doctor at least once a week. Nor did I ask why she had to take so many pills. It was just part of our normal, everyday life. But, in that one moment, the pieces of the puzzle, which I had never previously attempted to solve, came together.
My friends knew. They all knew before I did, because their parents knew. My mother just wanted to protect us. She didn't want us to worry.
At sixteen, I got my drivers license. There were times I'd drive her to Jackson Memorial Hospital. Still in that selfish teenage mindset, I never asked what the doctors appointments were for, nor did I ask why she had to be driven. When she winced in pain, silently, so as not to alarm me, I never asked what was hurting. I now realize that she was undergoing chemo. Though I still don't know for sure.
She had prescriptions for Quaalude, which I suppose was the late 70's equivalent of Oxycontin. I figured she was in pain, but instead of sympathizing with mom, I would sneak a few of them every now and then for my own teen aged pleasure.
Although I loved my mother and got along well with her, I was a real teenager, and never really talked with her about the things that matter.
In the fall of 1977, I went off to college. Four hours away, Tampa, seemed like far enough from home.
I put on a good act for my parents. I always got decent grades without much effort. But I was a pretty wild child, who enjoyed the excesses of
the time -- sex, drugs, rock and roll.
I had a good life. An apartment in Tampa, a car, and tuition... all paid for by my dad. And a sick mother, about which I didn't think much.
I spoke to my mom on the 21st of October, 1979. She told me that she was going in to the hospital for a few tests. When I asked why, she simply said it was no big deal. One of her legs gave out from under her, and the doctor wanted to run tests. Again, she told me not to worry.
The next day, I called the hospital, and my dad answered the phone. When I asked to speak to mom, he told me she was sleeping. But I could have sworn I heard her voice in the background. I didn't question it.
That night dad called, and told me to come home. It wasn't good.
When I arrived at the hospital, mom was unconscious and hooked up to machines. On October 23, we were told that she had suffered a brain hemorrhage. Apparently, the bleed is what caused her leg to give out. And the day before when I called, she was indeed awake. But she was having trouble speaking coherently. She couldn't find the words to say what she was trying to say. So I didn't get to speak with her that one final time.
The doctors said she was brain dead, but that they'd have to wait 24 hours before officially declaring her dead and removing her from life support.
Patricia Sue Brown Sandler was 47 when she was declared dead on October 24, 1979.
I turned 20 less than two weeks later, on November 4, 1979.
The world kept turning. On my 20th birthday, the US Embassy in Iran was seized, and the hostages were taken. A year later, on my 21st birthday, Ronald Reagan was elected president. All these things happened in a world without my mother.
Although I'm not a religious person, I think my mom is with me for the truly important things. I believe she was there in January of 1994, when the Northridge earthquake hit. I was at the time producer of the Mark & Brian Program on KLOS in Los Angeles. At 4:30 every morning, I was in the shower.
On the Friday before, in a very uncharacteristic move, I told my boss that I needed a day off, and would not be in on Monday! It was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, though it wasn't a holiday for us. So, on that Monday morning, when the quake hit at 4:31am, I was in bed. If I had been in the shower, it's a pretty good bet that I would have joined my mother that day.
For some reason, there was a floor length mirror on a ledge in my shower when I rented the apartment. I never thought much of it, and it remained there...until the earthquake, when
the shower filled with giant, sharp shards of glass. It's a pretty good bet that, if I had been in the shower, I would have been killed. To this day, I credit my mom for my blurting out that I was taking Monday off!
And although my mother and my daughter have never met in person, I also think Mom had a hand in bringing us together. I adopted Alison from Kazakhstan.
The adoption process was a long 18 months, during which I was shuffled from one region to another, then finally to another country where I found my daughter. She was a foundling, actually left on a doorstep of a private home. It was evident that she was loved, as she was left with a bottle of formula, diaper, a blanket and a little hat.
The authorities estimated she was about a month old, that she was likely born around May 1, 1999. My mother's birthday was May 3. When the new birth certificate was issued, showing me as her mother, they asked me if I wanted to change the date! Of course I did. Alison's birthday is now, also, May 3. Her middle name, Paige, is for Patricia.
Thirty years have passed since I lost my mother. I have so many regrets. I wish I would have talked to her more, asked questions about her, and listened to what she had to say. I regret that I was so selfish and wasn't there for her when she was in pain. But I know that she was selfless in her suffering. She didn't want us to worry....
I never thought I'd make it past 47. That was always this number ---- off in the future. And I just figured I'd follow in my mother's footsteps. Well, in less than two weeks, I'll turn 50. Amazing. And I still think of my mother, almost every day.
And I miss her.
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