On October 21, 2014, I became a mom. No, it wasn’t a modern medical miracle. Science had not cracked the code on a man giving birth. Heck, we guys couldn’t handle childbirth in any case. No, on October 21, 2014, I had been asked to handle something else. After a courageous on-and-off 11 year battle with breast cancer, the love of my life, my Maureen, my bride of almost 25 years, passed from this world to the next.
We went to sleep on the night of Monday, October 20th holding hands. We squeezed hands again around 4am when the nurses came in to take my sweetie’s vitals. Squeezing hands was our quiet way of saying, “I love you,” without using words. Around 5:30am or so, I had stirred a bit in my cot on my side of Maureen’s hospital bed. I looked out the window on 7 North at Seton Hospital in Austin, Texas. The sun hadn’t come up yet. The stars were twinkling, as were the lights at 26 Doors across the street, the shopping center that my favorite coffee and gelato shop, Teo’s, calls home. I felt a certain warmth and a quiet voice in my head that said, “go back to sleep. You need rest. It is going to be a long day.”
At 7am, I awoke again. I went to kiss my Maureen. She wasn’t breathing. Her blow by breathing tube had slipped down from her nose. I burst into the hall, screaming out to the nurses, “My wife isn’t breathing.” A flurry of activity unfolded as Code Blue was called out. These amazing professionals did all they could, but Maureen and her God had already decided what was to come next. As Maureen had said the night before as she went to sleep, “finish the day . . . finish the day . . . finish the day.” Maureen not only finished the day, but she completed an amazing journey of love. For over half of her years, we shared that voyage together. At 50-years-old, though, the journey was shorter than planned. In addition to being their father, I had just become a mom to our three children.
In that moment of deep sadness and heavy grief, I knew that I was no longer just dad. I not only had to hold Maureen and my kids in my arms, caress them, and love them as we all said goodbye to Maureen, but I suddenly had to reach inside of myself and find a part of me that I never knew before. As a dad, I had to find my “mom part.” Fortunately, I had an amazing role model by which to figure this out. Maureen was not just an amazing wife, not just an amazing architect, not just an amazing human being, but she was an amazing mom. Quite frankly, I think her courageous battle of 11 years was driven by her “mom part.” She loved her kids. She loved her Taylor, her Kyla, and her Katelyn.
I know the kids would love to have their mom and not just their memories, but I am certain that Maureen’s courageous fight meant that each of them would have those memories. Maureen was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in the fall of 2003, while pregnant with our youngest, Katelyn. Had she passed away after childbirth, Katelyn would never have known her mom. Taylor would have been five, and Kyla would have been just shy of three-years-old. They wouldn’t have known their mom, my Maureen. Mom’s next move in this case was survival. And, Maureen handled this move with style and grace. It wasn’t what she did that mattered. It was who she was, and Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn got to know the quiet love that only a mom knows. For 11 years, they created memories, and I not only fought with every fiber in my body to be a great husband but a dedicated caregiver. And, I watched. And learned.
I’m not sure exactly what a “mom part” is, but I know that in many cases, it is the ability to just be there. Not so much “do something” as us dads like to do, but instead just be. For the first several months, we continued. We went to school. Went to work. Played sports. We handled the shock by doing routine things. It wasn’t until August of 2015 that I took the step that I think made all the difference in finding my “mom part.” A friend was visiting from Canada, and she went with me to my first yoga class. I had talked about this for a long time, but by going with a friend, I at least knew a few poses. After two to three classes, I knew this was something that was about to be a core part of my new life. I didn’t know why exactly. I just knew that I had to continue to come to my mat. Sweat. Flow. Be.
As I learned to just “be,” I came to know my “mom part.” By staying in my breath, I could learn to experience Taylor, Kyla, and Katelyn for who they are. As I changed, I also came to know me for who I am. I came to understand in a small way the quiet certitude that made Maureen both before and after her cancer diagnosis. I came to realize that I am enough. I also came to know each of my kids in new ways, especially Katelyn. She is not only the youngest of three, but her whole lifetime was consumed by a mom with cancer. The day my Katelyn, my KK, said, “Daddy, I’m so glad you are doing yoga. I feel like I know you now,” was the day I cried. I knew that this was the “mom part.”
I am not alone in this journey. As I write in my own blog at the Love of My Life, Maureen is with me each and every day. She is with the kids. Cancer only attacks the body. It doesn’t attack the soul. It cannot attack who we are, and Maureen was and is love. That is what I found on my mat. In my yoga. Maureen also made quite certain that for those “mom parts” that a dad can never deliver there would be women in my kids’ lives that would fill that role. From Becky to Kelly to Amy to Rhonda, my kids’ best friends each have amazing moms. I know they are amazing because Maureen would not have trusted this solemn and loving role to anyone but each of them. They each have my deepest gratitude. There are no words by which I can say thank you to each of them.
I don’t know what this particular “mom’s next move” looks like in the years ahead. I know that Taylor, Kyla and Katelyn’s mom won’t be there for Eagle Scout Courts of Honor, graduations, marriages and grandchildren, but I do know that her love is never ending, and I will be the best dad, and mom, that I can be along the way.