I was sitting next to my mother in the doctor’s office when the doctor said that there was nothing else to do about her cancer. No more chemo. No more liver stents. No more anything. The cancer had won. She might have a couple of months left. It was early August 1994 and I had flown up from Texas to be with her in Boston for this ominous appointment.
“If there’s anything you want to do, now’s the time,” the doctor said.
“I want to go to Lubbock, Texas,” she said. “Can I make the trip?”
“Lubbock, Texas? Why?” the doctor asked, frowning.
Yeah. Why would anyone want to make Lubbock their last travel destination?
“Because that’s where my daughter just moved with her husband and I have to see her new house so I’ll be able to picture her in it before I die,” she said.
Oh. Because of me.
As they discussed the necessary details of an end-stage cancer patient flying across the country – number of flights required, names of local doctors in Lubbock to call, medicines to take with her, etc., I felt increasingly guilty. Why hadn’t I moved to Hawaii or Santa Fe or somewhere that had something beautiful to see that made it worth being the very last destination my mom visited before she died? All we could offer in Lubbock were dusty, flat, red plains, a heck of a lot of sky, a few prairie dogs, and a Grandy’s where you could get all you can eat brunch with unlimited biscuits and gravy for $6.99. Plus there was the occasional stench of cow poop wafting in from the nearby feed lots when the wind was right.
It seemed like the very worst place to see before dying. And it was my fault she was going to spend her last precious trip going there.
“I can send you pictures,” I said. “You really don’t need to come to Lubbock. Let’s go somewhere beautiful.”
But my mother was undeterred. A few weeks later she and my dad arrived at the airport. She looked even thinner and yellower than she had been in the doctor’s office. Even the whites of her eyes were yellow.
We took her to our tiny house and gave her the two minute tour. Den, Kitchen, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, postage stamp-sized backyard. Her favorite thing was the dishwasher on wheels. The house had been built without space for a dishwasher so it came with one on wheels. We wheeled it over to the sink and showed her how we hooked up the hose to the kitchen faucet to run the dishwasher.
“Isn’t that the damndest thing,” she said. “See, if didn’t come, I wouldn’t have seen your dishwasher on wheels.”
So, on the eve of Mother’s Day, a day that is always difficult for those of us without our mothers (see last year’s post on that topic), I remember with gratitude that my mother loved me so much that she went to one of the least desirable places in America for her last trip. Just so she could picture me in my new house before she died.
* Even though the landscape itself is less than beautiful, and I’ve never experienced wind or dust or cold like I did in Lubbock, the people who live there are some of the friendliest I’ve ever met.