This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting/challenging/amazing things. This is the story of Cassie and her mom’s death.
My name is Cassie. I’m 31 and I live on a farm five miles outside of a tiny town in southeast Minnesota with my husband Jesse, a rambunctious dog named Dru, a flock of chickens and a couple of cows. Oh yeah, my dad lives with us too, but that is a story for another day. I love to read and grow things. So when I am not outside dreaming up an extravagant garden or taking a walk in the woods with Dru I am curled up reading a book. I spend any extra minutes blogging or working on our next home remodel project.
What was your mom like?
My mom was right in the sweet spot of being a big shoulder to cry on, a smart ear for advice and just enough sass to tell you when you were being ridiculous. She was giving, caring and the glue that held our family together. Mom loved her grandkids and her horses, planning gatherings with tons of great food that would bring it all together.
Mom and Dad started dating in high school, Dad liked to tell my sisters and me that he kept asking over and over again until Mom finally said yes to shut him up. She started an at home daycare when we were young (on top of farming with my dad) so she would be home when we got off the bus. Mom was still had a waiting list to get in her daycare at the end. Because of all of those kids I grew up with, instead of just two sisters, it feels like I have 15 brothers and sisters. Mom left a big hole in a lot of people’s lives when she died.
When did your mom get sick for the first time?
She was first diagnosed with breast cancer when I was around 16. She did both chemo and radiation and then had a mastectomy. She was pretty tore up, physically, that time. She lost her hair and was sneaky enough to rarely let us see her without her wig. Sometimes every part of her ached, even her finger and toe nails. But after all of the treatments her cancer went into remission.
A few years later the cancer was back in a different spot, and then a few years later it was in a different spot. Her treatments changed over the years, her chemo drips became less harsh as the drugs changed and then changed to pills. Her radiation treatments would shorten or lengthen depending on the situation. This last time was nasty, there were cancer cells in the fluid surround her brain, but she had a vacation planned with a group of friends and their horses and she told her doctor she was not missing the trip. She died a month after she got home from the trip.
Was your mom sick while you were planning your wedding?
My husband proposed in June of 2009 (on his birthday no less, what a sweet guy!) and we picked a date in October of the next year. We spent most of that summer ironing out the major details so by the time Mom found out her cancer was back we had all of the heavy lifting done. Our wedding was also pretty low key, we got married in a field behind my parents farmhouse and had minimal decorations.
When we made plans to go wedding dress shopping we make sure she didn’t have any major treatments around that time. At this point my family has been planning family gatherings around Mom’s treatments for 13 years, so sadly, it was nothing new.
When did you realize that your mom probably wouldn’t be at your wedding?
A few months before she died, my Dad called and said Mom was having a bad day and I should stop by on my way home from work. We talked for a bit and she broke down and told me that she was just so tired of all of this cancer crap and afraid she was not going to make it this time. I gave her a hug and told her that she has kicked cancer’s ass so many times, what was one more? She shook it off after that and we started talking about the antics of her daycare kids and what kind of craziness my dad had been up to lately. We never talked about it again.
Mom’s last week was pretty rough, she was unsteady on her feet, confused and in and out of the hospital. My sisters and I would take turns spending the day with Mom in the hospital and my dad would spend the nights with her. While all of this was going on I never once thought that she was not going to make it. While I was sitting with her in the hospital we would talk about wedding things like nothing else was going on. I never thought that she wouldn’t be there until I was standing there with my Dad and sisters when she died. Then my wedding was the last thing on my mind.
When your mom died, did you consider postponing or rescheduling the wedding?
I never even considered it. Mom was very stubborn on not letting her cancer control her life. She did not want the cancer to win or people to feel sorry for her. Postponing the wedding would have been been doing just that. I can’t even describe how pissed Mom would have been I had done that.
Since I live in a small town, everyone knew Mom and I could not go anywhere in town with getting almost unbearable sympathy from the people I ran into. Once, I ran to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things, I met two ladies that I knew just in passing, in an aisle. They stopped talking when they saw me, gave me the sad eyes and waited until I left the aisle before they started whispering, saying that I was Marie’s poor girl, who was getting married next month. I left the grocery store without buying anything.
I think postponing the wedding would have just made that kind of stuff worse. I realize that nobody meant anything mean-spirited by the sad eyes, but I made it hard to go about your day. I just wanted to get back to some semblance of normal.
Wedding days are incredibly emotional, even without a missing family member. How did you stay focused on the event and your fiancé?
That was the hard part. When Jesse and I got home after rehearsal and the groom’s supper we crawled into bed and cried ourselves to sleep. We both knew if we had picked an earlier date or had realized that her cancer was that serious we could have gotten married sooner and she would have been there.
The next morning after Jesse left to do what men do before a wedding, I got into the shower and ugly cried for about an hour. As bad as that sounds, it helped. It was hard during the moments when the mother-of-the-bride should be there, like when I was getting dressed and when Dad walked me down the aisle. When the reception and dance rolled around I was able to relax and have some fun. Being surrounded by so many friends dancing and having fun made Mom not being there so obvious.
Did you do anything special to honor your mom’s memory during the wedding?
I could’t bring myself to do anything special. Every time I thought about something I would break down. I was also afraid that doing a memorial for Mom would have made the wedding day harder than it already was. She was there though, in the face of her sisters and all of her friends that were there that day and in the hugs of my sisters and Dad.
What advice would you give to anyone else who goes through something really challenging before a huge event?
I wish I had sage-like advice for people that end up in this kind of situation, but unfortunately, no matter how you prepare yourself the hurt will be with you. You will just need to focus on not letting the hurt turn to anger.
Someone told me not long after Mom died that the hurt doesn’t go away, you just get stronger and soon you will be able to breath again.Thanks so much for sharing your story, Cassie. Have any of you guys gone through something really challenging on the eve of a big event? How did you get through it?