“It was early March and I had planned my first vacation in over three years. The night before I was set to fly to Seattle, I received a call from my brother saying our mom was in the hospital again. Frantic, he asked if I could find out where she was and what was going on. So, I did just that. I found out the hospital she was staying at and was informed my mother was in the middle of a procedure. ‘Please call back later,’ I was told.
I paced around my house all the way in Denver, wondering if I needed to change my flight from Seattle to St. Louis, where my mom was staying. When I finally spoke to someone an hour later, I was told, ‘Well, she has pneumonia right now and we found a lump on her kidney. We’re highly suspicious of renal cancer, but we can’t do a biopsy until the pneumonia clears up.’ I was told it wasn’t life threatening at the moment and advised to proceed with my trip. ‘We’ll stay in touch and keep you up to date,’ they said. I hung up with a pit in my stomach.
The next five days were filled with worry, lots of questions, and medical diagnoses. The morning of my flight back to Denver, I used the very last of my college financial aid money to book a flight to St. Louis. It was set to depart just 5 hours after my return home. By 11 a.m. the next morning, I walked into my mother’s hospital room.
I gently knocked and opened the door to a look of shock on her face. ‘Alex! Oh my god, Alex!’ I walked into the room to give her a hug and kiss her on her forehead. ‘Hi, mom!’ I asked her what was going on and she just simply replied, ‘I’m sick.’ Eventually, the doctor came in and explained what was going on and how to proceed. He explained she hadn’t been eating and needed a feeding tube, but she was refusing it. In the past, it was too painful for her and had caused infections. She didn’t want to go through that again. I showed my concern and begged her to eat something – anything. She was quiet and would just simply shake her head as if to say no, as if she had already given up.
The next morning, my brother and I arrived and sat with my mom and her doctor to discuss the next steps. After more testing, and considering her age, he explained her illness was terminal and hospice was going to be the best and only option. My mom agreed and my heart started to break. This was the start of my real-life nightmare that I knew would inevitably happen, but had always dreaded.
My mom always had a rough life. She had a terrible, abusive childhood and was the eldest girl of four children who basically raised her three younger brothers. She never graduated high school and, when she was 18, took off to start her own journey. She traveled the country selling magazines and got pregnant at 19. She was a single mom to a daughter who was not the easiest to raise. Her daughter, my biological mother, developed addictions to heavy drugs, alcohol, gambling, and always had very poor choices in men.
Eventually, her daughter got pregnant with me at 21. Two years after having me, she became pregnant again with my little brother. At this point, she decided she couldn’t be a mother anymore and was going to give us up for adoption. That’s when my real mom (biological grandmother) stepped up to the plate and adopted us. This was supposed to be the age in her life when she finally had freedom and independence. Instead, she sacrificed it to raise a second generation.
Life handed us many different obstacles to overcome. But my mom was our shield, our protector through it all. In 2000, she was in an accident that resulted in her not being able to work anymore and we eventually became homeless. My brother became a ward of the state and I was sent to live with a friend in California while my mom took classes to be able to qualify for Section 8 housing with her disability. After over a year of being homeless, we finally found a place to live.
I graduated high school and started college, but dropped out multiple times to help take care of my family. A few years later, I’d had enough and wanted to spread my wings and start my own life. So, I moved to Boone, North Carolina and later Denver, Colorado, where I currently live now. I hit a very low point in my life at the end of ’17 and tried to commit suicide. Luckily, however, I got help, started therapy, and was encouraged to go back to school. I started in the spring of ’17 and am triple majoring in Graphic, Web, and Interior Design. It’s the first time in my life that I’ve continued to receive straight A’s. Last semester, I was even awarded a spot on the Dean’s List where I received a small grant for my 4.0 GPA. But I couldn’t have done this without my mother’s help.
When I first found out about my mom’s diagnosis, I told her about school, my majors, and my grades. I was secretly considering dropping out while my mom was sick because I didn’t think I could handle it. But when I told her about school, she became emotional and told me how proud of me she was. I’m the first woman in my immediate family to graduate from high school and the first person to go to college. The image of my mom’s face when I told her I was getting a college degree has been my motivation to continue down this path in hopes of a better life. Even though I’m sad that she won’t be able to see me graduate, I know how proud of me she is.
When I flew back to Denver after that visit in March, I brought back that heavy pit in my stomach. I’ve been carrying this pit around. One night, I was feeling particularly sad about my mom and couldn’t sleep. I stumbled across a post on Reddit that was challenging people to share something really personal. I was late to the party and didn’t think my comment would ever be seen. I wrote, ‘My mom is dying in hospice care and I feel guilty every day I’m not there sitting by her side. But I have $1.32 in my account and can’t afford to be with her since I live 13 hours away.’
In addition to running out of my financial aid money from school, I had lost most of my personal income as well. A full-time student, I live off my financial aid, student loans, and the income from a small pet sitting business I run. When I found out about my mom, I informed my emerging clients that they would need a backup place in case I ever needed to leave town due to my mom’s health. Being honest, however, resulted in most of them going ahead and booking the backup sitter (which I completely understand). My loss of clients left me completely broke and unable to afford a trip back home to see my mom in hospice care. When I posted on Reddit, I wasn’t asking for money, just simply feeling sad about my mom. The next morning proved to be surreal.
I awoke to many comments and messages of people reaching out for emotional support, sharing their own personal stories, and some even offering financial assistance to help reunite me with my mom. After a few days, I finally accepted two offers of donations. One very kind stranger funded the bulk of this trip, paying for my round trip flight from Denver to St. Louis, hotel room, rental car, food and gas expenses, and even pet sitting money for someone to watch my pets while I’m out of town.
I was hesitant to accept the help but grateful for this opportunity provided to me. Without the Reddit community and the kindness of complete strangers, I wouldn’t have been able to say my goodbyes or look my mom in her eyes to and tell her how much I love her.
The trip was a complete surprise to her. As I walked down the hallway and saw my mom, I thought I may have been in the wrong room. I could not recognize her with how much weight she had lost since I saw her two months prior. I knocked on the door and said, ‘Hey…mom…’ She slowly lifted her head and said, ‘Oh! Hi!’ I sat next to her with tears in my eyes, my throat swelling up. I put my hand on hers. She gave me a gentle squeeze. ‘What…how did you get here?!,’ she asked. I explained to her what Reddit was and a little bit about the kind stranger. ‘Tell them… thank you,’ she muttered.
I held her hand and asked her if I could take a picture to show to the people who helped reunite us. She gave me her blessing. I quickly sent it to the kind Redditor who helped unite us. Then we sat there and listened to some of her favorite songs. She mostly wanted to listen to Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’ on repeat with her eyes closed while she gently bobbed her head. A few hours later, while she was napping, I posted the photo online to show the Reddit community my appreciation for the love and support they showed me.
My mom has always told my brother and I, ‘You are my greatest gift in life. You are what I was put on this earth for.’ She raised us to be kind, accepting, empathetic, loving people. To treat others the way we would want to be treated. I often think about where I may have ended up or what my life would have been like if she hadn’t adopted us. And whenever I think about that, I become more appreciative for the life she has given me. And now I want to live that life to the fullest.
Mother’s aren’t perfect. But we owe them our respect and gratitude for the gifts they have given us. I’m so grateful for the mother I was given, as well as the opportunity to spend my very last Mother’s Day with her. I will cherish this forever.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Alex West of Aurora, Colorado. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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