As I was cleaning up my younger daughter's room the other day, I found a piece of yellow paper folded carefully. It was sitting on her desk beneath a combination lock.
As I opened it, I recognized the handwriting immediately. My mother had written it. Not only did she write it, but she wrote it less than three weeks before she was diagnosed with a malignant inoperable brain tumor called glioblastoma.
I quickly got my reading glasses and took it to my desk so that I could study it under better light. She had written out directions for my daughter about the combination for the lock. On each line she had carefully described in great detail which way my daughter needed to turn the dial and to what number. I studied it closely, looking at her familiar handwriting for any clue as to what was going on inside her brain at the time. I looked at like letters, to see if the "t" looked the same on each line. But nothing, I mean nothing, gave me pause.
Over the past two months since my mother's diagnosis, her friends have shared their reflective concerns. She just looked tired to me. She just didn't seem right. She was late, that wasn't like her. She seemed confused.
These same friends had urged her to see a doctor. And the irony of the situation is that she did see doctors all the time. She was a stickler about getting regular check-ups and staying on top of any medical issues. She had voiced some complaints about forgetfullness and confusion here and there to her doctors, but she and they thought it was just age.
Unfortunately, I didn't see her enough in these intervening months to notice anything amiss myself. In many ways, I think deep in her heart she knew instinctively that something was very wrong, something that couldn't be easily fixed, and she was right.
When a loved one becomes terminally ill, we all play Monday morning quarterback and try to figure out when things went so terribly wrong and why. But in all honesty, none of this is going to improve the situation. Do I wish my mom had been diagnosed earlier? You bet. Would it have made a difference in the ultimate outcome of her condition? Probably not.
So, while I know I will continue to look for clues, they won't ever give me what I really want, which is for this whole nightmare to go away.
I folded up the paper and tried to return it to my daughter's desk.
"Mommy, what are you doing with Maddie's secret instructions?" she said, scolding me and grabbing the paper from my hand.
"Nothing, sweetie," I replied, handing it back to her sheepishly.
"Well, erase it from your mind. It's my secret combination, and I don't want anybody but me and her knowing it," she said.
Your secret is safe with me.