This was the summer that never happened. Just after Loudoun Benefit Horse Show in June, my mom began to suffer severe complications related to her cancer. And just like that, I was plucked out of horse show land and dropped into hospital land.
I struggled to find a balance between spending time in Virginia Beach and continuing to grow my fledgling business in Northern Virginia. Mom always encouraged me to keep going and never wanted me to miss an opportunity to further my career. She just about kicked me out of her hospital room when she learned that a friend and client had offered to fly me up to show her horses (one of whom was my most favorite horse when I was at Tebogo) in Lake Placid, N.Y.
Mom told me that the best thing I could do was go, enjoy myself and then come home and tell her all about it. That’s exactly what I did. Lots of people have asked me what they could do to help, how they could possibly make what I was going through any easier. I never knew what to say, but I realized at Lake Placid what the answer to that question was. Yes, I helped prepare the horses for their amateur rider to show for the following week; but they helped me remember how to smile and to find a little joy in the midst of a lot of sadness. This was the nicest thing anyone could have done.
As usual, I called mom on the way home. This was our ritual. I would show all week and then during the long trip home I would call mom and tell her about every round. She would share in my joy and in my disappointment and help the miles roll by. She was happy for me, but she was tired, and I knew little by little, I was losing her. These are the things they don’t tell you when your loved one is diagnosed with terminal cancer. You know you will watch them die, what you don’t know is that you will watch their spirit die long before their last breath. For me, this has been the hardest part.
For most of the summer, I lived in a twilight zone where no matter where I was I felt guilty that I wasn’t somewhere else. Guilty that I wasn’t with mom, guilty that I wasn’t at the farm. And you find that when you have limited time with someone you love, you put a disproportionate amount of pressure on making every moment count, which is unfair and unrealistic. Because, let’s face it, a lot of life’s moments are really pretty average and that’s OK.
One of the best moments I had with mom two weeks before she died, was sitting on her bed and watching Shark Week. Totally normal, no clanging cymbals of poignancy, just watching sharks on TV. But that was us. That was real.
The last two months brought the blurry reality of mom’s disease into devastating focus. During mom’s final hospital stay, we were surrounded by a swirl of resources and representatives who sold us on home hospice care and lots of reassuring pats on the back that everything would be better that way and they’d be there to help. What they should’ve said is, “We’re here to help, one hour a day. For the other 23, you’re on your own kid.” But frankly, I’m glad we didn’t know how hard it would be. I’m glad my sister and I waded into those waters unaware of just how deep they were.
And as tough as it is to get my business off the ground, I am so thankful I work for myself. I was able to be there for mom’s last weeks uninterrupted. I am fortunate to have good friends and neighbors who kept the horses going and customers who understood my situation. I value my freedom more than ever and really, things are going well.
I have the best group of young horses I’ve ever sat on, great customers and finally a more experienced horse to show over bigger fences. These are the opportunities I’ve been working for all these years, it’s all right here. There is a lot to be happy about. And yet, I find that every joy I experience is tainted by the fact that I can’t share it with my mom. Every happiness is somehow less whole, every laugh is somehow tragic because I reflexively pick up my phone to tell her about it and cannot.
I realize now that losing mom wasn’t the hard part. Living the rest of my life without her is. Knowing that there will be a day next spring when I am planting my garden and can’t decide which flowers to put where. Knowing that I won’t read her handwriting on my next birthday card. Knowing that the scent of her perfume will fade from the things she touched. Knowing that my children will never see her blue/green eyes or feel her hands in their hair. Knowing that she can’t take me in her arms and hold me until this hurt fades. These are the things that take the air from my lungs. These are the things that are infinite and unwieldy to fathom.
Chronicle blogger and up and coming hunter/jumper trainer Paige Cade spent most of the 2015 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival working for Margie Engle’s Gladewinds Farm, and has recently made the decision to return to Virginia to start her own riding and training business, Country Fox Farm, Inc. Read all her blog entries.