In June, my high school A Capella choir was set to tour five countries in Europe. It was something that I deeply looked forward to. This was an auditioned group and the highest choir at my large high school, consisting of only juniors and seniors. I made the choir my junior year and honestly, that choir room provided some of the best comfort and relief to me throughout my high school days.
I could enter that room and get lost in the most beautiful music. We were led by the kindest, most talented director. I think what I loved the most was the ability to blend in and join the group effort of creating incredible art. I could be lost for that 42-minute period of my day. The sense of belonging was strong and it was earned.
My dad always wanted one of his kids to go on this trip of a lifetime. As the youngest, I was his last chance. I actually joined the choir in junior high, with the specific intent to go on this European tour that happened every other year. I had always enjoyed being in choir and was so excited about this trip.
I was also very torn about leaving town. My mom was so sick, and at this point, my dad depended on me to do a lot of things at home. As I prepared to go, The Dude and I were spending more and more time together, and I was really sad to leave him and our burgeoning relationship.
My dad pulled me aside one day before the trip and told me that without a doubt, I was going to go and I was going to enjoy myself. He told me that I was not allowed to call home… not one single time. He wanted me to be focused on the trip and to have fun, which was very thoughtful but would prove extremely hard to do.
I boarded the plane with some of my closest friends for two weeks of travel, adventure, memories, and music. Even though my dad wanted me to leave and just immerse myself in the experience, my fears and sadness ended up coming along anyway.
One of my best friends, Kirstin, was my roommate for the trip and, oh my gosh, we really had so much fun. Dina and Michelle were also really close friends who knew everything that was going on in my life, and we could not have had more fun spending time together, wandering the streets of Europe, performing in amazingly beautiful churches and cathedrals.
There were other great friends who were super supportive. Moff was one of my best friends in high school and he initiated praying with me in every church that we visited. We would pray for my mom and other friends, from other faiths, would join us including Chuck, Michelle, Jill, Dina, Kirstin, and Dave. It was really incredible and powerful and just such a beautiful thing that we were able to experience together.
It is hard to describe the peace that this brought me. But, I’ll try. My mind would be absolutely full to the brim with worries and fears. When my friends would gather with me, intentionally focusing their energy on mine, it was as if a calm would literally wash over my soul from head to toe. Even if we chose to sit and pray in silence, the space I was in would shift, and I would draw from a new sense of determination and strength.
I never did call home. In the time we were gone, most of my friends phoned home at least once, most twice. I succinctly remember watching friends on payphones throughout the five countries, sharing their experiences, and laughing with their parents and siblings. Everybody was getting news of things at home and I simply did not. That was hard, but I was faithful, prayerful, and hopeful.
When we got home, my dad picked me up at O’Hare airport and we got to the car and on the front seat was a card. My dad was smiling and told me to read the card. It was from my sister letting me know that she was pregnant. I was going to be an aunt! I was so excited about that.
Wow! Amazing news!
Then, instead of heading for home, we drove straight to the hospital. My dad told me that we had to get to the hospital right away because my mom’s cancer had spread to her brain while I was gone and she was really declining rapidly.
Wow. Devastating news.
Apparently, she did not always know who people were or what was happening around her. I was in the car, racing to the hospital with my dad, terrified my mom wouldn’t know who I was, regretting that I never called.
It was a bad, bad feeling. I felt as if the world had opened up underneath me and was starting to swallow me whole. The energy and joy I felt from the trip evaporated and re-formed into fear, to terror actually.
We arrived at the hospital. I remembered I bought my mom a souvenir potholder from Germany. I dug through my bags to bring it in. I was exhausted from the roller coaster ride of coming home with caution in my heart, finding out I was going to be an aunt, and then learning my greatest fear of my mom getting worse while I was gone had come true.
I was scared.
I had the potholder in my hand as we went into my mom’s room. She did know me. She was very weak—obviously very, very sick. I laid the potholder on her hands and she smiled. I thought the potholder would be a good gift because my mom loved being in our kitchen. She loved cooking, entertaining, and maybe most importantly, she loved sitting on the phone and talking to her friends. I was able to spend some good moments with her that day.