“I want to go home”. Those were my Mom’s most memorable words, after “I love you”, just before she passed away from cancer.
At that moment, I thought I knew exactly what she meant. It was physical, not a call to God to take her, but a wish to be back in the house she had lived the majority of her adult life; the house where
she raised her two kids and watched them go off into the world; where she worked from and happily retired in. It was the home she shared with my Dad and the one in which she outlived him. Home
in every sense of the word.
So it came as somewhat of a shock, when one morning, too exhausted from radiation therapy to get out of bed, that I said in a high pitched, strained and desperate tone, the same words. It was as much of a surprise that I said it, as it was confusing. Did I mean England where I grew up and spent my 20s? Was it New Mexico, the only place in adult life that I’d lived for more than five years? Or was it not even a physical place?
As a curious and open-minded secularist, I knew it wasn’t heaven. But maybe, like all of us who live with chronic disease, it was more meta-physical than solid. Maybe for me it was being in the arms of my beloved parents, in the hold again of the only man I ever loved. Couldn’t that be home, too?
So maybe in searching for happiness, that’s the mistake that many of us make. It’s who we’re with, and not where we are, that defines the line between home and away. Or more accurately, it’s who we are when we’re with them. So maybe, after all, my Mom did want to be with my Dad, her love of over 50 years. I thought I knew but now I’m not so sure.
For many years, knowing that my cancer was incurable, I’ve asked myself where I would want to be when I died. But I realize now I’ve been asking the wrong question. And as undeniably fickle as life is, we have to make our choices from the options we have, not the ones we want.
Because trying to find release from unescapable pain, discomfort or fatigue, can make you feel homeless if a place of serenity is not in your life. Isn’t that what anyone wants or feels when they are home, whether it’s a place or a state. A sense of peace, a feeling of being at one with your surroundings. Maybe that’s what I was searching for in that moment. To be anywhere else but here. In front of a beautiful mountain range, the sunset drifting down over the snowcapped peaks, or even better, to be there in the arms of someone who loves me? Wherever home is, for those with chronic disease, it can often be illusive. But isn’t that one of the challenges for any of us? To realize that peace comes from within, not from where we are.
Kay Kerbyson PhD is founder and former president of Ovarian Cancer Together Inc, and organization which supports and networks survivors while educating the public about this terrible disease. She lives in West Richland with her two daughters. Contact her at Kay@ovariancancertogether.org.