I always wanted to have my kids three years apart. I don’t know when that idea nestled itself into my brain, but I know that it was long before I had kids, got married, or had even met my husband. Three years apart, that was the plan.
It’s amazing to me the timing of the way my life has unfolded, especially around the arrival of my first son, Will. My mom had been diagnosed with cancer a year and a half before he was born; her cancer seemed stable at that moment in time, the doctor said if it continued to stay at its current place, she could have a lot of years left. Life continued on as normal – my husband and I decided to set our roots down in Tennessee and bought a house. It also seemed a good a time as any for my husband and I to start a family.
Anyone who knows me knows that when I set out to do something, I never go half-assed about it. One would think that buying a house, having a baby, and having a mother battling stage IV breast cancer would be enough on anyone’s plate, but not mine. I also made the decision to go back to school; obtaining a nurse practitioner degree had always been a dream of mine, and I made the decision to go back to school just 6 weeks after my son was born. The program was just 12 months – I could be finished before my son hit the toddler stage and became very busy. It was difficult going to school full-time and working part-time while my son was so tiny, but I told myself that he wouldn’t remember the time that his mama was gone away from him; having a mom with a better schedule as a nurse practitioner would give us all a better family life in the long run.
I graduated with my degree in August of 2015, just one month after Will’s first birthday. No job prospects in sight, I began the fruitless endeavor of searching for my dream career. Interview after interview, I would become excited about a new job opportunity, only to have the door slammed in my face again; not enough experience, too long of a commute, or not the right fit were just a few of the reasons why I never landed a job. I was taking the rejection pretty terribly; I felt like I was letting my family down after all of the sacrifices that they had made to allow me to go back to school. On top of that, my mother’s health started failing. The pain that she would occasionally feel in her spine was becoming a regular occurrence, and her fighting spirit was diminishing. Guilt and anger began residing deep down in my soul. Two terrible things happening simultaneously in my life, and I had control over neither.
One of my coping mechanisms became running. I had never run a race before, and suddenly I felt I needed to fight for something. I couldn’t stop the cancer from taking over my mom’s body, but I could control the distance I needed to run. My marathon became a fundraiser for breast cancer research, and despite my mom going into hospice just weeks before the race, I ran it in her honor.
Christmas came and went. I knew that Christmas would be Mom’s last. I told my mom that I was looking forward to a new year, and I distinctly remember her saying “Katie, I can’t promise you that next year is going to be any better”. I think she knew before any tests or doctors or labs confirmed that her cancer was catching up to her. I made it a point after that statement to visit her once a month. January, February, and March of the new year brought me back home to Ohio to see my mom. For some trips I would bring Will with me; she just loved seeing that little boy, he was the light of her life. Other times, I came alone so that I could cook dinners for my mom and dad and stock the freezer full of meals and smoothie mixes.
The last weeks of her life are an absolute blur, and I still cannot believe how the timing of all of it had played out.
- April 15th: Mom entered hospice care.
- April 19th: My Dad and I share our birthday – I race home to celebrate our last birthday with her here.
- April 30th: Half-Marathon.
- May 1st: Drive home to Ohio, pack up the car, and then head to the Finger Lakes in New York for our last trip with Mom. Spend a week on Lake Chautauqua, renting a beautiful home and making memories together.
- May 8th: Spend week at parents’ house in Ohio with Will.
- May 14th: Drive back to Tennessee. Will and my husband leave for his family’s vacation in NC. I drive back to Ohio. At this point, my husband tells me to pack a bag and plan to stay there until Mom passes, no matter how long it takes.
- May 23rd: Mom dies at home.
I look back on that time, and I am so thankful that I was able to be home for so much of my mother’s last weeks. Because I hadn’t found a new job, I was still only working part-time as a nurse on a unit. My work was completely understanding and gave me all of the days that I needed off to be home with my mom and dad. My dad worked for a small company, so he wasn’t given the option of FMLA, meaning I was the primary care provider for my mom during her time at home in hospice.
A few months after my mom passed, I started settling back into my life in Tennessee again. I increased my hours to full-time on the floor where I was working. I had a few more interviews during that time, but mentally I was not in a great place to begin a new career. One interview in particular actually went so badly that I fled the office, but not before the interviewer saw me burst into tears. Returning to a full-time position in the NICU was a wonderful solution for me at that moment in my life: I knew the people, I knew the routine, and my work taking care of a very sick, very vulnerable population gave me a purpose. The thought of beginning a job in pediatric primary care, the degree I worked so hard to obtain, suddenly held no importance to me. I no longer yearned to take care of mildly sick children. After watching my mother die a long, painful death, listening to moms and dads complain about their children’s runny noses and belly aches no longer appealed to me.
I was too close to see it at the time, but everything eventually sorted itself out. I can now look back on that hard season of my life and see the plan that God had for me. Had I wanted to have my children two years apart, I would have either been very pregnant and unable to travel during the last month of my mother’s life, or I would have had a newborn baby while grieving the loss of her. If I had found a new job, I would have never been able to take all of the time necessary to take care of her. Exactly a year after my mom’s death, I began a new job in a place that I absolutely love. I never thought my career would have lead me down this road, but here I am, with a group of co-workers that already feel like family. While I do not believe that everything happens for a reason, I do believe in the power of hope. Have hope that your journey through this life will bring you to joy.