SOMETIMES YOU JUST NEED TO GET UP, DUST YOURSELF OFF, AND GO FISHING.
Over the years, turning the calendar to May always brought anticipation and joy for me. The arrival of Striped Bass season it is a time that feels like the doors to catching fish are ready to blow open at any moment. However, eleven years ago May was very different as were the upcoming months through to the rest of year. That was the time my mother started not feeling so well. It started with her going for some simple tests, but when those tests yielded no answers, there were more tests. At the end of that month she went to see a specialist in the city to discuss her symptoms. The results were not good. My mother was diagnosed with small oat cell lung cancer that had metastasized in the brain. If you don’t know about this type of cancer, it is one of those cancers that by the time it is diagnosed, it has often already spread to other areas, usually the brain. Hearing the results of that meeting with the doctor was one of the hardest things I have ever had to hear. Especially that it had spread to the brain. The rush of emotions running through my head were overwhelming, and I had to leave the room. The last thing my mom needed to see was me losing it. She was overwhelmed herself, along with my father and sisters.
All I could think was “Now what?”. Here was my first friend, the person who helped mold me into who I had become as an adult, entering a fight of her life. I felt helpless to help the person who had helped me so much in my own life. Talk about a hopeless feeling. I would never wish that feeling on anyone. What a lonely place, but at the same time, I couldn’t imagine what was going through my mom’s head or how she was trying to absorb what she had just been told.
The car ride home that evening was somber and quiet. After leaving my parents house, I couldn’t stop thinking of what was happening and how this new reality seemed so unreal. It was, to say the least, upsetting. When I got home to my own family. I really didn’t feel like talking- as is usually the case when something upsetting is happening in my life. So I went to bed.
The next day I spoke to my mom. Initially she did not want to get any treatment, but the next day she changed her position. She decided to get radiation treatments. In the years that followed, I’ve always wondered if she did the treatments for us. Soon after that initial diagnosis things started to go downhill. Mom had a bunch of setbacks not only with the cancer but due to the treatments as well. Nothing was really helping and her health deteriorated. I went to my parent’s house daily to see her. I took rides with her to the treatments, trying also to help my dad with things. This was my daily routine- even more so when school got out for summer (besides guiding, I have been a public school teacher for 24 years). I look back at those days now and say I was truly blessed to have had that time off to spend with my mom. As the spring moved into the early summer, mom’s condition became grave and they took one more shot by giving her chemo treatments. By then my family and I knew it was just prolonging the inevitable. My mom eventually lost her battle to the disease, surrounded by her loving family on July 23, 2011 after just one night in hospice care.
The passing of my mom was the darkest day of my life. The days, weeks, and months following were a blur. Anyone who has lost a parent knows exactly what I am talking about. It is a club you don’t want to be in. Over the next months I was a recluse. Friends and family would ask me to do things and my answer was always no- even to my annual trip to Maine with my wife and daughter. They wound up going with my in laws instead. I couldn’t leave home for several reasons. I just didn’t want to do anything, and the very last thing I wanted to do was be around people. I also felt the need to be around for dad who was dealing with his own grief and might need my support.
The reality was it was me who needed to be around him. I needed his support. He really helped me a lot through this period, and he probably didn’t even realize it- he probably will find out from reading this article. Besides not wanting to be around people or be social, I just didn’t want to do anything. House chores and many “life things” were just plain neglected. The thought of picking up a fishing rod and going fishing seemed a million miles away. Going fishing never even entered my mind. I just wanted to be left alone, and I was dreading returning to school in September. I wasn’t up to hearing all over again the “I’m sorry to hear about your mom” and all the other things people say when they don’t really know what to say. I just didn’t want to hear those things and have the emotions stir up again.
So the summer ended, and it so happened I was transferred to a position in a different school. This was a position where I didn’t have a lot of interaction with a lot of adults I knew. I was basically interacting with students and I was ok with that. I think this was a blessing in disguise as it helped me ease back into the new school year. Almost every day after school I stopped by to “check in” on dad to see how he was doing. Looking back on it, these days helped us both.
One day after leaving the “check in”, I noticed a truck next to me on the highway. It was fully rigged with rods and heading to the local beach for surf fishing. The rest of the way home I thought about that truck, thought about fishing and realized how much I missed it. That day I made the decision to “get back in the game”. Knowing my my mom, I knew it was what she would want me to do. So from that day on, the rest is history. Getting back into fishing brought me through the grieving process. There are still nights when I am out there in the suds and I think of my mom, even speak to her. In July of this year it will be 11 years since she passed away. She was always the “wind beneath my wings” and seems she still is.
In closing, when things get you down or you are dealing with some personal loss, remember that the person you are grieving would want you to continue to live life to the fullest and do the things you always loved to do. While it is not easy, stay positive, get up and dust yourself off. You will be better for it, and so will the people around you. I wish all of you a safe, great season. Enjoy the times with your friends and relatives. There is no price tag on time, so don’t waste it! At any moment your life can change, so Live the Passion! Tightlines!