Today, my mom would have been sixty-five years old.
Seven years ago, on her fifty-eighth birthday, she sat in a doctor’s office, unable to find a comfortable place in the chair, while she waited to receive the news she did not want to hear — the cancer was back.
I can still remember those nervous, little movements, like the seat was filled with pins, jabbing her into a constant shifting and adjusting, searching for a comfort she would not find in that office on that day.
I think the part she hated the most was leaving us, especially her grandkids. She wanted to stay. She wanted to help us, to protect us, to love us. She wasn’t ready to leave.
And we weren’t ready for her to leave.
But the choice isn’t ours. And shouldn’t be, really.
The office in which I worked during 2011 had a stack of bubble wrap. I don’t remember why — perhaps from a shipment. But I loved to pop the little plastic bubbles and had stashed a few sheets in the truck. Occasionally, I would share with the boys, but Younger was always frustrated by my refusing to allow him to just twist the wrap and pop multiple bubbles at once.
“It’s my stress relief, Younger,” I told him. “Nice and slow, one at a time.”
Because not only was my mother dying of cancer, but the office where I had worked for fifteen years had closed. My new job was only part-time and required that I return to college with the possibility (which they couldn’t guarantee, they told us, with a nudge and a wink) of full-time work when I graduated. I was the mother of two young boys, both in multiple sports. And Younger and his teacher had declared war on each other, and my ten-year-old son, who had previously had meltdowns over a few missed points, now no longer even attempted to earn the highest grade. And, of course, marriage is never easy and sometimes surviving for another day is the best we can do.
But for a few moments each day, I could focus on the small but triumphant sound of plastic bubbles crunching beneath my fingers, one single bubble at a time.
In April of 2011, Mom left us. And as my husband, my boys, and I were settling in the truck parked in my parents’ driveway, preparing to leave after our last few moments with her, I heard a small, soft voice ask, “Mom? Where’s the bubble wrap?”
And the soft pop-pop-pop of the bubbles accompanied us home.
I no longer pop bubble wrap. I can still hear that little voice from the back seat.
Besides, there’s not enough bubble wrap in the world.