I hate the smell of hospitals. I hate how the piercing, cold air smells like a mixture of the nasty cafeteria food and medicine. I always attempt to have a good attitude whenever I walk into this place, but between the aroma and the bright, white lights, I find myself complaining all too much. I mean, who am I to be complaining? I’m not the one dying of cancer.
Three years ago, Momma was diagnosed with lung cancer. She’d been smoking a lot of cigarettes, so it made sense that she got cancer in her lungs. She got into that habit after Daddy died. She used to be happy and healthy. Well, we all used to be happy. But when Daddy died, things changed. We didn’t laugh as much as we used to, Jasmine, my older sister, and Momma started having more arguments, and Ethan, my older brother, and I got left out more as the years went by.
My family hasn’t always been like this. Before Daddy passed away, my family would go on fun trips to the lake, go camping, and other normal, fun family things. It’s hard to do that now, though. Momma has to stay at the hospital all the time. It’s a rare time that she can even come home. Once in awhile she can even go to church, but not too often. Jasmine, Ethan and I spend time with her all of the time, though. In fact, Jasmine is takes care of her all the time. I feel bad for Jasmine, though. She was gonna go to college and study to be a teacher, but she decided not to because Momma got diagnosed with cancer. Jasmine has done so much for Momma. She also helps Ethan and I in so many ways. I am so thankful for her.
Today is Saturday, which means, we are at the hospital all day.
While Ethan and I try to take care of our school work inside the waiting room, Jasmine is helping Momma by talking to doctors, feeding her, etc.
“I wish you’d just let me take care of myself! I don’t need your help!” We hear Momma shout from her hospital room.
“Well, if that’s how you really feel!” And suddenly we see Jasmine slam the room door and run down the hall.
I decide to chase after her.
“Jasmine!” I try to yell for her. She whips her head back at me.
“Layla, go back to the waiting room! I will be okay.” She loudly responds back from all the way at the end of the hallway at the elevator.
I understood her. This has happened before. So, I decide to go back to the waiting room and spend time with Ethan.
Once I walk back over to the waiting room, a nurse comes up to me.
“Your mother wants to talk to you.”
I give her a quick nod and tell Ethan that I’ll be right back, then I knock lightly on Momma’s door and walk in.
She looks paler than normal. She used to be tan and smiley. Right now, she is pale, thin, and unhappy.
My heart drops when I see her. Everyday she seems to be fading away more and more.
“Hi, Layla-baby. How are you? Come give Momma a hug.” She tries to smile sweetly at me. I can see that there is hurt in her eyes from earlier with Jasmine.
“Hey, Momma. I’m doing good today. How about you?” I go and give her a hug and she strokes the top of my head and gives me a quick kiss as I awkwardly hug her from the side of the hospital bed.
“Mm, I missed my Layla. I’m much better now that you’re in here with me.” I get up and look at her and her eyes are glistening. The sunlight streams in from her window and lightens her face, and for a second, just a quick second, I have a small hope that she will recover from this sickness.
I smile back at her. “I missed you too, Momma. I’m glad you asked me to come in, actually. I was getting tired of doing homework.” I give her a little giggle.
“Oh, I love your laugh. You are so wonderful, you know that right?” She gleams at me. I grab her hand and hold tight.
It hurts me to see her like this. I wish there was just a magical solution she could drink to make her cancer go away. I wish none of this happened.
“Thanks, Momma.” I let go of her hand. “ How are you and Jasmine?” I ask her. Her smile slowly starts fading.
“Oh, baby. We’re okay. We just need some cool-off time. I’m sure she’s in the cafeteria taking a break from me.” She’s probably right. A lot of times after they get into arguments, Jasmine will hang out in the cafeteria and call her boyfriend. She deserves some cool-off time.
“Actually, Layla, can you go get your brother and sister and bring them in here so we can all eat lunch together?”
“Sure, Momma.” I affirm her as I start walking out the door. “Love you. I’ll be back soon.”
“I love you, Layla.” She says back to me as the sunlights streams on her face in the most beautiful way.
As I close the door to Momma’s room, I see Ethan looking at me in a concerned way.
“How’s she doing?” He asks me.
“Um, she’s alright. She doesn’t look the best right now, but she’s okay.” I try to give him a little grin. “She asked me to get you and Jasmine and go into her room. So, let go find Jasmine.” He stands up and we walk down to the cafeteria.
Jasmine is sitting at a two-chair table and she has a bowl of pasta in front of her, along with a large cup of hot coffee.
We approach her and she looks up at us. Her face is red and puffy. She has definitely been crying.
I decide to sit in the chair in front of her and Ethan stays standing and leans on my chair a bit.
“Hey, Momma asked for us all to eat lunch with her.” I tell Jasmine. She tries to avoid eye-contact and crosses her arms.
“Yeah, well, I’m not coming. She will have to eat lunch without me.” She says in a frustrated way.
“Jasmine, if Momma asks it, you gotta do it.” Ethan simply says back to Jasmine. She gives him a glare. “Look, I know you and Momma are upset with each other right now. I know it’s hard. But you need to forget about what mean things she’s saying to you. She needs you. We all do.” Ethan assures Jasmine. We all sit in silence for a few seconds. Both Ethan and I look at Jasmine and wait for her response.
“Well, fine. I’ll come with you guys.” She said and got up and drank the rest of her coffee and then went to get some more.
“Thank you. I’m sorry that that happened today.” I tell her and she smiles at me shyly.
“It’s fine. Happens all the time. I just need to toughen up.” She says back to me.
Ethan and I go get some food for lunch. I get a turkey sandwich and Ethan got some type of meat with mashed potatoes and green beans.
Once we have all we need, we all walk back to Momma’s room. Jasmine decides to just open the door without any warning to Momma whatsoever, but when we walk in, Momma looks delighted.
“Hi, babies.” She smiles at all of us. Ethan and I give her hugs. Jasmine decides to find a chair to sit in and finish her food and coffee.
Ethan and I sit down by the window and we all start eating our food.
“I am so glad you all are here. We haven’t been able to have a family meal for such a long time. Even though this isn’t my favorite place to do that, at least we are spending time together.” She gives us a small smile and I try to smile back.
The sunlight still hasn’t faded away. There is still hope that we won’t always be like this.
“Also, while you all are here, I have something important to talk to you about.” We all look up at her and she tries to sit up, but Jasmine rushes to her side and makes sure she doesn’t hurt herself. “Listen, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry about how hard this is on all of you. Thank you for being here for me and sacrificing so much of your lives for me. It means so much to me.” She stops for a second and takes a deep breath. “The doctor came in earlier this morning while you all were sleeping and told me how much longer I’ll probably have…” We all shift slightly. It feels like everything in this world stops suddenly. “I have about a year.”
‘About a year’. I have less than a year until Momma will pass away. I have less than a year until I am an orphan. I have less than a year until I’ll have to move in and live with my grandma and grandpa permanently and start a new life.
After we heard the news about how much time she has, we all decided to make everything about her. I skipped school often to spend time with her and same with Ethan. Jasmine stayed at the hospital all the time. We all tried desperately to help Momma live the rest of her life in the best ways possible.
I remember there was one day that we were able to bring her out to the beach.
Jasmine drove all of us in our mini-van. Momma was in the front seat and she had an oxygen tank with her. She coughed the whole ride. Ethan and I stayed in the back.
When we arrived at the beach, the sun was shining bright and the water was as clear as I’ve ever seen. I opened the van door on my side and I heard seagulls squawking and I could smell the freshness of the water.
Ethan helped Momma get out of the car and grabbed her oxygen tank for her. Jasmine turned the radio on in the car and the song, “I Melt With You” by Modern English starts playing. I brought some towels that we could all sit on. I laid one down on the ground for Momma and started asking her if she wanted to sit down, but then I saw her walking down to the water. Ethan followed closely behind her, but it was hard for him to catch up with her. I walked down to the water and I saw Momma stick her bare feet in the water. She stayed there, ankles deep in the water, and looked up at the sun.
We all gathered around her and she took a deep breath in. “Do you all wanna know a secret?” We all looked at each other, not sure of what to say.
“Sure, Momma. Tell us a secret.” Jasmine replied to her. Momma smiled.
“Since Daddy died, I have been trying to find where to look whenever I feel hopeless. I’ve been trying to get happier and back-to-normal. I tried to smoke, but that only made things worse. But throughout these years, the only thing consistent have been you all in my life. You all are my forever hope. You all are my happiness. My love.” She never stops looking up at the sun.
From that day on, I knew that everything would be okay.
When Momma passed away that year, it felt like all joy had been lost. I had gone to the worst of things for fulfillment.
But eventually, I realized the same thing that Momma had. The hope and happiness I need is in the people around me. It’s always been in them. It always will be.