Short Stories

Mom's Last Surgery & What It All Means Now

November 17, 2014 marked one of the strangest and toughest days for me and my family.

It all started around 4am, when my mom, sister, cousin, and I trekked to the Loma Linda Hospital to face the inevitable. Mom's endometrial tumor had returned in a monstrous form, and her surgeon was going to do his best to save her.

We pulled up to the curb in front of the hospital. I couldn't help but giggle as Mom climbed out of the car in her massive fur lined trench coat. She wore nothing but a semi-skimpy nightgown underneath, and her feet were protected by her flimsy house slippers.

While this was an unconventional way to show up at the hospital, she was still as regal and beautiful as ever.

We waited to be taken to the OR prep room and Mom was in pain. She'd sit for a few minutes and then slowly pull herself up to stand. The tumor pushed against her pelvis, making it nearly impossible to sit for any length of time. I could see the discomfort she felt in her brow -- it furrowed, she frowned.

"Mom, I just love your outfit," I said in an effort to make her smile. It worked for a few seconds.

"At least I'm warm. It's freezing in here. And by the way, if I don't make it out of here alive, I want you to bury me in this thing."

She was always cold, that feisty mother of ours.

Eventually we were led to a prep room, where various medical personnel hustled around in an attempt to get Mom's vital stats and info. The four of us tried our best to fit around her rickety hospital bed.

Mom was on fire with her quick wit, and I was filled with adrenaline -- wondering how this last ditch surgery was going to play out.

Before we knew it, they were ready to transport her to the OR.

"Anyone want to go with her?" asked the woman tasked with transporting her.

I headed out the automatic doors with them, and we began the trek. We passed a massive bank of windows. The early morning rays enveloped the hallway.

Mom looked outside and was awed by what she saw

"Oh, what a beautiful morning," she said.

Tears formed in my eyes as I looked outside. "It really is, Mom. It's so beautiful."

She always taught me to enjoy the simple joys of nature. It was so her to point out beauty, even when being wheeled into a terrifying surgery.

We were taken into another prep area. It was freezing cold and stark white. Mom asked for me to get her a pile of blankets. As she began to warm up, she voiced a thought that made my stomach drop.

"Jen, you know what scares me most? That they won't be able to take the tumor out. What if it's too big? What will I do then?"

I looked into her eyes and stroked her head. She was almost panicking. I tried my best to comfort and soothe her, as she did when I was a little girl.

"They'll get it Mom, they'll get it."

An anesthesiologist approached us with a massive needle to numb her from the waist down.

"Hold my hand," she sweetly asked.

The pinch was severe enough for her to shriek a bit. She squeezed my hand with everything she had in her -- or at least it felt that way.

Once the torture was over, her doctor walked up to the gurney and hugged us both.

"You're going to get it, right?" Mom asked.

He took her hand and looked at her endearingly. "We've got a good chance. I'm going to do my best. Gonna do my best for you."

Prior to her final departure to the OR, I said a short prayer with her. I thanked the universe for my beautiful, unconditional mom -- and asked for her to be given peace whatever the outcome.


The surgery was expected to last 12 or more hours.

"If we run into complications, we'll call you," her doctor had promised. In the meantime, I was getting texts from the OR as to how things were going.

Janine is now sleeping peacefully. 

The area is being sanitized and surgery will begin shortly.

Janine is stable and everything is going well.

The doctor has opened the abdominal cavity and things are proceeding nicely.

A few more texts streamed in, but about an hour in they stopped.

About 20 minutes went by and there still wasn't any word.

My phone rang...

"Hi Jennifer, this is Dr. Gomez."

My heart began beating so fast that I thought it was going to explode.

"I'm sorry. We tried so hard, but the tumor is too large. It's connected to too many things. We have to close her up."

"That's it?" I asked. "What do we do?"

"Just enjoy her while she's here. Just love her."

"How long does she have?"

"I'd say two or three months. I'm so sorry."

I hung up and sobbed.

How was I supposed to deal with this? How was I going to tell Mom? How was I going to tell my siblings?


It had been about two hours since the doctor called. I was getting antsy as I waited for word that Mom was being transported from the recovery room.

The call finally came, but it wasn't quite what I expected.


I assumed it would be a nurse.

"Jennifer... it's... Mom."

Her voice was faint and broken.


"Yes, it's me. Ah... they couldn't get it."

I was shocked that she knew already.

"They told you!?"

I was upset that she was told when she was all alone.

"Yes, we have some things to talk about."

"Are you okay?"

Tears were flowing down my face again.

"Yes, I'm okay. I had... a feeling this was going to happen. Just come up to see me... please."


They say in life that things never happen the way you expect them to. I never in a million years thought my Mom would have cancer, let alone die from it. And once again, there was a massive twist to it all.

I had envisioned consoling her about her death sentence, yet she was more prepared to calm and protect me, her child.

It figures, though...

That's how heroes roll. Especially, Janine my ultimate hero.


We're nearing two years since her death - January 17, 2015. She lived exactly two months to the day that I received the call from Dr. Gomez.

What does it mean to me now?

It means everything, really.

I had a few horrible days recently -- in which I couldn't quite catch my bearings. I was tired, overworked, and feeling off.

Instead of giving myself a break for dealing with the pains and strangeness of spending my second Christmas and New Year without my Mom, I judged and pushed myself. I bought into the idea that I was weak and insecure, rather than admitting I was exhausted and overwhelmed.

I'm reminding myself today, that it's okay to feel and to hurt once in a while... and make mistakes. It's even okay if people around you don't get it.

While the pains of life inspire the ego to harden up, I want to continue to soften. To love. And forgive. Both myself and others.

Above all, I can't forget that my magnificent mother's blood rages within my veins. I want to share in her sense of wonder that was even alive and well as she was being carted off to surgery. Oh, to marvel at the rays of morning sun, rather than being blinded by the fear of the unknown.


When I walked into my Mom's room in the hospital that shitty day in November, my sister joined me. We were both nervous.

Mom saw us and held out her hand. I sat next to her and wrapped my arms around her.

We were entering a new era -- a scary one.

Mom continued to throw out silly jokes. My sister made sure Mom's breakfast was ordered for the next day.

And we were happy, just to have Mom for another moment.

The Moon, Mom & Me

This evening I packed up some dinner and took it to a quiet spot overlooking a canyon to watch the eclipse. I've always had a thing with the moon -- maybe because I loved the book "Goodnight Moon," or better yet, I grew up overlooking a massive canyon and befriended it over and over again.

As a kid, it felt so good knowing that my parents were tucked in their beds or roaming around the house as I peered out my bedroom window in awe of the moon. I'll never forget hearing the sound of crickets chirping and the huge full white disc blazing in the sky.

While watching this evening, I couldn't help but think about how much my mom would have liked to have been there with me. We had a knack for not missing out on the beautiful things in life.

Without asking for the memory, my mind took me to a moment that occurred this past December, a few days before Christmas.

That night I heard the sound of a firetruck. It kept ringing and ringing. Mom and I assumed there must have been a big accident near her house.

"Maybe I should go see what is happening," I said. Mom looked at me with sad eyes, as she could barely stand up anymore and couldn't get down the stairs to go with me. Her cancer was making her more immobile each day.

Her sadness was about much more than the fact that she felt horrible. It was so much more.

It was tied to the past. Our past. When I was a kid, Mom would hear sirens in town and suggest we go figure out what was going on. We'd run down to the garage, jump in the car, and adventure into the day or night in search of an accident, emergency, or fire.

Once we came upon a blazing structure fire. Another time, we discovered a few cars had crashed in an intersection. And sometimes, we couldn't come up with anything. Regardless, we'd navigate the streets together and giggle as we knew we were being a bit silly... following sirens and all.

"Should I go?" I asked Mom last December eve. "I think I should see what's up and I can tell you what I find."

"Go then," she responded dryly. She wasn't happy... I knew it, but I couldn't help it.

To be honest, I needed to leave for a bit. I craved to escape, to breathe, and have a moment to myself. I needed some joy and lightness. Even if it were for 10 minutes. Watching Mom wither away was killing me inside.

And so I drove off into the dark night - without her.

A few blocks away I came across something unexpected. A firetruck roaming through town with its lights blazing and siren ringing -- pulling Santa Claus on a sleigh.

When I saw what it was, I started bawling -- wishing my partner in crime could have come with me. I pulled out my phone and took a video... just for Mom.

When I got home, I ran upstairs to deliver the news. That Santa was in town for the kids to see. I pulled out the video to show her.

It played.

Mom bawled her eyes out. "I wish I could have gone, Jen. I wanted to go with you!"

We both sobbed and held each other. We knew our adventuring days together were over.

So tonight, as the moon went into full eclipse, that painful moment played through my mind as though it were yesterday.

I wished she could have been there with me. I wasn't chasing sirens, but I was experiencing something special. A moment that I knew was coming for weeks and had hoped would stir my soul - or maybe give me a revelation about how to live my future.

The wind rustled the nearby trees. At one point, I swore I could hear Mom whisper a bit, "I'm here. Don't worry, I'm here."

I had a good cry.

My lesson tonight was bittersweet -- I felt the same awe as I did as a child. Peering at the moon as it turned soft red at times and a bit black at others.

It's wild -- the silence you feel when someone you love isn't there to adventure with you anymore. The moon still shines. The breeze still blows. And my heart, it still beats.

The only question is - "Where do I go from here?"

I guess in time I'll know.

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein

Once there was a tree....
and she loved a little boy.
And everyday the boy would come
and he would gather her leaves
and make them into crowns
and play king of the forest.
He would climb up her trunk
and swing from her branches
and eat apples.
And they would play hide-and-go-seek.
And when he was tired,
he would sleep in her shade.
And the boy loved the tree....
very much.
And the tree was happy.
But time went by.
And the boy grew older.
And the tree was often alone.
Then one day the boy came to the tree
and the tree said, "Come, Boy, come and
climb up my trunk and swing from my
branches and eat apples and play in my
shade and be happy."
"I am too big to climb and play" said
the boy.
"I want to buy things and have fun.
I want some money?"
"I'm sorry," said the tree, "but I
have no money.
I have only leaves and apples.
Take my apples, Boy, and sell them in
the city. Then you will have money and
you will be happy."
And so the boy climbed up the
tree and gathered her apples
and carried them away.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time....
and the tree was sad.
And then one day the boy came back
and the tree shook with joy
and she said, "Come, Boy, climb up my trunk
and swing from my branches and be happy."
"I am too busy to climb trees," said the boy.
"I want a house to keep me warm," he said.
"I want a wife and I want children,
and so I need a house.
Can you give me a house ?"
" I have no house," said the tree.
"The forest is my house,
but you may cut off
my branches and build a
house. Then you will be happy."

And so the boy cut off her branches
and carried them away
to build his house.
And the tree was happy.
But the boy stayed away for a long time.
And when he came back,
the tree was so happy
she could hardly speak.
"Come, Boy," she whispered,
"come and play."
"I am too old and sad to play,"
said the boy.
"I want a boat that will
take me far away from here.
Can you give me a boat?"
"Cut down my trunk
and make a boat," said the tree.
"Then you can sail away...
and be happy."
And so the boy cut down her trunk
and made a boat and sailed away.
And the tree was happy
... but not really.

And after a long time
the boy came back again.
"I am sorry, Boy,"
said the tree," but I have nothing
left to give you -
My apples are gone."
"My teeth are too weak
for apples," said the boy.
"My branches are gone,"
said the tree. " You
cannot swing on them - "
"I am too old to swing
on branches," said the boy.
"My trunk is gone, " said the tree.
"You cannot climb - "
"I am too tired to climb" said the boy.
"I am sorry," sighed the tree.
"I wish that I could give you something....
but I have nothing left.
I am just an old stump.
I am sorry...."
"I don't need very much now," said the boy.
"just a quiet place to sit and rest.
I am very tired."
"Well," said the tree, straightening
herself up as much as she could,
"well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting
Come, Boy, sit down. Sit down and rest."
And the boy did.
And the tree was happy.

Wisdom & the Woman in the Cafe

I once met a most amazing woman. She was 96-years-old going on 21. There was a brightness in her eyes that drew me to her instantly. And of coarse everyone who knows me well cringes when I find a stranger that I find intriguing. There is nothing that will keep me from striking up a conversation with whomever my target may be...

Her name was Margie and her eyes were as blue as the Caribbean sea and her warm smile could melt the iciest of hearts.

I struck up a conversation with her at a small cafe in Laguna Beach, California. I asked how she was doing, and she said, "Couldn't be better! What a beautiful day it is!"

I then asked her if she was always as optimistic and thrilled about life as she seemed. "You know...I have always just been amazed at how wonderful the world is. There is always something new to learn and projects to throw yourself into."

"Do you have a large family? Any children living by or grand kids?"

"No dear. I never had children and I'm the last living person in my immediate family."

I didn't quite know what to say...just looked into her eyes and held her gaze for a bit.

"Don't feel sorry for me dear," she instructed. "My life has been so very full. I am never bored and rarely lonely. I have great friends, and I travel around town a lot. Really, I feel that the world is my oyster."

It struck me as we spoke that Margie is a warrior. She has built a life of meaning out of less then optimum conditions (as measured by the majority of the world). I wanted to give her a huge hug and thank her for her boldness.

"If you could give me any advice on living a full life what would it be?" I asked.

"Hmm...well...I would say laugh as much as you can. Drink in the beauty that surrounds you each and every moment. And for goodness sakes don't ever mope around when life throws you a lemon. There is no excuse for moping around because there is always someone out there that has it tougher than you. Oh...and one more interested in the things around you -- seek knowledge. You should never be bored because there is so much you can learn."

I basked in the sunlight of her knowledge and willingness to share for near an hour, and then realized that I needed to get back to work. "Margie, I have absolutely loved our conversation. I love your attitude..."

As I spoke I realized that Thanksgiving was in a couple weeks, I asked her if she had plans. "No dear," she said. And for a moment her eyes revealed a bit of sorrow, as she was human after all. "Well, why don't you come and spend it with my family?," I asked. She thanked me for my offer but said that she would rather spend it on her own. A few seconds later her sadness was overcome by the spark that I first saw in her.

I don't quite know what to say about my encounter in full. Margie was a woman with an amazing outlook on life, and she was without a doubt human - with ups and downs.

The world we live in is amazing -- we can learn so much from people like Margie. And at the same time, we can move outside of our comfort zones, our gated communities and closed knit groups of friends/family members and continually widen it. Our family is the human race.

I wish that Margie would have accepted my invitation to Thanksgiving dinner. I wish I could have asked her if she had a fear of human connection...for maybe she feels that everyone leaves eventually. And i wish I would have been bold enough to insist and to adopt her into my family until the day she takes her last breath. And maybe even be the person who one day holds her hand on her deathbed.  This is what really should have happened.

Today, I'd like to honor Margie -- her unforgettable spark and to plea with all who read this message to reach out and to insist that no one have to go at it alone in this world. We are one human family - be bold enough to keep widening your family circle while seeking meaning, truth and that internal/external spark for life & love that will transform your world.

- Jen Engevik

Project BeBold

The Parable of the Pencil

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The Pencil Maker took the pencil aside, just before putting him into the box.

"There are 5 things you need to know," he told the pencil, "Before I send you out into the world. Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best pencil you can be."

"One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in Someone's hand."

"Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, but you'll need it to become a better pencil."

"Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make."

"Four: The most important part of you will always be what's inside."

"And Five: On every surface you are used on, you must leave your mark. No matter what the condition, you must continue to write."

The pencil understood and promised to remember, and went into the box with purpose in its heart. Now replacing the place of the pencil with you.  Always remember them and never forget, and you will become the best person you can be.

One: You will be able to do many great things, but only if you allow yourself to be held in the Universe's/God's hand. And allow other human beings to access you for the many gifts you possess.

Two: You will experience a painful sharpening from time to time, by going through various problems in life, but you'll need it to become a stronger person.

Three: You will be able to correct any mistakes you might make.

Four: The most important part of you will always be what's on the inside.

And Five: On every surface you walk through, you must leave your mark. No matter what the situation, you must continue to do your duties.

Allow this parable on the pencil to encourage you to know that you are a special person and only you can fulfill the purpose to which you were born to accomplish.

Never allow yourself to get discouraged and think that your life is insignificant and cannot make a change.

- Author Unknown

Make it a bold day!!!

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