Five years ago, almost to the day, I was taking my mother to the New Orleans airport as Hurricane Katrina was barrelling toward the city. She didn't want to leave me. She was afraid of the approaching storm but more afraid of leaving me and my babies behind. I told her she had no choice. If I evacuated, she would just be one more person in an already over-crowded car going I didn't know where.
As she entered the airport, people were literally offering her cash to sell her ticket to them. That's how frantic people were to leave the city. Later, after I did evacuate and eventually relocate, she told me leaving me and getting on that airplane was the hardest thing she'd ever had to do.
Tonight I sit here, suitcase packed, and in about 7 hours I will be boarding an airplane to go home to Memphis. It will be the hardest thing I've ever had to do.
I've spent the past week home here in Philadelphia helping care for my mom. She is fighting liver, lung and brain cancer. And I do mean fighting. The chemo is destroying her body, the radiation is zapping her brain, she is weak and tired. I've helped her in any way she needed, I've helped her try and preserve some dignity and I've tried to comfort her any way possible. But she's my mom. And I don't want to leave her like this. It's my turn to care for her.
My dad has generously offered to pay for me to change my ticket and stay. In fact he gave me the money to fly up here to begin with. But I've got six children, a family, two dogs and a job at home waiting on me as well. I've got to care for them too.
I've done a good job this week of holding myself together and staying strong for her. A few tears escaped, but in all I've held back. When mom felt good it was more important and more healing to laugh. And laugh we did. A lot of laughing.
But tomorrow, I will bravely say my goodbye for now, get on the plane and go home. I'm going to let her see me laughing as I leave. But once I'm on the plane and wheels up, well no guarantees I won't melt down.
It's my turn to get on a plane and leave people I love behind in a storm.