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Hold them tight

Senior relates navigating life after mother's death

October 26, 2017

She jumps out of the water, and wraps a towel around her shivering body. Looking around, she can see the rest of the competitors, and she can see them beaming at their parents. She starts walking toward the crowd, on the other side of the pool. Thoughts about the race consume her, as she walks aimlessly in search of her mom, eager to talk to her.

But then she stops. Reality comes crashing down onto her in waves of grief as she remembers that her mother is no longer here. In that moment, she knows nothing else except the onslaught of memories whirling in her mind. She slowly turns around and trudges back to the swim team, trying to shake herself from the lingering stupor. Her mother wouldn’t want that, she thinks. She would want me to focus, and to be happy.

Senior Racheal Sizemore’s mother, Tammy Sizemore, passed away in June after battling recurrent cancer for four years. In the beginning of 2013, her mother had acquired breast cancer, but was able to overcome it through chemo treatments. In 2016, she was found to have acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and fought it for a year and a half.

“It was the middle of January when we found out that her body was rejecting her new bone marrow that she got from her transplant back in September. The doctor said that her leukemia was back and her treatments were going to be more harsh since none of the treatments before that was really working for her,” Sizemore said. “They said in order for her to live, she has to get a new bone marrow transplant. The doctors told us that if she doesn’t get a new bone marrow transplant, she will die. No questions about it.”

Despite the increasingly terrifying reality, Sizemore and her family remained positive, especially her mother.

submitted photo

“They were telling us that my aunt, [her donor], was a perfect 100 percent match, but it was too perfect. Her body thought it was her original bone marrow, the one she was born with. We had no idea, the doctors didn’t know that was going to happen. It was a shock,” Sizemore said. “My mom, she stayed really positive through it all because she had breast cancer before. She said, ‘Well if I can beat that, than I can beat this. So she stayed really positive throughout her whole situation, which was really good; she needed to stay positive.”

In the upcoming weeks, Sizemore’s mother’s health began to slowly deteriorate.

“The month before she passed away, the last time I saw her awake, and was talking her, was right before I went on a mission trip with my youth group. She was telling me how excited I was that I was doing this, and she was really excited to hear my trip when she got back,” Sizemore said. “So I went on the trip, and my dad and sister went and saw her while I was gone. I got back, and my dad told me that she’s not doing well. He said that they sedated her, and that they were trying to figure out other treatments they could do. He said that she doesn’t have much longer to live.”

The events that followed left her family in disarray; they were worried for her, and didn’t know where else to turn.

“We went down there–the whole family did. We were talking to the doctors, and they were saying that she was doing better that morning and that her white blood cell counts were doing good, not too high. They were going to start doing a new treatment for her that Friday,” Sizemore said. “So we were like, ‘Okay, that’s good, you got us all worried for nothing.’ So we get home, and my dad gets another call from them, and they say that her kidneys are starting to fail, and that she’s on life support. They said that they couldn’t do anything else for her and that they are sorry.”

After receiving the final news that her mother was not going to survive, her family had to come to the realization that this might be their last time to see their loved one.

Me and him just start bawling, in the middle of the gym, with everyone around us and all my co-workers.”

— Racheal Sizemore

“At 7:50, 10 minutes before I got off of work, my dad came to St. Micheal’s Fitness Center and he just looks at me and he gives me a hug and he says ‘Do you want to go see your mom tomorrow?,’ and I was like ‘Why? I have work tomorrow, is something not going well?’ He starts crying and he’s just like ‘She’s not doing well, there’s nothing else they can do, they have her on life support,’” Sizemore said. “Me and him just start bawling, in the middle of the gym with everyone around us and all my co-workers. I asked, ‘Did you tell Hunter [my sister],’ and he said ‘I haven’t. I just got the phone call, and I came straight here from work to tell you.’ He asked me if I wanted to go with him, if I wanted to see her one last time.”

Faced with seeing her mother or standing behind her sister and protecting her from further emotional trauma, Sizemore had to make a decision.

submitted photo

“It was really hard for me because I wasn’t sure if I could handle seeing her in that situation. I told him that if my sister wanted to go, then I will go with her and I will support her. I asked my sister when we got home, and me, her and my dad had a talk together,” Sizemore said. “He was like ‘Do you want to go see mom, I know you saw her last weekend, but she’s not doing good, and this will be the last time you see her.’ My sister looked at me and she said ‘I can’t handle that.’ So I said ‘Okay, I’ll stay here with you.’”

Her family all agreed on one thing: they did not want Tammy to suffer, they wanted her body and mind to finally be at peace.

“I tried to take off of work–turns out I actually do go to work to try to take my mind off of things and not be stuck at home crying all day. I wanted it to be a happy day. We were crying, but we didn’t want to be selfish,” Sizemore said. “We didn’t want her to stay on this earth with us if she was going to be in a bunch of pain–we didn’t want that for her. My dad was telling me that we needed to let her go, that she would be happy, peaceful. She’ll be healed, she’ll be with the Lord and she’ll be with my sister Allison.”

Later on that day, her father was left to make the final call. They still agreed that they didn’t want her to be in pain, and they knew that Tammy’s health was gone.

“It’s 9 o’clock in the morning and we’re at the pool. My dad called me, and I said ‘How is she doing?’ and he said, ‘Well the doctors told me that they would not take her off of life support until I sign these papers.’ And I said, ‘Well, what are you going to do?,’ and he said ‘I don’t know I haven’t decided yet.’ I said, ‘Well, you don’t want her to be in pain or anything,’” Sizemore said. “She wasn’t awake, she was already calm. All they needed was my dad’s signature, and it would be done.”

Her dad wanted to shield Sizemore and her sister from having to experience those last moments, so he remained at the hospital and said his last words.

“My dad stayed there for a couple of hours just holding her hand, saying his goodbyes. After an hour later after that phone call, he calls me again. I can barely hear him, so I walked away. And he said, ‘Well, they took her off of life support, she’s gone now. I am going to be home in a little bit,’” Sizemore said. “He said that he was glad that we weren’t there to see it, it was really hard for him to be there.”

Tammy stayed at Baylor Medical Center at Dallas for more than a year. On the weekends, her family would drive from Texarkana to spend time with her during their breaks. Although, after she passed away, Sizemore still found herself looking for her mother in crowded places.

“We are doing pretty well, it feels weird, but normal, because she lived in the hospital for over a year. It still feels weird honestly. When we go to swim meets, my mom would always volunteer to help and she would always be running around and doing everything, and she would always come watch my events,” Sizemore said. “Our first home meet was in September, and I was really psyched, it’s my last year. And out of habit I guess– I don’t know what I was doing, I was walking around looking for her, and I didn’t really notice I was doing it, until I walked all the way to the other side of the pool. And I was like ‘What am I doing?’ I was trying to look for her.”

Her mother loved to socialize and could brighten up any room with the energy and light she possessed. Through it all, she stayed grounded in her faith.

She was so, so generous. She would literally help a stranger that she had never even met.”

— Racheal Sizemore

“She was so, so generous. She would literally help a stranger that she had never even met,” Sizemore said. “She’s so welcoming. I cannot tell you how many times I would wake up to get ready for swim practice, and I would come down stairs, and she would be right there on the couch reading her Bible, watching someone preach on TV. “

Due to Tammy’s absence, Sizemore has had to watch out for her sister and take on more responsibility. She has also grown closer with her father during the circumstances.

“[My dad and I] have definitely gotten closer; it’s going good. It’s a little weird because I have to do more than I ever thought I could do. I take care of my sister,” Sizemore said. “It’s the little things, like making food and driving her around places.”

Her death has left an impression upon Sizemore’s surroundings, and she can feel the absence she left behind. Tammy loved to talk and tried to keep the atmosphere pushing toward something positive; she would make friends instantaneously, and she always opened her heart.

“It’s affected everyone. It’s much more quiet in my house now because my mom talked a lot. She was a huge talker–very outgoing,” Sizemore said. “She had a ton of friends, people that she would meet in literally in an hour, and she would be the closest friends. She did everything for me, and now that she’s gone, it feels so weird.”

Even after everything has settled, Sizemore still finds herself lost in moments of grief; she tries to focus on the memories they shared to make everything feel lighter.

“Ever since I was in seventh grade, and she got breast cancer, life’s been hard. Me and Hunter had to grow up pretty fast, right away our childhood was short-lived,” Sizemore said. “I have felt like I had to step up with responsibility. It’s much different now. I am just hoping that life will get better. It’s been crazy because she passed away over the summer randomly, and knowing that she won’t be here to watch me walk across the stage and get my diploma, or the rest of my life, it’s crazy. I still cry randomly at night. I see pictures of her and I think of all the good times I had with her.”

While she still has faith in God, and she knows that there is a plan for her life, she is still questioning why her mother had to pass.

Enjoy every second with them because you never know what’s going to happen next. Honestly it doesn’t matter what they’re facing, it they’re facing cancer, or if they have some sort of disorder, or anything, just spend time with them. Hold them tight. It went by so fast.”

— Racheal Sizemore

“I still have trouble going to church, and it’s not because I don’t want to be there. It’s just hard for me to be in a Bible study and they’re talking about going through a storm or problems that teenagers face, and I’m like, that’s not what I’m facing,” Sizemore said. ”I said ‘I know that this might sound bad, and I know that I am in the church of God, but I said, ‘I don’t want to be here.’ I told them ‘I am so sorry, I just don’t know what to do.’ I go home and all I can think about is ‘Why? Why her?’ It makes no sense to me. None of them could relate.”

Sizemore relates that one should always hold their loved ones close and to never take a second for granted. Even if loving your family is hard, and even if there are mountains to move, one should still push through the hard parts and cherish them.

“Enjoy every second with them because you never know what’s going to happen next,” Sizemore said. “Honestly it doesn’t matter what they’re facing, if they’re facing cancer, or if they have some sort of disorder, or anything, just spend time with them. Hold them tight. It went by so fast.”

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