EDITOR'S NOTE: This article was originally posted on May 8, 2016.
“One more training.”
The perfectionist in me loves the idea of one more training. One more chance to work on my game, to work on the small details in a game I love to play.
The human being in me later came to regret that one training.
Let’s rewind to about two months before this training. I’m home in Denmark with my parents getting ready to celebrate Christmas. My brother and I are trying to figure out what present to give our mother. We always get together for our parents’ presents, and my dad’s present is already wrapped. It was like any other Christmas, at least I thought so.
My mother calls us into the living room and says there’s something she needs to tell us. My brother and I sit down, and she tells us that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer.
To a certain extent, her calm demeanor helps me. She seems to have everything under control. She seems to know exactly what to do. This is my mom, the woman I’ve always been able to turn to for answers, for advice, for comfort. She’s the woman who never seems to be afraid, never in doubt, never wavering in her support. I comfortably tell myself: this is the strongest woman I know.
She can fight anything.
I’m encouraged by her regular phone calls telling me that her chemo is going well. She sounds tired once in a while when I talk to her, but I hear the determination in her voice, I feel her belief through the phone.
This is not going to beat her.
One phone call in particular has me excited. I call her on Wednesday and she sounds happy. She knows I’m coming home Friday to visit her (I was playing in a different part of the country at the time). I tell her that I just have one more training on Friday, and I’ll get in my car and drive home. I say that I will come straight to the hospital and see her. And that I can’t wait to hug her and just talk to her.
I pack my bag Friday morning and leave it by the door, ready to pick up as soon as I’m done training. As I’m driving to training, I consider calling my brother to let him know when I’ll be home so we can meet up, but then I put it out of my mind again as I’m rolling into the parking lot.
The next couple of hours are a blur. It was just another training, like a million trainings before it. Nothing special, nothing memorable, just another training.
So it comes and goes and I’m sitting in my car on the way to my apartment. I know that I only need to swing by and pick up my bag, do a few things, and then in a few short hours I’ll be home. I park my car, get out, and as I’m walking to the door I notice a car.
I know that car.
No, that can’t be right. They’re at home. I’ll see them in a couple of hours. I’m at my door, I put my key in the lock and turn it. Nothing happens. The familiar sound of the lock opening isn’t there.
It’s already open. I didn’t forget to lock the door this morning, did I?
I open the door, step inside, and see my father in the living room. His eyes are red, something is wrong. I’m stumped. I don’t know what to say. Something is wrong but he isn’t saying anything.
As he goes to hug me, he finally says: “It’s mom.”
He can hardly utter the words. I’m in disbelief. With tears streaming down my face, the only words I can find are no…, no…, no. This can’t be happening. I’m seeing her in a few hours. I promised her that I would be there in a few hours. I always keep my promises to her.
My brother hugs me as well, and they tell me that she said goodbye to both of them. The only one thing going through my mind, as I’m listening to my brother and father trying to comfort me, is that I should have been there. I promised I would be there. I wasn’t there for her like she’s been there for me countless times.
I let her down.
Before she peacefully went to sleep, she gave my brother and I each a letter – a letter that is still my most precious possession.
As I’m writing this, even though it’s been eight years, I must admit that my eyes are filling up. And as the tears start to roll over my cheeks, I realize that I’m probably never entirely going to get over not having my mom around. She’s the woman who supported me in everything I did, the woman I turned to when things were tough.
“I'm probably never entirely going to get over not having my mom around.”
Not being able to say goodbye to her is always going to stick with me, hurt me deeply, and make my eyes fill up. But I also realize that staying, for that one more training, is what shaped me as a person and as a soccer player. Even though I regret not being there for her at the end, I believe that she is a big reason why I made that decision. She shaped me into the perfectionist that I am. She made me the man I am.
I love you, mom.
Happy Mother’s Day everyone. Cherish her. You only have one.