I was six years old. My mother’s footsteps echoed in the elementary school corridor as she sprinted to my classroom, summoned by a call from my teacher. She rushed to my side only to find that the floodgates to my uncontrollable sobbing had been opened because my desk was messy. I have always been a crier.
Through the years, my mom has rushed to my side on countless occasions and no matter how mundane the circumstance, her touch, her concern, and her ability to calm the floods has remained steady. I can still feel the cool touch of the back of her hand wiping away the tears from scraped knees, to teenage break ups, to the birth of my children. The highs and lows of my life have all been seen through tear-stained eyes. Now her tactics through the years were varied, from warm hugs, to a stoic, “you are a Duncan,” (i.e. toughen up), to my personal favorite mantra that she would ask me to recite to myself, “I can do hard things.” But she was there for every step and caught every tear.
Three years ago, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Having already survived breast cancer, her mission was clear. She is the daughter of a marine and going to battle was the only option. And so it began. Years of surgeries, procedures, chemotherapy, countless hospitalizations, and a fierce determination that she would survive. Through it all, I held her hand, drove her to each appointment, learned the path to 7th floor oncology by heart, and watched as my mom handled adversity in her own way - with nary a tear. Crying had never been my mom’s way. She was always loving, but also tough, and not one to sob over a Hallmark commercial - apparently, the waterworks genes were all saved for me. But one night, in the dark of the hospital room, I went to lay next to her in the bed. She had become so thin that I could easily slide in beside her, carefully avoiding tubes and wires. I rested my cheek on hers and sobbed silently trying not to wake her. When I looked up, her eyes were open and a single tear slid down her cheek. I reached up and gently caught it on the back of my hand.
Through the next several months, I saw more tears. Tears of pain, tears of regret, and tears of sorrow slip from my mom’s eyes. I tried my best to catch every one. And I cried buckets. I filled rivers of tears and they haven’t stopped flowing. Some days it feels as though they never will. So each time I feel them coming, I quickly wipe my eyes, take deep breaths, tell myself “I am a Duncan,” and repeat my daily mantra, “I can do hard things.” Because doing life without my mom is the hardest thing that I have ever done. And I would give anything for her to be here to catch one more teardrop.
Note: This season I choreographed a piece embodying this story entitled "Catching Teardrops." It was beautifully danced by Miss Emily Singer. Video below for those who are interested. Dedicated in loving memory to Eularee Duncan Smith. Gone but never forgotten.