Peta Rowe-Forde and Andi Rowe-Forde. (Picture by Jameel Springer.)
Engritta Marshall was fun loving, kind, determined and a devoted follower of Christ. In 2009 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Sadly, Engritta lost her battle three months ago and passed away at home surrounded by her family.
But she lived and she lived well.
In an interview last Sunday, three months to the date of her passing, her two daughters Peta Rowe-Forde and Andi Rowe-Forde fondly remembered their mother, her life well lived and her courageous fight with breast cancer.
The sisters, who both bear a striking resemblance to their mother, told a tale of a not perfect, but wonderful relationship with their mother, a former school teacher, who also was a motherly figure to many she came in contact with.
Peta, 25, also a school teacher, remembered her as being lots of fun and full of life.
“She was kind. She loved to sing and liked to dance even though she couldn’t dance. She was a woman who was full of joy most times. She was very passionate about the things she believed in and a lot of times unwavering in them. She was not easily swayed or convinced of anything and was very determined. Once she made up her mind that was it. Unless it came to Andi, she had a soft spot for her,” she said to shared laughter.
And for Andi, a 22-year-old office assistant and entrepreneur, what she remembered about her mother was her “passion for serving the Lord”.
“Mummy was a very avid Christian. She was a teacher for more than ten years and she was maternal to most people that she met, offering advice and supporting them,” she said.
Reflecting on when Engritta’s journey with cancer began, the sisters recalled that their mother never really broke the news to them about the disease.
“Her battle with breast cancer started in 2009. She never did break the news to us. We overheard her telling someone on the phone,” Andi said.
Peta added, “At the time we didn’t know the seriousness of it and I guess she didn’t want to worry us unnecessarily. That was around the summer of 2009.”
By December of that year, Peta said her mother had a single mastectomy and began chemotherapy to treat the cancer.
And even though she was battling a vicious disease, the sisters said her spirit and vivacious personality were the same.
“She did the chemotherapy the first time around and obviously had all the side effects of that. She used to wear wigs, but she was a simple person. She was never fussy about anything,” Peta added.
Engritta beat the cancer and went into remission. Sadly, in 2015, it returned, more aggressive than the first time.
“The exact time as to when it came back is still a bit uncertain. But at my graduation from the University of the West Indies with my masters in 2015, she was still standing but walking with a limp. So you could roughly say sometime around 2015,” Peta recalled.
“When it came back, it was more aggressive for sure. By December, walking was really difficult, she had to use a walker. By February 2016 she was unable to walk.”
But through it all, as cancer raised its ugly head and attacked her body, the sisters said their mum was resilient and tried her best to fight it.
Peta said to her, her mum didn’t change at all, expect physically that is.
“She was always hopeful and faithful that the Lord was going to deal with it. She never really spoke about it a lot either. She believed in speaking life more than death.
“Every time she was in pain or having a rough time, even though she would be quiet or crying sometimes she would always say, ‘by His stripes I am healed’.”
Andi also marvelled at her mother’s spirit during that time and said it even helped her to deal with it.
“Whenever someone called her, she would always say,‘I am well’, or ‘I am healed’. I always believed that she was going to be healed.
“Even in the last week of her life, when everyone was crying I was asking them why they were crying because I believed she was going to be good. I had a lot of faith. I didn’t go based on what it looked like,” she added.
Unfortunately, this past July, Engritta’s health took a turn for the worst and she started to decline.
“Her deterioration happened really quickly. Coming on to the end of June, she started to experience shortness of breath. Even though she would still talk and sing it was a lot harder,” Peta revealed.
Sadly, Engritta passed on July 14 around 2 a.m., never getting the chance to go on the 50th birthday celebration cruise she had planned for her entire family. Her birthday would have been on July 23 and her ninth wedding anniversary on July 22.
While Peta didn’t cry when her mum passed, Andi took it much harder.
“The morning when my mother passed, it was myself, Peta, her husband, my mother’s husband and the lady who helped with my mother. I was next to her feeding my baby and I got up to go put her down in the bedroom. When I came back out, Peta told me the heart rate was gone.
“It didn’t really hit home until the police came. The lady asked what’s the name for the death certificate and I just broke down crying,” she said while holding on to her daughter, Ava-Renee.
Andi said she was most grateful that Ava-Renee,who was born in December last year, was able to spend time with her grandmother.
And just as she shared a bond with her mother, she said Ava-Renee and her grandmother shared a very special bond.
“I felt good to know that she had that time with Ava. The night my mother passed, Ava woke up and she didn’t go back to sleep until the following night and she was cranky all that day for a good while. It was as though she was missing her . . .,” Andi said.
Now that some time has passed, Peta admitted that this period was where she was mourning more.
“I cry a lot now. It’s hard, but like I was telling Andi, the person that had deteriorated like that was no longer our mother. I was kind of relieved as well to see that she was not in the pain anymore. Before when I was feeling upset that she was gone, I would remember the frail body that was there and tell myself it was better for her to be gone than to be there suffering,” Peta said.
The sisters said the countless memories of their mother kept them going and they lean on each other to get them through the rough days.
“I cope with it now by calling Andi and talking to her. I more reach out to her because she is going through it as well.
Andi added, “I cope the same way as Peta. When I’m feeling low I always talk to her because there is no one to talk to really. Other than that I would put on the music mum used to listen to. That really helps me as well. Even the song that was playing when she passed, Victory Belongs To Jesus, I was scared to listen to it after she passed, but now it gives me a lot of comfort when I listen to it.”
And the girls said much of what they have learnt from their mother, they now apply to everyday life.
Peta said, ‘She taught me forgiveness and learning to shut up sometimes and that not everything was worth a response.” For Andi, it was “patience and forgiveness”.
And though they are still healing, they offered some advice to other families who were dealing with similar situations as theirs.
Andi said, “Pray hard. It really helps. I expected it to be like heartbreak, but it isn’t. I know the Bible speaks about the peace that passes all understanding, that’s how it feels like to me. Yes. I feel bad, but it doesn’t feel like heartbreak.”
And Peta had some advice for average persons when dealing with cancer victims and their families.
“When you see or hear of a person having cancer, don’t just think of that person themselves. It’s something that affects the entire family. Reach out to the victim, but also to the family of that victim as well,” she added. (DB)