It’s difficult to know what to write–how to write–on bad days. This week hasn’t been all bad, but it has been very, very difficult. The clarity and the humor that filled last weekend seem distant, and what’s left sometimes leaves me feeling hollow. The anger I was struggling with earlier in the week has simmered into a kind of desperate sadness, a grief for something that isn’t completely lost. I find myself thinking a lot about my mom’s last visit to New York in November. We took the train up to Cold Springs one day to go antiquing, and spent most of the day just sitting in a little hole in the wall diner, talking about our lives. That’s mostly what we do when she visits–we eat good food, we rest, and we talk. She’s always been my first call when the slightest thing happens in my life, and I can always count on her to hear me and know what to say. She gets me. I think that’s what’s so difficult about this for me–losing the person that has been my person for so long (even though she’s still here, in so many ways).
The spread of the cancer has caused her an incredible amount of pain in the past few days, which means more pain medication, which amplifies her disorientation. She is very weak–unable to hold herself upright or stand at all, and her appetite has nearly disappeared–except for breakfast food, strangely. She never used to eat in the mornings, but now she’s giving my cooking skills a much needed workout. Upon request I have revived a favorite French Toast recipe, and tomorrow I’ll be attempting crepes! Things like that give me purpose, move me forward through the days.
But what’s missing for me is her conversation. Every once in a while she will just look at me and it feels a second away from normal, and then it’s gone. The last interaction that truly made sense between us came the day we brought her home from the hospital–and she has no memory of it now. She held my hand and asked what was going to happen next and I told her not to worry, that I would take care of it. I said that I would take care of our family, that I was here and I wasn’t going anywhere. She looked at me and firmly said, “No. You take care of YOU.” I cried, and laughed because that is so her, and then promptly put that advice from my head because there was just so much to do. And now I’ve spent the last 2 weeks with her nearly every second of every day. I am in complete control of every drug that goes into her body, of every meal she occasionally consumes. I keep detailed notes about blood sugar levels, and how that affects the sliding scale of her insulin. My only interactions with people that aren’t her or my family have been stilted, awkward attempts at connection that just sort of fizzle out at the end. I’m an emotional wreck, but I’m a great compartmentalizer! I am completely, totally, not taking care of me at all. Gentle but firm prodding from both my dad and my sister proves that they see the seams coming apart, too.
My mom wrote in a note to me last summer after we spent the week at a quiet Florida beach, that “while we are all essentially alone, our connections to people we love and who love us makes our aloneness not lonely.” It’s time to pull on those connections, to take care of me, so that I can better take care of her. I think one of the first steps is to give thanks to all of you, for continuing to love us through it. My mother has been better about this. She did a Devotion for the Upper School at BA in November all about the difference between saying thanks and giving thanks–and to be honest, I’m not sure exactly where to start, so I’m going to stay right here and do something small: respond to your comments, your emails, your texts. I’ll warn you that I’m bad at this, but I feel that it’s important. Each message from you has been a bit of sturdy ground for us to stand on, and we are so grateful for you. My connection to each of you, even those of you I don’t really know at all, makes my aloneness not so lonely.