Happy birthday

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We miss you. But we’re doing okay. We love you.

I brought some kind of healthy breakfast to share. And a couple of pretty leaves for you. The sun was almost shining.

We’re having dinner tonight, all of us together.

Happy birthday.

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not the end

Teapot and Teapot’s dad have been sick the past few weeks. And by weeks, I mean almost three. It’s been really hard on all of us. Teapot didn’t sleep through the night at all the whole time she was sick, hacking up gobs and gobs of phlegm and bile and dinner at midnight and not going back to sleep for an hour. Then came antibiotics. Then came the antibiotic-induced diarrhea and diaper rash and literal screaming at every diaper change.

Somewhere in the middle of all that mucous, I got an email from my secondary employer stating that my assignments were being slashed; my income was taking a bit hit. I’d had that job – in some incarnation or another – since before Teapot’s dad and I got married. It was gutting.

On the weekend, we went to ride the miniature trains about 10 minutes’ drive away. We needed to get out of the house, breathe some fresh air. We took the dog, too; Teapot’s dad took her on the off-leash trails while Teapot and I rode the trains. After, we ordered take-out from our favorite Italian restaurant and waited the half-hour in the children’s park. Teapot went down the slide, bounced on the see-saw, swung in the swings and looked for airplanes. Teapot’s dad and the dog endured child after child wanting to pet the dog, who tolerated the sticky hands and ear tugs with steely resignation.

I got disposable utensils from the restaurant and we drove to the funeral park to put flowers on my mom’s grave. We opened the trunk of the car and sat there on the side of the lane. The sun was setting, glorious peach and pink filling the sky. We were the only ones there that we could see. The day was warm for October. We ate slices of meatball and pieces of gnocci one at a time, blowing the heat from each morsel. We watched a V of geese flying south. I think my mom would have liked it – us coming to have dinner with her. Later, Teapot’s dad pointed out the moon rising to Teapot while I cleaned away the garbage.

It was the first time I didn’t cry leaving the cemetary.

Things still suck. I miss the money from that job, but take comfort that we were smart enough during our financial planning meetings to not rely on that income stream; we’ll be okay. And it’s funny, after a few days of fretting, I actually feel free. Teapot’s diaper rash is finally, finally clearing up. And Teapot’s dad is getting better, too. It’s all slow, but maybe that’s how we heal.

closer to you

On bad days, I think about her body lying in the hospital bed, wrapped up. Her abdomen huge from the tumour. Her skin so pale. My dad’s words catching in his throat when he called me. On good days, I think about baking with her.

I bake, and I feel close to her.

I remember showing off cracking eggs with one hand. Mashing bananas. Being so careful not to break the glass measuring cup. Using the old Sunbeam mixer and never being allowed to lick the batter (salmonella!) Discussing recipes. Scraping every last bit of batter into the pan under her eagle-eyed gaze. Playing piano to “help the cakes rise.” Oh, and the eating of course – often straight from the oven.

Her recipes were printed out with a dot matrix printer on paper that was perforated on both sides. She stored them on 3 1/2 inch floppy disks and used some ancient version of Microsoft Word to type them. The binder was several inches thick, and was updated often.

In our family, our legacies aren’t millions of dollars or a claim to fame. Some of them are in that binder; she lives on through them.

stops and starts

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I cleaned up her grave today. Most of the flowers had been disposed of by the caretakers already, but our three arrangements, the small container of dahlias and a pot of african violets still remained. Teapot’s dad had suggested we visit, since our dahlias have really taken off in the past couple of weeks. So I clipped a small bundle of flowers and we took the short drive to the funeral park. It was raining. Teapot and her dad stood under a pink umbrella nearby while I tidied up and arranged the fresh flowers in the gravesite vase. It was strange and sad.

We also brought my dad a few flowers to enjoy, too.

Grief is weird. It sneaks up on you in strange places. I was shopping for a birthday card for my mother-in-law the other day, and I kept staring at the anniversary cards. And then the sympathy cards. And then the cards specifically for cancer patients. And I wanted to cry. Or burn everything. I texted my sisters that I was having a meltdown in the card aisle at a big box store. And that Hallmark was evil. I had to leave. I ended up driving to another mall just to buy a stupid card.

My sisters have had dreams about her. I haven’t. But one night last week, I had nightmares. Scary, black-eyed things crowded around me. I woke up a few times, teetered on the edge of consciousness, before crashing back down into dreams. And then, I remember thinking, “Oh, my mom will take care of them.” And she must have, because after that, I slept on undisturbed till morning.

 

“moving on”

Teapot will transition into daycare next week, and I am in full-on denial. It’ll be good for her, is what I’ve heard from everyone who tries to make me feel better. I suppose I wish it had been my choice. Cancer made the choice for me, and I’m having trouble dealing with that.

We’ll bury my mom’s ashes this week. And after that, everything is done. All done, as Teapot would say. Teapot will go to daycare, because cancer dictated it. And I will go back to work, and have the joy of learning to hate it all over again. My dad will be alone in their big, empty house with fewer and fewer things to do. This is the new normal.

Nothing will ever be the same.

This is how a love story ends (a lie)

They went to bed at 11pm, my dad in the fold-out couch that had been his bed for the last three weeks and my mom in the angled hospital bed that had been hers. He did not sleep – he listened to her toss and turn and say incoherent things. She barely rested, waking up often to ask for more breakthrough medication. Counting the minutes till she could ask for more. At 4:30am, my mom announced that she had to use the restroom. She swung her legs down the side of the bed, and my dad tried to help her into the wheelchair. She still had the use of one leg, but this time she couldn’t seem to use either of them. My dad tried to lift her, but he could not. He finally rang for the nurse. She did not come right away. As he was holding her, something happened. She got heavy. Something was wrong. When the nurse finally arrived shortly after 5am, she checked my mom’s vitals. They laid her back down and checked again.

My mom was gone.

We’d had plans. It was their 43rd wedding anniversary. She had applied for a 12-hour pass to spend it at home. Teapot’s dad was going to take time off work to carry her up the front steps of their house and into it. We would be there at 10:30. All her grandkids were coming over that day. She was going to see her wedding cake again, preserved and displayed atop her bureau for the last 43 years. They were to going to take a picture with it. We had gone shopping for her because she had been self-conscious about her thinning neck. Against all odds, I had found a teal turtleneck at the mall in the middle of summer. My older sister had found a purple dress that would fit over our mom’s huge, tumor-filled abdomen and a purple shrug. When she visited the hospital that night, she had shown off our finds. They ate mango cake together to celebrate my sister’s half- birthday. “Tomorrow is my happy day,” mom announced, just before she said goodnight.

My phone rang at 6:45am. I didn’t recognize the phone number itself but a moment later, the first three digits registered in my foggy brain. The hospital was calling me. At 6:45am.

It was my dad. He had been crying. He was still crying. He said my name. Then: “Your mom passed away this morning.” He had tried to reach my older sister but had only gotten her voicemail. A sense of utter calm fell over me. I didn’t ask questions. The time would come. I told him I would get us all there to be with him.

After I hung up, I nudged Teapot’s dad awake and told him we had to go.

So that’s how a love story spanning 55 years ends. In a hospital room early morning, suddenly.

Except I told you it was a lie. So. Here’s the truth.

Today, more than ever, I believe in love. And that the kind of love my parents had for each other lasts forever. Cancer didn’t stand a chance.

back to the start

My mom is back in the palliative care unit at the hospital again. After days of arguing with her, she finally admitted that no, her pain is not controlled, and now that she can’t walk, it was time to go back into the hospital where hopefully her pain can be managed. Perhaps she’ll be able to go home again. But perhaps not. When it was time to go, she asked my dad to wheel her around the house, possibly for the last time. She said goodbye to things – goodbye chair, goodbye kitchen, goodbye chandelier. I turned away so she wouldn’t see me get all choked up.

It’s not all about the pain, however. Her abdomen is huge again. One doctor said it was mostly solid tumour. The rind of cancer that had been left during her surgery had regrown – doubling and tripling before their eyes, the oncologist said, saddened and amazed as only a health professional could. Another said maybe it is ascites and can be drained – at least temporarily. She will be going for an ultrasound soon – hopefully it will help figure out what it happening to her and what can be done before something gives way. I was afraid of her dying screaming in pain should something have ruptured at home. That is her worst fear, and I will do anything to prevent it.

She let me massage her legs today. They were a bit swollen from dangling down while she sat in a wheelchair for most of the day – one of the only positions that doesn’t cause her excruciating pain. It was strange to be giving comfort to my mother who had been the provider of safety and comfort for my whole life. I rambled on about something silly that Teapot had done while I worked on her legs. Go away, edema, I thought. And take the fucking cancer with you.

 

mirrors

My mom and I hashed some stuff out a few days ago. Old words, misunderstood. I think I was self-reflecting. Back then, I had enough loathing for myself to fill a bucket, and a few words from my mom were just what the fire needed to burn hot and long. Ten years, maybe longer. Isn’t that sad? Stupid and sad. I was going to hold onto it forever, hoarding the pain and keeping it safe. Feeding it. Tell me now, she’d said, when she was still in ICU. Anything you want to say. Tell me so I can explain myself while I’m still here. And still I was going to hold onto it, because that was what I had always done. But a few days ago, it all came spilling out. And I stared at it in plain light of day… and thought about how I’d cared for and nurtured this disgusting, rotten thing inside me… and I thought about how I do that with other things – words, images, ideas.

what it is: stubbornness. hanging onto the past. because it gives an excuse to not finish, to not accomplish, to try but not really try. the world goes on, and still i am back there, clinging to self-doubt. i am doing it. time to stop. give up that fight. it’s hard, yes. the fingers have been holding on so long they’ve locked like that, clutching to the past. time for a new fight. time to remember how.

new goal: finish something. finish anything. one foot ahead of the other, one word after another. remember it doesn’t have to be good. it won’t be. it won’t spring forth from my brain fully formed and lovely. i think it might stagger out like a zombie, dripping fluids and dragging limbs. but that’s okay. it’s okay.

 

angry.

Things have settled down. My mom is home from the hospital. The doctors say she won’t be here in six months. They cut out as much cancer as they could during the emergency surgery that saved her life, but it’s still there – in her other organs, still growing. We think she is going to refuse chemotherapy. She’s only 69. I’m not ready for this.

Also, I’m angry. I’m angry that she was so doctor-avoidant that she put off seeing one until the tumor growing in her uterus was the size of a 26-week fetus, had metastisized into her abdomen and lungs and bones. I’m angry she didn’t tell me anything at all – despite leaking bits and pieces to my sisters. I’m angry at myself for not noticing more, for not paying attention, for not seeing her more. I’m angry that my older sister and my dad decided to NOT tell me or my younger sister that she had been taken to the hospital on Thursday morning because her uterus had literally erupted, that she lost so much blood that she pretty much died and had to be resuscitated, that she was out of surgery and in ICU until Friday night. Yep, pretty angry about that still.