I posted, below, a draft I began a few weeks ago. When I re-read it this morning, I realized it was more complete than I had thought. Since I wrote it, Mom has been catheterized and is bedbound. She can still manage an hour or two on the deck feeding the scrub jay, smoking cigarettes, reading romance novels – but she needs a lot of help getting there.
She has spent a lot of time apologizing to me this week, most heartbreakingly when she spilled a bottle of water on the bed two days in a row, necessitating a quick change of the sheets. “What a dumb thing to do. I’m so sorry.” I gazed at her blankly for a second, stunned. “Mom, this isn’t a big deal in the least. It’ll take ten minutes to dry the sheets, can I get you comfy on the chair?” She nodded, and I made a joke about getting to relish having a washer and dryer in the house – a luxury I haven’t had since I lived in this house ten years ago. She smiled, but I could tell she was upset. And I, as numb as I can be, was sensitive enough to understand that it wasn’t the water, wasn’t anything except grief at the loss of control.
This is how the last few weeks have been, while I’ve been silent here. About a month ago, I woke from a dead sleep at three am with the realization that I was forgetting who my mother was before her cancer. So I stayed wakeful the rest of the night, replaying scenes from my childhood over and over in my head, trying to hold them fast in my mind before her face became erased with the image of her as she is now, emaciated but strangely radiant, with that ethereal glow of a woman who is past daily caring, elevated above the low hum of the momentum that carries you and I.
A friend recently got terrible news about cancer in her family, and in an email to her, I talked about letting go of control, of expectations. All we can do is stand by them, I said. And it is true, but it is hard to put into practice. Two months ago, I was aghast at the idea that my mother may still be living now. I had no concept of how she could possibly survive any more of the pain, the starvation, the gradual loss of her independence. I didn’t think it was possible. But here we are, and there are still beautiful moments every day, but I still get angry at what has been taken from her. My mother’s identity her whole life has been wrapped in her independence, and it is the loss of that which hits her hardest. It is something beautiful to me that when my aunt, or grandmother are here visiting, she still turns to me with her small requests. As if I were an extension of that independence, that if she can act through me she can still act.
I don’t leave the house much, or often. When I did the Tour des Artistes two weeks ago, I was anxious at being away from Mom, but then we got back to Jenn’s house late that night and I collapsed on the couch and slept more deeply than I had for weeks. Last week Jenn picked me up for a quick lunch, and I spent the entire time babbling to her in a sort of disjointed way, my fractured brain venting all the half-formed thoughts that had been pushed away in order to keep my focus on Mom, my love, my business. Jenn is used to it – she knows now that for the first hour of any visit, I will be frenetic and sort of queerly philosophical as I warm up to basical social interaction again. Sometimes we hasten the process with tequila, and spend the evening giggling like teenagers. Her husband is very patient with us in that state.
I am here, I am whole, I am still flowing with everything. It is morning, and the scrub jays woke me up this morning hollering through the living room window for peanuts. I ignored them. My grandmother is here so that I can do some schoolwork, but I am writing here instead, because it is safe for me to put my headphones on since I don’t have to listen for Mom. If I wanted, I could take a long shower, or go in the backyard. I could move around the house freely, which I can’t (or won’t) do when it is just Mom and I. But I am right here. Talking to you.