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Posts Tagged ‘distance’

Homesick

I went to yoga tonight because my favorite trainer, Yvonne, was having a “Freaky Flow” class for Halloween. I thought it was going to be an hour and a half, but it was just an hour (glad I checked before I got there 30 minutes too early!).

Yvonne warned me that some things might come up in the class that touched a little too close to home, but that it would be okay. I told her that’s why I was there.

I already knew that Halloween (All Hallows’ Eve) is the day that spirits are supposed to be closest to the living. How do some people put it…that the veil between life and death becomes more thin than usual? Yvonne talked a little about this during the class and about how it was the Celtic new year, so there was a sense of looking back to honor what came before while also looking forward to look to what’s to come. She also had a fire bowl where we burned a piece of paper that represented something we wanted to ask the universe to enhance. I don’t know if it’s like birthday wishes, which you aren’t supposed to share lest they not come true, but I’ll tell you anyway: I asked the universe to enhance my sense of loving-kindness-compassion for myself. Yvonne mentioned that since we were asking the universe to enhance something, that meant we all had these things within us already. That was nice to hear.

I don’t know how many of you do yoga, but at the end of every practice, there’s a period of time where you lie in savasana, or “corpse pose” (flat on your back, legs extended, arms usually to the side). Since it’s at the end of the practice, the body is usually humming with blood flow and energy, and, just like at the end of every workout for me, it’s the time when I’m most emotionally open and vulnerable. These days, I usually cry when I stretch (no thanks to Mighty Mike, who keeps insisting on playing sappy break-up songs during the cool-down).

Something very strange hit me, though. I was fully open to the pain that I’m feeling surrounding my mother’s loss, and I just let it sit there instead of trying to get rid of it or let it out or let it overcome me. And I realized I’d felt that exact pain before. I felt that exact pain on many occasions during training for the Peace Corps. It’s homesickness. It’s knowing that you’re too far away from the people who love you the most. It’s understanding that they’re still out there, somewhere, but you have no way to get in contact with them to speak to them.

It made me remember the day I left for staging. My dad said goodbye at the curb. We couldn’t really say anything to each other because we were both crying, and I can’t stand to see my dad cry. Mom helped me carry my bags in. She helped me check in, and then she helped me sit on top of one of my bags as we tried to re-close it after stuffing in my body pillow (allowed on international flights, but not domestic, the bastards). I remember I had to take something out for her to take home; she said she’d send it in her first care package. Then she walked with me to the escalators that led to the security checkpoint. It’s so crazy how extremely emotional moments imprint themselves on you: I can see this happening like I’m watching a movie. She gave me a hug and told me goodbye, probably said that she’d be counting the hours until she could see me again a year from that Christmas. And then that was it. I was going down the escalators and leaving my mom behind with a certainty that we would see each other again, someday, but it was going to be a long, long time.

And now it’s the same, only she’s the one with the overstuffed bags heading down the escalator, and I’m the one who has to go home to wait until I can see her again.

To be honest, I thought I’d be able to feel her. I thought I’d know she was out there, that she was still a part of me. But I don’t. I don’t feel anything but tremendous loss and overwhelming homesickness. The only comfort I can find in that is that her spirit was ready to go home and isn’t wasting any time hovering around us silly people anymore.

Today, I read “A Sister’s Eulogy for Steve Jobs,” a eulogy written by novelist Mona Simpson. It was touching to me because the last third of it could have almost been written about my mother. I’d written before about how I thought she was somehow gone before her labored breathing began, and it sounds like that’s what happened to Steve, though he was more expressive about it. It was also nice to hear that not everyone in these kinds of situations just goes to sleep: I still feel awkward about the “passed away peacefully” note in mom’s obituary.

Dad went to get the urns from the funeral home yesterday, so he has them back at home. I don’t know when I’ll have a chance to get my little heart…probably not until the weekend. I still don’t know how I feel about it. We’re going to scatter the ashes from the large urn, but the ashes in the small heart are mine. I used to think that spirits didn’t dissipate until the body had fully returned to the earth. This made me feel bad about hanging onto ashes, like I was somehow holding someone back. But I don’t know if I feel that way anymore. I don’t feel mom hanging around. I really doubt she’s waiting for us to scatter her ashes. I suppose it’s true, that whatever happens now is not for her, but for us, and what makes us feel better. Maybe I’ll keep the ashes in the heart. I guess we’ll see.

 

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Not much new to report, but I just wanted to check in.  I spoke to my parents a couple of times last week, and things seem to be going well.  Mom said the rash has spread and her doctor gave her an antibiotic to treat it (they treat it just like acne, which is apparently what it is).  They told her that it should go away in about 6 weeks, but if it ever comes back, that means the cancer is trying to return and the medicine has kicked back in.  She also has some aloe juice (with the purgative qualities removed) to try to help with her nausea, which is still not under control.  And she has some soreness in her teeth and gums, but the doctors reassured her that it’s not a result of anything related to the cancer, and she might just want to see a dentist.

The best thing for me is that mom sounds like herself again.  I haven’t heard her sound like that since right after she got the initial diagnosis and had a brief respite from the cough.  Her voice is strong, and she can talk for at least a couple of minutes without a hitch in her breath.

Dad, however, seems to be dealing with his own health problems.  I have a feeling some of it is stress, but I’m hoping that this will encourage both of them to clean up their diet a little bit.  My trainer here said he’d be more than happy to talk with my dad and try to iron something out, but dad’s worried he’s just going to say to quit drinking beer (which is probably true) and stop eating white rice (which might not be).  My trainer is great about finding things that will work within the existing lifestyle…because, let’s be honest, if you can’t eat the foods you like, you aren’t going to stick with the plan!  It couldn’t hurt just to talk, anyway.

Something else I’m worried about…and I probably shouldn’t talk about it here, but I will anyway…is that the cancer seems to have consumed mom’s life.  I mentioned earlier that it felt like I had a new sibling, and I think that’s an apt comparison.  It’s almost like mom has had a new baby and all of her attention is focused on it.  When I used to talk with mom, she’d tell me what was new in her life and then ask questions about what was going on in mine.  She doesn’t ask anymore, and when I do offer up some bit of information, she doesn’t seem to register it.  I’m not complaining here, as I truly understand and would be the exact same way in her shoes, but it is something I’m concerned about for the long haul…also for my dad.  He’s not a big phone talker, but I make sure that I ask him questions about what he’s been up to, how he’s feeling, if he’s been able to take care of his own stuff too.  And he returns the favor.  So I do feel like I’m still sharing things with my parents, even if the point person has changed.  I guess my purpose in sharing this is that I would wish for my mom a return to something of a normal life so that she’s able to concentrate on more than just the cancer and her recovery, even if what she’s concentrating on is her business and not me.  I hope that makes sense.

As for me, the semester is finally over, so I have a little bit of a break before school starts again in the fall (couldn’t take summer classes as they’re all four days a week at noon, which doesn’t fit into my work schedule well).  We’re hoping to get some painting done in the house so we can finally hang up some pictures and clean out our office space a little.  I don’t know when I’ll be headed back to NC, but I’m sure it won’t be too much longer.

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One of my closest friends recommended that I start a blog to update everyone on the status of my mother.  He told me it would be easier than having to repeat myself over and over, although I am finding that the repetition makes the news less emotional and more clinical, providing something of a benefit for me.  I finally just decided that others out there in the large void that is the Internet who are dealing with some of the same issues might benefit from knowing that they’re not alone.

I feel alone.

My mother has had a cough for what seems like forever.  It’s been at least two years.  It got to the point where every time she tried to speak, she’d cough.  They thought it was asthma.  Then it was gastric reflux.  Then she woke up one night and couldn’t breathe for a full minute, and then it was vocal cord disorder.  I got the news just last week, Friday, March 26th: lung cancer.

Mom is young (I’m just turning 30 this year).  She has never smoked.  She exercises every day, and she does her best to eat well and take care of herself.  This is not something we expected.

I’m having a hard time keeping track of what is going on, mainly because I’m so far away.  I live a good seven hours from my parents, not exactly just down the road.  I have been calling every day, sometimes three times a day for updates, but it’s hard to listen and not just hear.  I also get two different stories sometimes, one from mom and the other from dad.  I’m beginning to think they are having the same problem.  We have trouble absorbing things we don’t want to hear.

I do know that there are multiple tumors in her lungs.  I also know that there are also small tumors in her brain, and she started radiation treatment for that today.  I know she just had a biopsy, and we’re expecting the results back sometime next week: will it be a type of cancer caused by some kind of mutant gene, requiring her to be on a pill for the rest of her life (~70% chance); or will it be some other kind, requiring full chemotherapy (~30% chance)?  There’s no real history of cancer in her family, but we’re all hoping that she has that mutant gene–something we never thought we’d wish for.

What is the outlook?  No one will tell me; maybe no one knows.  Mom was upbeat for the first few days, but it wasn’t an “I’m going to be fine” kind of optimism: it was more of an “I’m in God’s hands” kind of thing.  Today was the first day I heard a crack in her voice.  Dad admits that they’re both feeling a bit low, and he did tell me last night that it’s incurable.

And it’s true, what I’ve heard: cancer takes over your life.  Not just the life of the patient, but the whole family.  All conversations now revolve around cancer, like it has become the sibling I never had.  Dad said so many people are calling that they sometimes don’t pick up the phone.  It’s overwhelming.  Everyone wants to feel better by offering to help, but they are unknowingly and unintentionally placing an extra burden on my mother, forcing her to say no, no, everything is okay, we’re just fine, I’ll make it through, I’m in God’s hands.  She must tire of those conversations.  But I know she welcomes the prayers and support and love.

I feel vulnerable, and I want more than anything to be there for my parents.  I have a full-time job here, but my co-workers are amazing, wonderful people who understand that family comes first, and they are more than willing to do anything and everything they can to support me, including letting me work remotely for as long as necessary.  But I am also a graduate student, and there are four classes left in the semester–as well as one large research paper.  I was not the most consistent undergraduate student, and it means a lot to me to be able to pursue this degree.  I know my mother would not want me to give that up.  But I also don’t want to squander whatever time we might have left together.

What’s interesting to me is that, in growing a bit older, I have just in the past year come to fully understand that my parents will not always be around.  It breaks my heart to think about it, but it’s something we must all comes to terms with eventually.  I keep trying to spend more time with them, to say what’s on my heart and to ask as many questions as possible, but when we are actually together, I have trouble figuring out what to say.  I think that is because I know my parents love me, and they know that I love them, and there’s just nothing left to be said.

My office had its grand opening last Thursday, and I have a lot of things due for my classes on Monday evening, so I have not yet been able to make it home.  I will leave early Tuesday morning, staying through the weekend.  I have a doctor’s appointment myself the Monday after, then class, and then we must really figure things out.  One week here, one week there?  Back and forth every week?  I have already decided that if she has to go through full chemo, I will move back for as long as I’m welcome.  I hope it doesn’t come to that.  I hope her faith, everyone’s prayers, and my love can make a difference.

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