Yes,a day for our Blogville friend Sarah, Mona and Prissy's Mom at
Cancer touches all of us, almost all of us through family, some personally. I've been lucky with only a melanoma in my 20's from too much sun as a teen that left a good sized divot just above my left breast, but it was handled early. It took several stitches to close the wound when it, and the tissue surrounding it were removed, leaving a noticeable scar that looks exactly like a small human bite mark. In the occasional low cut little black dress, it gets some looks. If I find someone staring, I simply say "short Jewish ninja with overbite".
But it's touched my family greatly and so many others among you. As my regular readers know, I lost my big brother, a heavy smoker, in 2014 to cancer, still in his 50's. Dad has been dealing with prostate cancer since his late 60's, as he went for less aggressive, non-surgical treatment. My stepmom battled oral cancer followed by Alzheimer's, just when she went into remission. But with my Mom, it was an ever present part of her life, as I can remember it, her originally being diagnosed with colon cancer when I was four years old.
I thought about Mona and Prissy's Mom and my own, as I took Abby Lab out in the yard this morning. My husband is gone for a couple of days on business, and we're just puttering around together. The wind off of the Great Lake is bringing with it a chill, which I enjoy. People tease me about it, but I don't particularly like summer, but I love a winter landscape. I will probably be "that weirdo that built the cabin up north instead of going to Florida". I love bundling up on a cold clear day, walking through snow upon snow, the earth standing hard as iron, the waters like stone.
I didn't visit her in the hospital as Dad thought it might be too upsetting. But I now have a picture of my older brother there with her. It was Christmas. That small Catholic hospital room had all the ambiance of imprisonment, with stark white walls, no decorations but for tubes and occasionally blood. It was the décor of a jail cell, a bleak asceticism and emptiness that can drive a frightened mind to look inward, too easily seeing only the dark. So Dad brought in a tiny and colorful little Christmas tree, complete with lights, and put it on her side table. I see it in the picture with my brother as she holds up a warm but lacy nightgown from a gift wrapped box.
There is a brief moment when one has cheated death, be it in a hospital or perhaps an airplane, a fleeting feeling of being utterly alive which occurs in times of danger or great physical intensity. In Zen Buddhism it is reached through meditation and is called kensho, a moment of feeling one with the universe. It's a life altering change, and often one that makes a person wholly appreciative of all the gift's of God. Mom not only recognized this, she made sure we understood it as well. I am not sure where she got the courage for that, but she did, telling us each day, we will always be a family, like the words of an evening's prayer, for a child to repeat.
We weren't deluding ourselves. My parents had laid things out for us as best they could and we knew that she was very sick. Our breakfast may have been sugar coated, but the truth wasn't. But we learned early on that even after cancer, or other tragedies that life later drops on you, that there is a normal, it's just a NEW normal. So with a smile, Mom would hand us our snow gear and off we'd go, another day of childhood, stuffing our fear into our pocket with a homemade cookie, our Mom waiting for us with treats when we got home, refusing to let us see when she was worried, when she was in pain.
"Pieces and Parts
May Have to Depart
But You and Me
Will always be WE"
After that, I never heard her feel sorry for herself, for what she perceived had changed, what HAD changed. She simply gathered to her that which she loved, her family, her faith, her books and the beloved flowers she grew and tended. Those things then became part of her, part of her very physical being, an invisible prosthetic, stronger and more beautiful than what had been the earlier heritage of flesh.
With that, she sat down at the table with the doctors and Dad, to play out her next course of treatment, with the mind of a well equipped general, planning their next field campaign.
As I look out my window this afternoon, I notice a white quickening far away on the horizon; small clouds scurrying as in first defense of the eventual band of warrior winter white. I can almost see the promise of a quiet quilt of snow to be spread across the landscape during the night sometime soon,
I think back to those small comforts, the safe refuge formed by a old blanket and a card table as I waited for my Mom to come home. The afternoons building forts and futures out in the snow. As an adult now, I look into the grey cocoon of the advancing low overcast and feel, not grief, but comfort as the brisk wind through the trees carries the memory of love to me