Today marks five weeks since my mother’s diagnosis with aggressive Grade IV glioblastoma, five weeks since my family’s lackadaisical spring was hit by a grenade that launched us into the surreal world of watching someone next to you on the beach suddenly snatched away by a rogue wave and pulled, slowly but inexorably, off by a receding tide.
I thought I would be much more angry than I am, angry at the unfairness of a universe that takes her in such a cruel manner while it leaves behind the thieves and liars, the selfish and the cruel, but I learned a long time ago that as much as we think we’re all playing the same boardgame, we’re only playing against ourselves. So all I can do is look at the situation in front of me and ask myself, what do I want to do with this? And every moment I spend being angry is one moment of quiet and comfort I will miss, the small scraps of lucid time I can gather up more valuable than gold.
I will, I decided, be unguardedly, relentlessly, grateful. It is a conscious decision, and not without effort, but it’s getting easier every day. It is a mantra I wrap around myself like a shawl, holding onto it until the shivers stop and the chill leaves my bones:
Instead of being angry that my beloved mother has a brutal disease, I am grateful she decided to forego treatment she didn’t want. Grateful I can be here for her.
Instead of being angry when hospice is slow to return my call or suggest solutions, I am grateful I have the benefit of knowledge so I can be proactive and figure them out myself.
Instead of being angry that I can do more for a sick dog than I can for my mother if she winds up in terrible pain, I am grateful that for now, at least, she is not.
Instead of being angry at the people who would make things more difficult, I am grateful they number so few.
Instead of being angry that I need to read through books to counsel me on what amends we should be making and forgivenesses to seek, I am grateful that upon reflection, we have no need. We have always been at peace with each other.
It gets easier with practice. For now, we are at peace with what is happening, and content with the thought that when we look back, we can say with certainty that we have no regrets about how we handled it, and that is perhaps the best one can hope for.
As you can imagine I have been hanging around my mom quite a bit these days, filling the air with talk of the day and the children. She has made it clear she prefers the conversation light. However, when and if she has a moment where she decides she has something important to impart, I want to make sure I don’t miss it because I still feel like there is still so much more left to say.
This afternoon, when the visiting family departed and my dad headed off to the store, she took a deep breath and turned to me, her bright cornflower blue eyes swiveling into focus as they peered into mine.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course, Mom.”
“I don’t know if you know what this is, or even if you know how to get it…” she paused.
I took a deep breath, as this is a moment I have been simultaneously anticipating and dreading.
“What is it, Mom?” I took her hand.
“Do you know….what spotted dick is?”
Of all the things I had pictured her asking me about, that was about last on the list, somewhere between “Sam Kinison’s used socks” and “an 8 track of the Bay City Rollers.” I paused, letting that rattle around in my brain: spotteddickspotteddickspotteddick, then I started laughing.
“Yes Mom, I think it’s a gross British dessert. Where the heck did that come from?”
“I don’t know,” she sighed, running her hands through her hair. “I was just thinking about desserts, and that sounded disgusting.”
I took her hands. “I will never,” I said, “Make you eat a spotted dick.”
She looked at me, Miss Proper Victorian Lady, and burst into laughter. Me and my mom, reduced to 10 year olds by a canned pudding. Then I brought her a cookie. Chocolate chip, because raisins are gross.
Desserts have always been very important to this family.
I know you were all hoping I would have more wisdom to impart about these momentous last days, but so far this is all I got. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, really.