I wept on my return drive to Illinois.
Specifically, I cried while leaving Newark, and making my way west through Columbus. I am sometimes so struck by grief at the passing moments, and the people who’ve passed; I often feel completely engulfed in mourning and joy, simultaneously. This world, this orb we walk upon is so damn extraordinary. It is weird and beautiful.
As Oliver Sacks recently wrote before leaving this world: “Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.”
It is such a privilege, filled with elation and pain.
My mom. My mom, my mom, my mom.
She is my favorite person on this big ol’ planet. She and my father, both, but dad died nine years ago, so he lives with me in a different way.
She is a good listener and good conversationalist. The longer I live, the more I realize how rare are these traits. How often I’ve been with people who ask nary a question after I’ve asked them several. Conversations are hard to start that way. When I find people who are good listeners and good conversationalists, I hold on to them for dear life.
But mom. She’s a good listener and she remembers my stories. If I’ve mentioned a co-worker or a friend more than once, she will remember their names; she will remember my history with them; she will ask after them; if they were facing a particular dilemma that I told her about, she will ask how things worked out. She prays for us. For our guardian angels to keep us all safe.
Mom has cancer. She has been living with cancer since 2000. The first was breast cancer. A lumpectomy, followed by a partial mastectomy and a chemo called the Red Devil because it makes people so violently ill, and the cancer never returned. Four year laters, though, ovarian cancer showed up.
She found the cancer at a fairly early stage through a series of events that seem so random and arbitrary that it makes even a cynic like me wonder whether there is some divine power involved–but that story will be told another time.
For now, mom. Who has experienced chemo side effects that would have been fit punishments in Dante’s Inferno. It boggles my mind to see and hear some of the side effects she’s known in her life with cancer. It’s frightening how much the body can hurt.
But. She has been well as of late. Her tumor markers are rising slowly, but her maintenance chemo seems to be holding them within a reasonable level. And she feels okay. Even after chemo, she feels not so bad. She’s enjoying herself–in spite of her neuropathy, her constantly watering eyes, her leg cramps, her general achiness. When we get ready to go shopping, she pops some pain medication in anticipation that all the walking will make her sore. But, damn it, she is ALWAYS ready to go shopping.
And she enjoys herself. A song called “Honey, I’m Good” came on the radio when we were in the car. “This is the song I told you about!”she said while turning up the radio so I could hear it in the backseat. “Isn’t it catchy?” With its twangy country feel, I wasn’t impressed. “I think I hate it,” I said and she protested and told me to keep listening.
The next day it was just the two of us going shopping in the next city over. “You know, I can play that silly song you like whenever I want,” I said and she lit up and said she wanted to hear it.
On the way to the store we were too preoccupied with chatting, but on the way back she asked me to find the song. “Ugh,” I said while searching through Spotify, and she poo pooed my protest.
When the song came on, she started dancing in her seat. Moving her arms and head with the music, changing up her moves as necessary to fit the beat. And I laughed. Hysterically. If I had video, it would have gone viral. I laughed through the entire song. My sides ached from laughing. And she was totally earnest in her dancing, keeping it up until the song finished.
And this is my mom: so many surgical scars, numb feet, blackened fingernails, thinning chemo hair, yet still dancing. Still laughing. Still making me laugh. Still shopping.
The Tibetan monk Thich Nhat Hanh had a stroke some months ago. His recovery has been challenging, but he accepts it with grace. A friend of his said that every moment he has with Thay now are bonus moments, and he’s just so grateful for them.
There have been many instances when I prepared for the worst regarding mom. There were scenarios that didn’t look like they’d get better. But then the did. She jokes that she has outlived her expiration date.
And I cry when I leave because I know a day will come when a bad scenario won’t get better. It will happen to us all, of course, but it feels more tangible when the person is going to the doctor regularly for news about her health.
And I dread that day. Just the thought if it chokes me with grief.
Every time I leave her, I hope that we’ll have a chance for another fun visit where she is feeling pretty okay.
I am just so thankful for the bonus moments. They are precious and fleeting, and bring me such joy.