the light amidst the struggle

One morning this week, I spied a woodpecker perched on a tree outside of the Cancer Center. Such athletic, flighty creatures, it seemed odd that he remained perfectly still, appraising me and the rest of the world around him with his unblinking eye.  Only a few feet away, I stared back and sipped my tea and my bones started rattling deep, deep inside:

I don’t want to go to work!!

Its odd, I almost always walk through the doors of the Cancer Center with a smile on my face, eager to see patients and start my day. But its been a struggle lately.  I’ve been tired, and working so very hard.  The endless stream of emails, prior authorization requests, distraught patients, hospice talks, conflict between staff members, and ever mounting pile of unsigned notes are taking their toll.

Or is it something more internal that caused me to be frozen under cloudy sky, unable to walk through the Cancer Center door?  I haven’t been taking care of myself as well as I could, but its not all been miserable either- I have been eating pretty well, and taking my dear dog for runs in the dark November mornings.

And then there are the anniversaries that quietly haunt me.  The anniversary of the day I napped next to my mother and noticed she was breathing differently.  It was so subtle, it escapes description.  But I knew something was different.  And she smelled different too- not bad, just ever so slightly different. The dying process started with a whisper on November 13th, 2011.

And then on November 14th, I got the call at 6 in the morning that she was hospitalized with a bowel obstruction, and in a matter of minutes I was barreling down the highway again in my Corolla, headed to Phoenix and biting my nails I could make it there in time. Turns out, we had quite a bit more time: almost a month.

Then there was the cascade of events and phone calls and praying and weeping in lobbies that lead her to be sent home on November 15th with hospice care. It felt so right and so wrong and so unbelievable, a dream and a nightmare.

Life had a singular focus: my mother.  There was no room for the stuff that doesn’t matter, like work stresses.  There also wasn’t room for a lot of stuff that does matter.

So, this year I’m doing well.  I smile a lot, and even have started worried about some of the small stuff again.  But this year, on November 14th, I struggled to go to work. I stood outside of the clinic under a grey sky, longing to stay still and sip tea and stare at beautiful birds. I had little to offer to the patients waiting for me, but I gave them what I could.  I needed not to give, but to receive.

It wasn’t an easy day for me. But perhaps the universe understood my plight, because when I came home there were two packages waiting for me: dried corn from my mom’s dear friend, and a book from my dear sister.

I don’t always get what I want, but sometimes I get what I need.

18 thoughts on “the light amidst the struggle

  1. Barb

    What a beautiful post. I feel disconnected to the events around me lately too, and I think about where I was a year ago and it was with your mom and you and John and Dorie. Those few precious days meant the world to me and not a day has gone by that I haven’t missed her. But I always look forward to reading one of your posts, even though I usually have to grab a kleenex afterwards. Keep writing, dear one. Glad the corn arrived.
    Love, Barb

  2. Martha Goudey

    The year after mom died I was busy taking care of the details of her passing, promoting my photography business, and going to networking groups. I joined a multilevel company and went to a conference in January. But by the time the first anniversary of her death rolled around, I realized I was exhausted and off-balance. In April we took mom’s ashes to California to bury, and by the tine I got back I was having severe heart palpitations. I began making excuses and stopped going to networking. I stopped doing my photography as a business. I backed off the multi-level company.
    The timetables are arbitrary. Grief can catch us unaware and knock us to our knees, or sometimes a gentle reminder (the Christmas cactus blooming, a song, a thought) sets us to weeping. I don’t grieve as I did the first year, but this second year has almost been harder. I am more isolated. My health has suffered, my relationships have suffered.
    Today the assistant at my orthodontist’s office said, “Things are turning in your favor.” I embraced that affirmation.
    Blessings. Your writing is beautiful.

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      thank you for a thoughtful and wise response. I am approaching the 1 year anniversary of “d-day” and I appreciate your honesty and reminder that the second year may actually prove to be more difficult. Whatever comes I will accept and work through.

  3. kjpaints

    I believe that our bodies remember trauma for a long time and when anniversaries come the grief comes no matter what. My mom will be gone six years in January and this is the first holiday season, which is so rife with sad memories, that I actually feel hopeful. Be patient with yourself and keep writing.

  4. Swimming In The Mud

    These seasonal lows can get the best of us. I’ve always wanted the kind of life where when I had such a day, no questions asked, I could simply disappear from the the groove for a while and sit quietly somewhere. Some employers give you ‘personal days’ for days like these, but most folks eat those days up with tending to obligations. If you couldn’t do what you needed to yesterday, hopefully you can make time on your next day off and go find a place to simply ‘be.’ Be gentle with yourself and know that you are loved. Peace.

  5. Kathy

    Great post. There are days we remember for certain reasons. My life too focused on my mom during the last few weeks of her life. Then when she died I felt so lost and didn’t know what to do. There was no going back to life as it had been because everything was different without my mom. There was an emptiness in my life that I could not fill. I had to find a new normal and that took awhile. I’m glad you got something you needed. Funny how that just happens sometimes. Take care.

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      Overall I have had a successful transition into the new-normal (life without Mom) but there are many hard days too. Part of me misses that focus in my life, but of course it is healthier to put my attention to what I can control- me, my life, my attitudes. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Cancer in My Thirties

    These anniversaries are difficult and painful and you need to be kind to yourself and get the mental and physical rest you need… I imagine that working in a Cancer Center must make it especially difficult to face days like these.

    I’m sorry for what you are going through and hope you are soon able to take that day or two off just to ‘be’ as “Swimming” so wisely suggested. You certainly deserve to… Thank you for sharing. I am always so touched by your posts.

  7. matesonlane

    I think you are a pretty lucky person. That you have people in your life that you refer to as dear. A job where you can give. The ability to run. A dog. Writing talents. I’d say you’ve received a lot. I read your blog and I’m struck by how beautifully you write and in particular about your mother and your grieving. But I’m also struck by how incredibly much you have and how lucky you are on a somewhat regular basis.

    1. bornbyariver Post author

      Yes, I am very fortunate. Unfairly blessed, perhaps. My mother used to tell me “everyone has their ‘stuff'”, meaning even the people that seem to have it all experience struggles and pain which may be unapparent. My ‘stuff’ so far, no matter how difficult (and some of it downright terrifying) is all in the realm of normal. There are many things I have yet to experience- real pain, life threatening illness- and many other struggles (poverty, hunger) I may be able to circumvent. Or not. Even though I often write about what is difficult for me, I remember every day how lucky I am and how most people in the world do not have the advantages I have. I hope that comes through in my writing too.

    1. infertilityawakening

      Mother Teresa said, “To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.” Perhaps those moments when we feel the darkness of loss are when we most need to fill our internal lamps. May you find time and space for quiet, tender nurturing.


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