Tag Archives: motherhood

first tooth

Her first tooth erupted on Saturday after a prelude of drool and night nursing. She is six months old, it seems too fast, but isn’t that the way it always is? For every new milestone represents a loss as well as a gain. She’s a different baby this week than she was last week. She is the river I can never swim in twice, the shifting clouds, the unfurling leaf. I gasp as I smile, I embrace the new child I meet while I long to hold her a bit longer as she is, to keep her small. 

Perhaps it’s the curse of an older mother. We know the heartache of loss, and these mini ones sting old wounds. I’ll never know what kind of mom I would have been in my twenties, but I suspect more like my own, with a sunny optimism that pushes away the painful realizations. Or maybe not. Maybe it is part of me, this longing to have things be as they are, yet also different. Maybe Mom experienced some of these feelings too, but I can’t ask her, and she never would have shared with anyone if she did, for she kept close vigilance over her darker thoughts and generally did not give them the dignity of breath. I can only go my memory of her and her words, spotty and inaccurate as that can be:

Do you miss me being a baby?

No. I always feel like I love the age that you are. It’s fun watching you grow up. Plus babies are a ton of work. 

Well, then. Was she protecting me? Giving me the answer I wanted to hear? Or was that really her truth?

I guess I want to shield J from my sorrows, the twingy sadness that comes with every leap forward. I want her to feel my love like sunshine, warm and shining, not heavy or mournful. Her victories we can share but my grief will be my own to hold.

her hands

If I were to claim any part of her as my favorite, it might be her hands. They dance when she is alert, fingers waving,coaxing the air into becoming her own invisible instrument.  When she is startled they bunch up into tight fists and she gives them a shake or two. Often a finger or five can be found in her mouth, shiny with drool. Lately she has started to explore the opening and closing of her hands. She touches fabric or skin or anything really, and her little starfish fingers  joyfully leap forward only to immediately spring back to nestle her palm again. Open close, open close. And sweetest gestures of all happen during nursing, as more frenzied activity slow to sweet caresses. She feeds quietly, eyes closed and gracefully, ever so gently traces her fingertips along the outside of my breast, my sternum, my chin. The very light touch of her fingers, so tiny, not yet hardened by life’s labor, feels more like a brushing of butterfly wings than the touch of a human, but here she is, real and mine. 6 months after her birth I still check her breathing while she sleeps. You are okay? You are okay.

the last thanksgiving

Thanksgiving 2011 was the last holiday my mother lived to see. I hear Grandma’s voice in my head (regrets are as useful as tits on a bull, Katy) but still, I find them creeping in, uninvited guests that stay long past their welcome.

It was a special day, the last Thanksgiving.  My coworkers gave us a full Turkey dinner, more than enough delicious food to feed the family for days on end.  Mom was strong enough to eat a little and enjoy the company of her dear ones. The day was full of gifts from start to finish.

But I was tired.  I was angry.  I was overwhelmed with the relatively simple task of reheating our Thanksgiving feast from AJ’s. I tried to coordinate everything seamlessly, and never before had it been so difficult to ensure all the food was simultaneously hot to be served for our 10 or so family members.  I had mixed success, and it frustrated me. Thank god I didn’t try to actually cook. When I wasn’t feeling full of gratitude and surrounded by love from all directions, Thanksgiving found me to be an irritable bitch.

I know Thanksgiving also carried sadness for Mom. She always loved to cook huge meals for her family members during the holidays, and she always make it look easy.  Her eyes grew glassy when she saw me running around the kitchen and she said softly “I’m sorry I can’t help.”

I was sorry too, profoundly sorry.

I know I told her that day that I loved her, I was grateful for her.  But I was fearful, and the months of protracted loss had chewed me up and left my insides looking like a seasonal squash.  I was angry that I was sharing my last Thanksgiving with my mother.  I had lots of expectations to let go of- years ahead of beautiful holiday dinners, perfectly prepared, cooked with her at my side.  I did the best I could do, but I wish that I could have released, let go, allowed myself to be rooted in that special day, that special moment, and feel the joy of having her with me, of being her daughter.

She knew my heart as well as anyone, and she knew I loved her.  I just wish I could have done things differently. It would have been more enjoyable for everyone involved.

This Thanksgiving I miss her, but I have also done some recovery. I have a wonderful life, full of blessings.  Today my heart isn’t like a the limp guts of a stringy squash; rather my heart is full of gratitude for a multitude of things, but especially gratitude that my life started with this tremendous woman, that I was able to know her and call her “Mom” and share my life with her for 31 years.

Thanks for the wonderful memories, Mom.  You were incredible.

the last Thanksgiving, 2011

butterfly birthday

let flowers bloom. my birthday Adenium

Today is my birthday.  I’m 32.

In general, the years are speeding up as I age, yet this one has felt long.  I can’t remember my birthday from last year very well, other than I spent it away from my mother who was in Houston, and was feeling the special flavor of unease you feel when separated from a sick loved-one. So very much has changed since then.

I have struggled with grief and despair this week, but this birthday seems particularly blessed.  I have been touched by unusually thoughtful gifts and expressions of love.

  • my coworkers pulled together money to purchase a piece of art that was for sale at the Cancer Center, simply because they noticed I would look at it every day and smile
  • a woman I deeply enjoy but have never had the opportunity to know well gave me an exotic plant crowned with beautiful pink flowers. Her husband nurtured this plant from seed for years in his greenhouse.
  • a woman I discharged to hospice months ago, fully expecting her to pass away soon, walked into the Cancer Center and gave me a huge hug, some small gifts, and a card covered with butterflies.
  • and more…

I have often felt awkward on my birthday- uncomfortable with the attention and the unilateral gift-giving.  This year I feel profound loss, yet an even greater gratitude for what I do have. Every card, gift, text message and embrace has been meaningful and beautiful.  I am part of a huge network of love, with lacy fingers that envelop the globe.  No, I don’t deserve it, but in life we get both less and more than we deserve. I’m 32, and way overdue to learn to accept a love that makes me shudder with its magnitude.

My friend told me “Its your butterfly birthday!” And she is right.  Grief is transformative. Our losses can bring us to the brink of madness, and at the same time blast apart our shell, open our hearts, let the light in.  Grief rolls in like a 10 armed Hindu goddess that can destroy the universe with a flick of a wrist and maniacal smile, yet if you don’t go down in the fiery blaze she’ll also take away that which limits you.

I wish we could keep our loved ones by our side forever, but the universe is built on death and destruction.  Still, flowers bloom in the ashes, babies are birthed in pain and blood, the worm is torn apart to become a winged thing of beauty.  This is the mysterious, wonderful, terrible, and awesome way of the world.

the last Mother’s Day

Image

mom and her mild mimosa

 

I was in Houston yesterday for about an hour, on a layover from Tucson to Miami for a research protocol meeting.  I was in Houston this time a year ago, following my mother’s first cycle of salvage chemo, for Mother’s Day.  Time in an airport hardly counts, but it felt familiar; out my little airplane window was the same flat expanse of land, the strangely even tree line (as if the trees got together and reached consensus to which height they would collectively reach), and the billowing cloud cover. 

Mother’s Day 2012 is looming, and my ability to deny the existence of this holiday is waning.  I wish I could embrace memories of years past, but I seem to remember nothing before Mother’s Day 2011.  I have fuzzy recollections of Sunday brunches, of rushing to find a card or order flowers.   Most are lost to me now.  I think it always seemed like a “Hallmark Holiday.”

Last year was the first time I saw her really sick.  B-Cell Lymphoma patients often get blasted with a five-drug combination regimen, and Mom sailed through that regimen with very minimal side effects. Naturally beautiful, she looked positively radiant when it was confirmed that her lymphoma was still growing, that she had not achieved a remission with the very aggressive initial therapy.  “I just feel so good!” was her mantra, all the way to MD Anderson Cancer Center where she participated in a clinical trial.

It was at the end of this first cycle of second-line treatment when I rushed into her hospital room in Houston Texas in May, 2011.  Who I saw there didn’t look like my mother.  She looked like the hundreds of cancer patients I had taken care of in the hospital, swollen, slumped over in bed, attached to an IV pole loaded with bags and tubes.  She was wearing oxygen. 

“Mom!”

She woke from her doze, flashed the lovely smile that would stay with her right until then end.  “Hi sweetie.”

She was nauseated and had diarrhea.  Always the optimist, she would squeal “I think I’m shitting out my lymphoma!” Still, she perked up and she was discharged on time from the hospital a few days later, in plenty of time to celebrate Mother’s Day.

We filled the Houston apartment with flowers, and I bought her bright pink loungewear that somehow made her look young, almost like a teenager.  I gave her a journal I had started with some of my favorite memories we had shared, what I loved the most about her.

“Please write to me too!”  I entreated. I knew the odds were against that we’d share many more Mother’s Days, although I also didn’t anticipate she’d be headed to hospice a mere 6 months down the road. Whether or not she was cured, I wanted to hang on to everything. I wanted to be able to run my fingers over the paper she touched, see her handwriting, memorialize what we shared, fill in the blanks of any forgotten detail.

“Of course!” She was always polite and agreeable.  But she never wrote a single word in that journal.

We made plans to go out to lunch at a café near the Woodlands, a rather-contrived shopping and residential development north of Houston.   It was busy there.  My mom was tired after the car ride, and Grandma was cranky.  There was a loud, bustling energy in the place which didn’t quite fit with our weary and stressed out group, but we did find a table and sat down. 

“You should have a mimosa!” I encouraged. This was a special day, her special day.  Nevermind she had just been blasted with 4 days of chemo and had constant low grade nausea.  That should step aside for what was suddenly an important holiday, right?

I ordered her one, and to her it tasted awful.  I made the bartender re-mix the drink (“you need to make it very mild” I ordered with a snotty tone). Still, things were different now, and she couldn’t enjoy what she used to, even if it was very mild. She was tired, she was diminished.  Between the toxicities of treatment and the fact that her cancer incessantly marched forward after only a brief stumble from the onslaught of chemo, lymphoma was starting to get the best of her.  Mother’s Day was before the series of terrible setbacks that defined the summer, before we knew just how resistant her cancer was, how hopeless the search for a cure would be.  But it was when I perceived the slow fade that I hoped was simply chemo side effects (“she’ll bounce back for sure, right?”). It actually was the quiet, whispery beginning of the end.

nowhere near enough

I remember sitting with my mother in August 2011.  She was weak from her recent hospitalization, but doing what she always did: expressing her perpetual concern for others.  In this case, it extended to a relative of a close family friend, who was welcoming and supportive during Mom’s time at MD Anderson.  This woman had to fly to Pennsylvania suddenly to care for an aging mother, who was in her late 90’s, had a feeding tube and was fighting pneumonia.

“Its not fair that Diane’s mother has to suffer so. I can’t imaging anything worse than watching your mother die bit by bit, at the end of such a long life.”

“I can!” I snarled.  But my mother missed the irony.  She couldn’t see, wouldn’t see, that I was watching her die, bit by bit, and would give the world to have another 4 decades with her in my life. I felt my personal tragedy trumped that of this other woman’s, who had the good fortune of many, many more years with her mother than was destined for me.  

Of course, it wouldn’t have been any easier if mom were 98, instead of 58.  I never would have been ready to say goodbye, snap the book shut, close the door, say “enough.”  Her illness, her suffering would never have been pallatable, even if it happened at a more “natural age.” Heck, in many parts of the world, 58 is downright elderly.  Many girls lose their mother long before adulthood, and navigate their entire lives without a mother.  They could be envious (and rightly so) that my mother saw me graduate from junior high, from high school, from college, from a masters program.  My mother knew my husband, and walked me down the aisle at my wedding.  She rocked me as a baby, but also had a rich relationship with me as an adult.  

I am fortunate for the time we had together, but it was nowhere near enough.

 

I'm grateful our story didn't end here