We never realize the full weight of our own significance, or how the strength and valor we project influences those around us.
“You what?” I asked this ridiculous question, wondering in disbelief if somehow I’d misheard her.
“I have cancer,” my mother stated assuredly as if it were a simplistic fact, like telling me that her eyes were blue, or she had birthed three children.
I inhaled sharply, watching her hands tremble while I desperately tried to conjure something encouraging to suggest. Instead, our family’s keystone explained that “Multiple Myeloma wasn’t a death sentence, and thanks to medical advances, many people have gone on to thrive for years.”
The words annoyingly reverberated like the well-rehearsed dribble doctors regurgitate at their patients to keep them from freaking the fuck out.
It wasn’t working.
I awkwardly laughed out loud. What was I supposed to say? My stomach convulsed and bile stung my throat. Something felt awry. Was this foreshadowing?
I was in incredulity. How unfair. This woman went through more tragedy than one should ever endure in a lifetime, including the recent death of her husband. Meanwhile, professionally she had been in the nursing industry for thirty years, tirelessly aiding strangers through their misfortunes.
But, no matter what, she was always grinning, as if she knew the secret of life could be found in the service of others. My mother was calm under pressure. She had an assuring answer for everything, an optimistic attitude, and a spark that never faded. She once told me that if she could make one person smile each day, she had served a greater purpose. Here she was, the corners of her mouth still upturned.
They immediately started her on a combination of Chemotherapy and radiation treatment, along with a series of invasive tests. Nothing demonstrates tenacity like getting a hollow needle shoved into the side of your ass as a doctor chisels a chunk of bone away from your hip. She politely tells him “thank you” while hobbling to the car. What the hell?
Over the next year, she would endure this madness regularly, and receive injections weekly on her lunch break. She took the balding, the weight loss and pain in stride. We moved her in with me so I could drive her to doctor’s appointments, take her wig shopping, make dinner, and rush her to the hospital four times. I would visit her in rehab as they tried to train her body to accept and digest the life-sustaining nourishment that is food. I would change her bandages, and IV fluids, and wonder if she actually had a breaking point, because here she was, still trying to stay positive.
Nausea from the chemo? There’s a medication for that, but unfortunately, it causes diarrhea.
Diarrhea? There’s a medication for that, but it causes abdominal pain.
Pain? There’s a medication for that, but it causes anxiety?
Anxiety? There’s a medication for that, but it causes depression?
Depression? There’s a medication for that, but it causes sleep disturbance?
Trouble sleeping? There’s a medication for that, but it causes changes in appetite?
Loss of appetite? There’s a medication for that, but it causes nausea.
Alas, we come full circle.
They try to inform the family of the side effects. Try to point out the unpleasantries that may occur as a result of the treatment. But, they don’t explain the hardship you’ll face as a caretaker, on your hands and knees scrubbing the blood and feces out of the grout in your bathroom. They won’t tell you how to comfort the woman lying in bed down the hall, mortified at the turnabout.
They also don’t say how long is “acceptable” for one to fight cancer. And they sure as shit don’t think about the repercussions when explaining there are always “more options, and we shouldn’t give up yet” to a woman who has never given up on anything.
What is this “we” business anyway? She has no battle reserve left. Her body is deteriorating, so please, sir, do tell me what is satisfactory for someone to endure before you and your colleagues think that its “ok” to no longer seek your supposed “treatment.”
It was the morning she woke to tell us that her deceased parents had come to visit, that we knew. Goosebumps erupted in waves, as involuntary tremors pulsated through my body. In shock, my sister informed us of the dream she’d had about my late father that same night. My dad sent a message, encouraging my mother to “come have a drink with him.” That was what she needed to hear. She closed her eyes and nodded, allowing gravity to take hold of the tears.
The next day, she went on in-home hospice care and smirked.
It feels odd, praying so diligently for someone to die. They fail to clarify that too. The conundrum one faces watching a loved one in misery, as you urge the universe to alleviate their suffering. Why does that feel like a selfish thing to request? But I did anyway, we all did. Go, be with dad, we assured, holding her hand, and stroking her ashen cheek.
“No morphine is too much at this point; we just want her to be comfortable.” They said.
If that’s true, let me feed her the whole damn bottle.
Please, allow me to be her release and comfort, the way she’s always been ours.
Despite the warnings, nothing prepares you for the wheezing, gurgling and foam that occur as a body shuts down. The mattress pad strategically placed, the bruises that arise, the bedsores, skin tearing, and the ominous color skin turns before and after the transition. I sat there in elated anticipation, this was it, as breaths slowed, and lungs struggled. I swear she was still beaming. How are you this powerful?
She insisted on a Wake; “ life should be celebrated and not mourned.” I looked around the room, amazed at the turnout. It was a full house. Most people were my age, and whom I’d never met, telling stories of how important and influential our mother had been. How her advice had saved them, her flare for life had inspired them, and her abundant happiness infected them.
I knew, but I didn’t truly understand how big she was.
I don’t believe we ever comprehend our enormity.
So, my message is this:
The world notices you,
how beautiful you are,
how strong you can be,
and the impact you have on others.
The pebble that is your life will ripple indefinitely.
And even in your weakest moment, please know that you are loved, appreciated, and that it’s always ok to smile.
(Sarah L. Griffice: 1955-2015)
Bio: Amanda DeJong is a passionate author, enamored wife, and pretty righteous mother, most of the time. When she isn’t writing, wooing or wrangling, you can find her with a margarita in hand, undoubtedly dreaming of her next project. She’ll be pretending to lounge on the beach with her hot husband, while watching their children play as a nice old, attractively challenged nanny tends to their needs. You’ll think she’s quirky as hell, but she wont care; instead, she’ll do a ridiculous happy dance and pour you a drink too. You want proof? Check her out at http://www.ajdejong.com & feel free to follow her on Facebook & Twitter if you feel compelled to do so. Website link: http://www.ajdejong.com Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/AJDejongbooks/ Twitter Link: https://twitter.com/AJDejongbooks