Friday, January 20, 2017

I’m calling it a miracle

Both my parents were fighters, scrappy and resolved.

My dad had his first heart attack just shy of his 40th birthday. He would have two more eight years later. He would live 14 more years after that.

Most of those 14 years were good. My mom and dad bought a house in the mountains and an RV which they drove any place they wanted to see.

My mom took care of him as his heart continued to weaken. She sat in his intensive care room for hours and hours and days and days because he didn’t want to be alone. She drove him to appointment and after appointment in Truckee, Reno and Sacramento.

My mom took care of my dad. She did not take care of herself.

My dad died a hard, slow death. He was sad and angry, but my mom was there always. The stress of it all silently feeding her cancer.

She thought she was cancer free after two mastectomies, massive doses of radiation and tons of chemo. But it had come back.

She was diagnosed as Stage IV less than a year after my dad died.

She was given 18 months.

That wasn’t enough.

She lived 8 years.

Even toward the end when her doctor started mentioning Hospice care and the dwindling number of treatment options, my mom was still hopeful that something would work for her. She still had things she wanted to do, places she wanted to see.

It was her desire to keep on living despite the cancer spreading across her head and down her face that found us spending Christmas in Belize last year.

It was a hard trip for her. The tumors on her face had obscured most of her vision. But she could hear the ocean and feel the salt wind on her face. She loved the food, even if getting around the tiny caye was hard for her.

She was much weaker when we got home. Everything was more difficult. She got turned around her own bedroom and couldn’t get to her bathroom in the middle of the night. I found her in the hall way. It was then that I knew.

It was the end of January and snowing. All schools were closed. Bill was able to help me take my mom to the emergency room. Her doctor thought she needed immediate evaluation.

And it was there, in that emergency room that a miracle happened or at least it seemed like a miracle to me. This random doctor who had never seen my mother before looked at her and just seemed to just know.

Not only did he seem to just know that she was at the end of her journey, but the words he spoke, the things he said, were exactly what she needed to hear. See, my mom was never going to give up. As long as there was hope, she would fight.

He told her that she had fought an amazing battle. He explained that she had done everything she could have possibly done. He said she was so brave and powerful to have fought and lived for so long.

He assured her that she had not failed; she had not given up. He admitted that science and medicine had failed her. Her body had failed her. She, however, had not failed. She was a hero.

He said it was time for Hospice. She said OK.

I cried and we hugged. I can still feel that hug.

I wish I could write poetry because I would write her into an epic poem telling the fantastic and beautiful story of the bravest, most powerful, smartest woman I ever had the privilege to know.

Monday, January 09, 2017

Almost a year

It was hot, May in western Colorado. The swamp cooler was making its productive din trying to cool down the little house we had bought one month earlier.

I was on the couch next to the front door wearing the pair of maternity shorts that were too short and a denim, sleeveless shirt with pearl snaps that I wore almost every day toward the end of my pregnancy.

I dialed the phone from memory back when you still dialed phones and knew people’s numbers. I imagine my mom in her kitchen that she loved so much. I can see her answering the phone and then tucking it between her chin and shoulder so she could talk to me and carry on baking.

As I cried, “I’m not ready to be a mom. I don’t know everything,” I imagine she paused and looked out the garden box window full of Christmas cacti and ceramic chickens to see my dad on a ladder digging beetles out of their aspen and pine trees in a futile attempt to save them.

She laughed when I said I wasn’t ready for motherhood and replied, “You know enough. It will be fine.”

My mom knew so much that is lost to us now, stuff I never took the time to learn from her, like how to crochet or use a sewing machine for anything other than sewing a straight line. I still haven’t used her brand-new machine because I’m sure I don’t know how to load the bobbin and not having her here to ask hurts too much.

Days before she entered Hospice care, just about one year from today, she was explaining yet again the magic formula for microwaving the perfect baked potato. I think it went something like: 2 minutes on one side then turn it and 2 minutes on that side, turn it. Two more minutes on that side, turn it and then one more minute. I don’t really know because I was angry about having to make her a potato and didn't want to learn.

I let everything make me mad. Mad was easier than sad. And I had so much sad. All that sad got caught up with the hatred I have for cancer.

I hate cancer so much. What cancer did to my mother defies words. If you saw it, saw the cancer on my mother, you understand. If you didn’t see it, I could never properly describe it and it’s too hard to try.

I wanted to care for my mother with the quiet dignity with which my mother lived her life. But I couldn’t. I let the sadness-turned-anger cloud my vision and weigh me down with negativity. I was too weak and emotional. I let the pain hardened myself against my mother.

I would sit at my desk upstairs in the mornings working on my lectures. When her bedroom door hadn’t opened by 9, I would let myself start to think. Maybe I had heard her slippered feet shuffling to the kitchen for the last time.

Thinking about my mother not getting up, dying in her sleep, was such a relief. No more doctor’s appointments, no more discussions of her bowel movements, no more fixing her food she didn’t like, no more being a terrible daughter.

It’s been 11 months and I’m still so stuck in the guilt of being such a shitty kid.

WHY COULDN’T I HAVE BEEN NICER? I did try. I hated what had become of my mom’s life. She was trapped in this house. She couldn't drive any more, walking was hard, seeing almost impossible.

I know she was scared and lonely. I tried, but I was too lost in my own suffering to really help.

I tried, but it wasn’t enough. I hid inside my angry shell.

I’ve had a few people tell me what a good daughter I was for taking in my mom. I want to believe them and I can see how someone would think I was good for sharing my life with her. But my heart knows the truth.

I failed my mom when she needed me. That’s something she never did to me. My mom was always there for me. Until now when I need her the most.

If I could talk to her now, I wouldn’t bother apologizing. Words are just words.

I would just deal the cards and make her tea. I’d put lots of powdered sugar on her Eggo’s (her shaker of powdered sugar still stands next to the toaster. No one has touched since she’s been gone). I would make cheeseburger pie from the recipe on the back of the Bisquick box and talk about whichever reality show is on.

I would just be nicer. I would show my mom kindness. It’s not hard to do. Kindness doesn’t require extra steps. Kindness is just letting your love show.

I would tell her I miss her and then I would try to beat her at cards.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Late spring afternoon

Sunset starting to set over the Monument.
View from the hot tub grotto.
Little Kitty totally photo bombed this one.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Gateway, Highway 141, Hanging Flume

 View off the side of Highway 141 toward Gateway.

 The Dolores River with the Hanging Flume on the right cliff bank. It's about half way up. Here's a detail:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Night view of our backyard

Hanging in our hot tub with friends. A great way to spend a Friday night.

View of the hot-tub grotto from the second-story deck.