My mom finally ran out of things to say.
Mother is never at a loss for words. She has a poem for every occasion, a book suggestion for each situation (think Higgins from Magnum), a note card half written before you can say “love you, bye” as you ring off the phone. You can’t miss Mother. She is bouncy and loud, a 62-year-old Chihuahua-toting Carolina girl to her bones, bubbly and energetic and always ready to bring a lace table cloth, a white Harris Teeter sheet cake and a case of Mich Lite to a party or ride shotgun for a shopping spree, I suspect, at times, with a case of Mich Lite along for the ride.
A few weeks ago, when I broke the news that my husband has cancer, specifically Stage 2 lymphoma, and would need a huge surgery and chemotherapy, Mother was out the gate with encouragement and support. How were we? What did Troy need? What did the girls need? God’s got this, there’s no need for worry on our part. God has it settled and solved already. It’s taken care of. What did we need her to do? How were we?
I forget, however, that she often takes her cues from me. If I’m happy, she’s happy. So if I’m quiet and blue, so is she. We’ve been through some things, and she is learning how I am in a crisis. A couple days ago, as she listened to my daily litany of test reports, doctor reports, scan diagnoses, as she listened to me slog through descriptions and acronyms – PET, RCHOP, MRI – she grew quieter. She asked fewer questions, offered less support.
Finally, I ended the list and fell silent. I couldn’t talk anymore. Just couldn’t keep it up without falling apart. And we sat holding on different ends of the phone line, Mother remained so quiet that I could hear her swallow the lump in her throat. She had run out of pep talks, inspirational messages, encouragement.
“I hate you all are going through this,” she finally said.
“Thanks, Mom.” It was so simple, but it was honest, and it made me feel better.
There’s no right, no wrong. What do you say? What can you say? “Cancer” and “chemo” pretty much say it all. It’s hard. So, say what you feel. Do what you feel.
A friend called me from a bar in the Hamptons or on Martha’s Vineyard or one of those places stocked by Insanely Beautiful People. She, who is beautiful on the outside but much more so on in the inside, was a few drinks into a night. She has fought off a rare cancer, had to move to NY for a while to be in the hospital, had to fight doctors in order to get seen, even. So she knows.
She calls me “D’art.”
“D’art,” she says, and I can almost hear ice clink against the Baccarat, “look. Cancer sucks. There’s no way around it. And this idea of being brave? You don’t have to be. This is your LSF. Of course you’re scared.”
We were quiet for a minute. I’d forgotten that she knew I sometimes refer to Troy as my LSF, my long-suffering husband. He has put up with my bad pool, Upstate temper and ill-delivered jokes for about 21.5 years longer than I thought he would.
Hearing my friend’s words made me feel better. It was good to have permission to break down.
We are adjusting to a “new normal,” which seems to be a stripped-down version of life, an adrenaline-fueled march through the necessary with sharp attention paid to the immediate and life-sustaining, then the next most immediate, and so on. I think in science this is called “fight or flight,” or “crisis mode.” Most necessary: Make sure the hubs and kids have what they need and are as comfortable as possible. Least necessary: The embarrassing five-foot-tall weeds that have grown in my flowerbeds, which puts me up for the wrath of the HOA (really, I WANT them to say something).
We had told Alex’s soccer coach that she might not make some practices, maybe would miss some games. On the first day of practice, we stopped by to explain in person and to make sure we knew our dates for snack supply.
Our kids have played for this league for seven years. They have known some of the players since they were toddlers. Slowly, word got around the soccer complex, and the gathering around our Pacifica grew.
Marie, a former neighbor and a dear friend, came loping across the parking lot. We have known her and her parter since 2000, when they had one kid and not four, when we weren’t aware that our daughters both have epilepsy, when we would toboggan down the street on snow days and laugh when we hit the mailboxes and garages.
Marie climbed into the back seat, reached over to the front, threw her arms around Troy, and hugged him like it would pass along life.
Over the weeks, we have received cards and text messages, Facebook PMs, phone calls, everything but telegrams, carrier pigeon and SOS code. A dear friend said he “needed” to know that we were OK. If I had said anything but “yes,” if I had hesitated in that “yes,” he or his wife would have been here mo rickey tick, as the Marines say. Another friend said she just needed to hear the word, and she was in her truck and on the way up to play Rock and Roll Trivial Pursuit with the girls. She is like my sister. I’m not sure she knows that.
My little sister skipped church to visit.
Somebody – we don’t know who – cut our grass one day.
Our fridge is stocked with really yummy food: lasagna, spinach soup, tortellini. Palatable, because I didn’t cook it.
Friends old and new have offered to care for our children. Carpool? Errands? Grocery? Beauty parlor trip? Say the word.
It makes me realize we aren’t alone. And as hard as this is, as scared as I am, as worried as I am about when the adrenaline wears off and when that poison starts going through LSF’s veins, I’m often in tears at the grace we’ve been shown.
And that, oddly, makes me feel better.