Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Next topic is...

I have no idea. Really. I called Sunny today to check on her, given the nor'easter that had hit the east coast. Years ago we used to speak weekly, but after moving out to the west coast, well, we had some fights and the contact became less regular. The reality is that I am glad we fought during the time we did. I needed to get angry at her, and distance myself, figure out my boundaries. Without the work I did I don't think we would have had the visit we had in November, which was without exception amazing and left me feeling blessed to have her for my mother.

Lately we had some conversations that I feel are less than flowing, something rather unheard of for us, as we are both loqucacious, witty, and interesting folk. The reality of being a cancer patient is hitting her hard right now. Her anger is rising and her patience is thread bare. I do think this is totally reasonable, appropriate and all that stuff. But it's hard to know what to say in the face of those feelings. I felt my shoulders tighten and my breath get constricted when she mentions the beginning steps of a manic episode coming on. On one hand I am so grateful that she can tell one is coming on, and amazed that she can interrupt it. However it is a deep reminder that she will never not be manic depressive (yes I realize that's a double negative, I was reaised by an english professor!). Even with medications, even with the spector and reality of cancer, she is who she is. Who she is is an amazing, humorous, scarily smart woman with passions that keep her running and brimming with life, whose shadows add a depth to her character that make her more admirable. And still I can't find enough to say of late. Again, I ask, how can that be?

Is it because our conversations are have the forced proximity of illness? My suspicion is that this is the answer. So the next question is when is it reasonable to go to a more realistic rate of telephone calls, oh say once a week, or week and a half? That is our normal, but nothing feels normal anymore. Will things be normal again? If so when? The answer is it will never the normal we once shared, there will be a new normal I'm sure, in the future.

There are many defining moments in life, and this is one of them. Some are more joyful, like getting married, some are crossroads in life like when you choose one job over another, or when you fall in love with someone good or someone awful, and of course those involving illness or death. Sunny's cancer brings up the possibility of being a half orphan (as long as my father is alive), being a motherless child in the most literal way. This is a subject I have glossed over at will even as the years have been piling up and the odds increase that one day I will have to face this. Instead I have moved blithely along, speaking about base realities of details that would have to be managed. If anything I have discussed the wonderful burden Sunny would become if Lindsay predeceased her, waxing poetic about finding a place large enough, with enough psychological space to contain our two formidable egos and neuroses. Once in a blue moon I have given voice to the possibility that she would go first and whatever would I do with that stubborn Lindsay, the one who will not accept any help. Ever. This has been done without spending any time on what it would mean to have Sunny no longer breathing, taking 45 minutes to eat a breakfast of yogurt, apples and pecans which took an additional 45 minutes to prepare.

How does one stay a daughter when there is no mother? That is the question that hangs over me in a way that I foolishly believed was decades down the road. Life would like me to at least contemplate that and I am dragging my feet, getting bogged down in stilted conversation with the object of my of fears. So I am taking suggestions for conversation fillers, for new ways to talk to cancer patients who happen to be your mother.

7 comments:

Ancrene Wiseass said...

Oh. I wish I could offer some conversational suggestions, but I'm afraid all I can manage right now is a large dose of sympathy and the wish that I could give you a hug.

Juno said...

I only know about being a fatherless daughter, not a motherless one, but when my dad was sick I had this terrible urgency to be near him. Sometimes we ended up having these very profound conversations, but a lot of time it was just proximity and fritos.
I know from friends who've experienced illness that the frusterating thing for them is that everything becomes about the illness - all conversations start "Oh, honey, how are you?" in The Voice.
I try and leave The Voice behind and remember that this person is who they've always been, as well as who they are becoming...as we all are every day. And sometimes we talk about the Thing, and sometimes we talk about the things of quotidian life.
And if the frequency of conversation feels forced, why not add the occational quick email to the routine - still checking in, but not having to spend that time with a silence between you?

Wyatt's Mom said...

Juno is a very wise woman. And ancrene leaves me speechless. I wanted to come on and say deep and meaningful things, but I'm tongue tied, or keyboard tied as it is.

This is a journey that you face, but not alone. I am here, broad shoulders and all. The puppyman is here to make you laugh and rant at. The kittens all love to love you.

Good friends to banter with and who care deeply for you. Ruth and Jennie come quickly to mind. Wise and wonderful woman from the list, some who you will probably never meet, but are there for you in cyberspace.

We choose our families, and we have choosen well. Your mom though, not by choice, but if you had to choose, could you have better? I don't think so. She made you, in large part, who you are, and for that I am eternally greatful.

Because of her, I have partnered with the most amazing woman in the world. So I send my thoughts and blessings to this amazingly warm, gifted and funny woman.

And to you, my love, everything that I have, physically and emotional is yours.

All my love,
Karen

M. said...

Wow, this is tough, and you've articulated the issues so well.... FWIW, what Juno said about remembering the ordinary stuff (and leaving behind The Voice) is something Lisa's said to me. And sometimes you can't say the right things - there are no "right things" - and the most useful thing you can do is be a lightning rod for all the stuff that the person can't otherwise say. Or maybe Lisa's just cranky! ;-)

louisiana swamp rat said...

My heart aches for you, sweetie, but I have no answers...Kelly's mother is a cancer survivor, when it was as raw and new for her as it is for you right now, we made our second move from Atlanta back home to New Orleans. I can't say it made things better being closer to her (3 hours versus 12), but it made for different topics of conversation -- simply because we spent every other weekend with her and were forced to discuss the everyday specifics of life in addition to the cancer that was living so closely with us all. I'll ask Kelly how she dealt with it, if she has any words of wisdom, I'll pass them along.

Jennie said...

I didn't see this till today. Browser quirkiness?

Anyway, topics of conversation... I often think of your mother like mine, as they both come from strong English backgrounds, but mine is crazy-interested in current events. I think perhaps yours is not. I can always chat with my mom about what's going on in the news in government or whatever. But sometimes things are just quiet. And maybe that's ok too. K?

Melissa said...

"How does one stay a daughter when there is no mother?"
Profound question. One that I'm afraid I have far too much experience. My mom had dementia for 11 years before she passed and it was a slow leaving. As soon as my Dad died, it became clear what was going on with my mom.
I guess I realized that my sense of being parentless is something that is a signpost, touchstone and a part of aging.
On the other hand, our parents never leave us, as we hear their voices everyday, and in my case, dream about them every night.