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Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

A long commentary on the weekend vis à vis the YMCA


As an undergraduate, I worked at a childcare center as a preschool teacher. My duties ranged from helping children change out of their poopy pants to developing their curriculum. Perhaps needless to say, I was paid a stunning $7 per hour to enrich their lives. The director had a huge bookshelf from which I would select, often arbitrarily, a book for morning circle time. One day, I grabbed a blue paperback with a drawing of a child sitting on the floor of a bathroom, which he had clearly destroyed himself. The child on the cover is beaming, proud of smearing toothpaste on the floor and spreading toilet paper around the room and waving a shiny watch just a little too close to the toilet. The book, Love You Forever, looked like a good choice for my motley crew of three- and four-year-olds, and the director smiled at me as I chose it, as she often did.

The book is wonderful and deeply moving. It’s funny enough for small kids to enjoy it, and they’re still able to glean some significant meaning from it—my parents will always love me. Somewhat troubling is the deeply moving ending, and this was an ending for which I was not prepared. The general plotline is that Mommy has a Son, and she rocks him and sings,

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always.
As long as I’m living,
My baby you’ll be.”

She does this with him when he is a pure and gentle infant, an enthusiastic toddler, a grubby kid, a reckless teenager, and a grown up man. When she is old and sick, he comes to her and rocks her and sings,

“I’ll love you forever,
I’ll like you for always.
As long as I’m living,
My mommy you’ll be.”

At which point I nearly burst into tears in front of 18 of my closest child-friends. The Son then goes home and rocks his own pure and gentle infant, singing his mother’s version of the song. (Later, I walked back into the director’s office and encountered other staff who were incredulous that I had read it without crying in front of the kids. I was livid that they had seen my choice and hadn’t warned me ahead of time.)

Sweet, loving, touching, etc., etc. It’s a great book all the time, but it’s gut wrenching and heart breaking when your mother is dying. So I bought it for her, and it arrived yesterday while I was with her. We both cried at the first page, and it took several minutes to get past that point. Thinking back on it now, I can’t quite remember why I’m doing this, why I would subject myself to such constant heartache.

But today, we went to the Y and hung out in the hot tub. We paid the $10 per head daily rate and, for an hour, moved between the massive hot tub and small instructional pool. I gave her the last tiny bit of support she needed to float in a completely relaxed position. No muscles tensing, no pressure on her joints or bones. Her upper back was just resting on my right forearm, and I kept my left arm under her knees. I held her in a suspended cradle position, so effortlessly and distantly that it was almost like I didn’t mean it. I did. I do.

And I know why I subject myself to this heartache. I know how deeply this is scarring me. There is no alternative. I live this out with her, or I die knowing I left her. Sometimes I panic and want to get out, to stop myself from going through this and to stop this whole thing from happening. Maybe if I bail on her, she won’t die. That’s not even convoluted logic. It’s just not logic.

Last night, one of my dreams was that I went into a building, ostensibly a movie theatre, and it was quite dark with red light around the back of the room. There were two doors in front of me, and one line of people at each door. A man, a worker at this establishment, was informing the people lining up that through his door, there was a certain movie on one side of the hall, another farther down on the same side, and so on. Then, he laughed and announced that it was actually Hell, burning for eternity, etc., etc. I turned around to go back out, but the doors only opened from the outside. Others were streaming in, and I couldn’t get them to stop. And then I woke up.

I fought with myself all day about what that dream fucking means. It wasn’t until I wrote that paragraph about panicking and wanting out that it made perfect sense. This is a hell, and I can’t get out. All of my anxiety about this process floods me when I’m there and when I’m making plans to be there or return from there. For no specific reason, my stomach sank when I sat down on the train tonight. It just did. Because this sucks.

But I do it. I want to do it. Being there with her in her last months and days and hours and breaths is what this is all about. She saw me into this life, and I’ll see her out of it.

Because I love her.
Because she loves me.
Because she made me who I am.
Because she gave herself to me.
Because I cannot bear to let her go, and this is the closest thing to keeping her.


1 Comments:

At 11:49 PM, Blogger Ms.Sassypants said...

I know this is an old post...I found this through your other blog. As a daughter whose mother is dying of leukemia, it's been a comfort to read your blog. I'd say more, but I'm not sure what it is I want to say, besides, thank you. I feel so lost right now, thank you for sharing your journey (how pretensicous did THAT sound, LOL). Thanks.

 

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