Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

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

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Not long enough

My parents’ anniversary is on Saturday. They would have celebrated thirty-four years of marriage. I’m going out to see Dad for the weekend because there’s nothing I can do to make it easier for him. I might as well help around the house.

August 1969: Mom (age 19), Aunt Friend (18), and Dad (21) all begin working for Bank of A Capital City on the same day. Mom and Aunt Friend become friends.

December: Mom and Aunt Friend have an apartment together and go on a double-date with Dad and some guy whose name I think is Steve. Dad is Aunt Friend’s date. Mom is Steve’s. After dinner and drinks, they return to Mom and Aunt Friend’s small apartment to listen to records and chat. Some time later, Dad gets up to leave and Steve gets up to change the record. Dad makes it to the door before he turns around, walks over to Mom, kisses her, and then walks out.

March 1970: Mom tells Dad she wants to get married. Dad says he’ll think about it. He realized that marrying at ages 19 and 21 would be risky and maybe even foolish.

“But the other outcome, not being with her, was worse than taking that risk. So I said yes.”

Easter weekend: They announce to Dad’s parents that they’ll be getting married. Gramma is flushed with pleasure. Grandpa asks if they can swing it financially, then shakes Dad’s hand in congratulations.

Two weeks later: Mom’s father and Dad are helping Mom move into a new apartment, and they’re transporting her childhood bed in the back of my grandfather’s truck. Dad tells my grandfather that he and Mom have decided to get married and that they want my grandfather’s blessing. He is silent for a few moments and then says, “You know, it’s been a bad year. My brother died. I was audited by the IRS. And now, this.” Neither of them spoke for the remainder of the trip.

May: Mom’s parents decide they won’t pay for any part of the wedding that’s now one month away. Mom and Dad make frantic changes and send out corrections on the wedding invitations. They scrape their last nickels together to pay the minister and the rental fee at the nearby Lion’s Club. Mom reveals to Dad’s family the secret of the baby she put up for adoption. The only person who expresses anything but sympathetic neutrality is Aunt Peggy, Dad’s sister-in-law. The mother of two adopted children, she thanks my mother for giving that child to someone who couldn’t have a child but wanted one more than anything, just like she had.

June: Mom is escorted down the aisle by her father as he tries to talk her out of marrying. The night before, her mother had refused to come to the rehearsal and threatened not to come to the wedding. She claimed she didn’t want to be seen marrying off her daughter. She told my mother, “Everyone in town knows what you are.” The “what,” of course, is a slut.

June 1986: Dad buys Mom the engagement ring she never had. He presented it to her at a restaurant as they waited for their table. The restaurant host came upon them, thrilled that she had just witnessed his proposal. It wasn’t, and they told her. She seemed disappointed but thought it was sweet.

March 2000: They take a sailing cruise through the West Indies to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Just before they leave, Mom has to go in for additional views on a mammogram and then requires a biopsy. When they asked if they should cancel their trip, the radiologist takes a second look at the films, verifies that it’s a ten day trip, and tells them to go. During the trip, Mom feels a sharp pain in her upper back and spends much of the day lying in bed on the boat.

April 6, 2000: Mom and Dad meet with the pathologist and learn that Mom’s tumor extends 6cm in one direction. Over the following weeks, they learn that it has metastasized to her bones and that the back pain was a stress fracture in her spine. They learn that this cancer might be kept at bay for a few years, but that it will kill her sooner rather than later.

April 21, 2000: Mom turns fifty.

February 2004: Dad and I are taking care of Mom together. Just as he begins to step outside for a cigarette, Mom starts to get up to go to the bathroom. Helping her is a two-person job, so he stays. Afterward, I tease him that her timing was impeccable and that they’ve been married too long.

“Not long enough.”


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