When my mom was going through treatment for the first time, we lived several hours from one another, so I wrote her letters. Today, I found a letter I wrote her as she was nearing the end of treatment. I stumbled on this letter while cleaning up my inbox as I sat stewing in frustration at the interminable wait with the bank to sort out yet, another component of my mother's estate. I've enclosed the letter I likely dashed off to her with my thumbs while sitting in the parking lot outside my studio, heartsick and riddled with anxiety. It turned out that I needed to read it today. Below is a glimpse into our language of that year of treatment.
Thinking of you hopefully sitting and gazing out at that pretty lake while number 17 runs its course. I hate chemo days. I hate to think of you alone, suffering silently and bravely as the poison is put into you. I wish we were there. I wish you were surrounded by laughter and sunshine instead of sickness and sterility.
As always, this seems so unfair. I've stopped asking why and wanting to know how did this happen. Those days are over. They actually never really existed. It seems from the moment this started; it's been, let's put on a brave face and fight it. I've never let myself ask the questions how and why did this happen. I think perhaps I know it's futile. Why waste energy saying why my mother, why this beautiful woman, why our family? This stuff happens, and we are not exempt from the ordinary, the mundane, or even the rarest cancers. These things happen. They happen every day to good people. The real test, I think, is how you deal with it. Not everyone brings grace, style, and love to the table. Many offer up bitterness and resentment and wallow in the why me. Your attitude, grace, style, love, and open-mindedness are your formula for a winning combination.
As we march forward, I hope we can remember to leave the why me attitude behind, to no longer make it part of any equation. Life's sometimes hard, unfair, and seemingly unjust. Asking why me never helped anyone. In our darkest hour, we say to ourselves, why her? But then we see your example, and we remember there is no why me. Soon this will be over. Soon you will be surrounded by laughter, sunshine, and children and grandchildren who love you. We think of you every chemo day and send you love and laughter. We think of you every day and send you love and laughter. There is only this life when it gets hard, but this is also life surrounded and infused with love.
So, in my darkest hour, I brush away the tears and ask the universe, why did you choose me to be this amazing woman's daughter? Why choose me for this incredible privilege? The answer is that life isn't fair, and sometimes you draw the long straw. As far as mothers go, I had the universe on my side.
It's almost down to two. You've got this. I'm so thankful that you were meant for me. I love you.
I'm starting to steep in the injustice of life, the unfairness, and the frailty of the human condition. It's not lost on me that those days of agony are now, gone, gone, gone and that my mother now rests in love and light, surrounded by those who love her most.
I miss her so viscerally that some days I can't catch my breath. I confess it is a welcome addition to the numbness that settled in my bones immediately after her death. I froze. A glacier of grief sat in my soul, allowing me to feel nothing but heaviness. Gradually I am starting to thaw.
Recently I was convinced that my body was swelling from the unshed tears I was carrying around. That my untapped grief was physically manifesting in bloat. It would not be the first time my body turned on itself in response to unprocessed trauma.
I went to a writer's workshop two weeks ago, and everything about it was inspiring and motivating, yet I came back unable to write anything but morning pages. Morning pages are an exercise in writing where you just word vomit your thoughts onto a page. The theory is it clears the mind and allows you to write. Thus far, I don't have much to share. Just doing the pages feels like a win. This morning I wrote for three pages straight, "I miss you."
That is all I knew to say. I miss her. Terribly.
My glacier is starting to melt, and the tears have been leaking from my eyes all day. It feels like a baptism.
I wrote the passage below at the writer's workshop in response to the question, "How did I end up here? I thought I would share it as all I'm coming up with is pages of scribbled "I miss you." Through this process, I'm learning to meet myself where I am. We should all extend the same grace to ourselves and each other. Today the best I can do is scribble, "I miss you," over and over and cry at old e-mails. Tomorrow may be different, or it may be more of the same. What will be constant is there will never be an end to "I miss you."
The impetus for this trip began in January. A month remarkable for new beginnings will forever be tagged in my memory as my mother's long goodbye. While the rest of the world ushered in a new year, I sat numbly at my mother's kitchen table, taking a crash course in end-of-life care from a weary but kind-hearted hospice nurse. As she discussed morphine schedules and comfort kits, I struggled to breathe. My body turned into a traitor, the first chink in the armor of control and capability I was determined to wear. As she droned on, my brain and my body seemed to be in a fight for control. One was going haywire while the other was desperate to stay the course.
I quickly became schooled in the language of dying. Though speaking the language was one thing, living with an up close and personal view of death was another matter.
We struggled to find our footing, sequestered in a haven of hospice. A place where I crushed pills, suspended them in liquid morphine and drew them into a syringe to feed my mother—every time wondering if I was easing her pain or marching her one step closer to the end of her life. It was a place where I, too often, felt like the angel of death.
It was also a place where we gathered and laughed. Where we asked hard questions, had harder conversations, and walked around with permanently watery eyes.
It was in this space of overwhelm and exhaustion that I looked at my husband and said when this is over; I am going away. I don't care where, but far from this. He nodded as we watched my mom's new pet fish flicker his bright blue tail. Her hospice fish- a gift from my seven-year-old son- was aptly named RIP. RIP was a source of comfort to us all, a pop of color in a sea of sorrow. He also made us laugh whenever anyone said his name. The language of the dying is equal parts pain and humor.
During that long but short month, we began to dream of travel. It seemed at the time as alien as crushing pills had the first night at the hospice round table. I couldn't imagine this ever ending. I lived in fear that it would end and, alternatively, that it would never end.
Suspended in the wait, I often read from a little pink book called Remedy. I read to my mother. I read to my brothers, children, and husband, but mostly I read to myself as I carried the soul-crushing weight of my mother's death. I often found the remedy in this pink book. It was a panacea for my soul and a song for my spirit.
When January ended, and the shroud of shock descended, covering every inch of my being and seeping into every pour of my body, I reached for the pink book and Ted Lasso reruns.
The impetus for this trip was my mother's goodbye. The reason for this trip was to say thank you to the man who wrote the pink book and helped soothe my soul. The purpose of this trip is to dial down the fear and dial up my voice.
My voice is thawing. It's currently caught in a loop, finally paying homage to the longing and the loss.
I miss you. I miss you. I miss you.
I don't know much about grieving; I know that saying thank you to those who show up for you is necessary. Thank you for indulging me in my grief and sorrow and making me feel heard.
The writer that I traveled to say thank you to is John Roedel. Find him. Read him. I know you'll love him.