It’s interesting how quickly things can change. How once unbending priorities can fall into obscurity, and little notes in the margin take center stage. We’ve all had to adapt to cancer and none more so than mom and Craig. In what many would consider their prime, they’ve had to adjust to a new normal, setting new priorities and giving up on old ones with little objection or resistance. It’s frankly impressive that they continue on as they do. It’s a credit to the people they were before cancer, and the people they continue to be today.
We’ve discovered, as a family, that being together makes a difference. I remember breaking down in the parking lot garage of Baptist Hospital when we first received word of mom’s GBM. I was overwhelmed with the realization that I’d spent the better part of the past decade outside the U.S., and have missed birthdays, holidays, and everything in between as a result. Getting the phone call in February that mom had fallen only reaffirmed the importance of being there. Though I continued working in Thailand, I wanted more than anything to be there with the family, to regroup as a team like we always had. I felt like an observer to the process; like I had no relevance to the situation; like I was missing the nuances of life with mom and the rest of the family. The distance allowed me to construct my own narrative – my own storyline. And of course, my imagination got the best of me.
The decision to shift priorities, pack the few things I had and make the trip east from Thailand was easy. Being together allows us to build life stories together – adding new chapters along the way. Our content: the quirky exchanges, long conversations, spontaneous sing-alongs, and, of course, laughter. Since being home, I’ve been able to be a part of the little things, like seeing Craig sing in an acapella group, or watching mom bob her head to the Law and Order song. Or personal moments like softly crying in Dixon’s bathroom as E and mom slow danced to some song she was humming.
I’ll remember the way mom’s hand felt as she buzzed my hand during our trip back from Mother’s Day dinner in Tulsa. I’ll remember the sound of her voice when she belted out “good morning, Jill” and then started laughing (this happened just before her seizure). I’ll remember laughing with dad as mom reclined on his chest, while eating string cheese (at a purposefully slow pace). I’ll also remember the tender moments, like mom in the morning saying she can’t do this, and dad rushing to her side to give her a reassuring hug. And mom asking about videos of Craig playing harmonica, and expressing regret that she never had the chance to see him play.
I’ll remember the touch of mom’s frail hands as I rubbed lotion on them, and discussing why someone would bother with the voice impersonations while listening to books on tape. I’ll remember the wacky moments like watching dad put his dessert in a bowl and then leaving the bowl in a cupboard. Or random conversations like dad telling us about one of his childhood friends who was an heir to a circus; his friend had a role as a circus clown in his family business. Dad seemed particularly happy when one time, his friend – the clown – waved to him from the circus ring. And I’ll remember mom singing her own version of Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight train,” with mom’s lyrics something like “I don’t care which train I’m on, just as long I keep rollin’ on.”
I’ll remember watching the Colbert Report with Craig, or watching him pull a hand towel over his legs over and over again, as if on the fourth try, it’d magically turn itself into a full length sheet. I’ll remember watching him pound his legs in beat to “my name is stegosaurus…I’m a funny looking dinosaur.” And talking about Burma while pushing his meds. Or laying on my belly in his room, and laughing with Craig at some lady attempting to sing on NPR (psst, you ain’t no Streisand). Or hearing him tell Emily “I promise I’ll try to get better.”
Some have expressed concern that I’m “giving up on my life” by being here. Being here ensures that I’ll be able to continue after all is said and done. If I were to stay away, I’d be sacked by a lifetime of regret, and a book with no character. It all goes back to knowing your priorities. My priority is being here with and for my family, and giving Craig and mom the quality of life they deserve. Our love and memories will provide comfort later in life. I would have missed all of this had my priorities been different. — J
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