From the Vault
“There comes a time when you become so far behind in writing about life that you just give up. What’s the point of documentation, of spending valuable moments lost in thought instead of taking in what’s around you? Living in the moment; relishing the day; holding on to every second you can still say, “hey mom?” and have a “Ye-ah?” in return.”
November 25, 2007
I searched for a notebook to scribble notes for work and there it was - a memory waiting to be recalled. That was the beginning of a hand written passage I drafted last Thanksgiving break…
There comes a time when you become so far behind in writing about life that you just give up. What’s the point of documentation, of spending valuable moments lost in thought instead of taking in what’s around you? Living in the moment; relishing the day; holding on to every second you can still say, “hey mom?” and have a “Ye-ah?” in return. Where do you begin to capture what you want never to forget? How can you hope that 28 years of memories will be enough to last a lifetime? How do you maintain optimism against something seemingly so bleak? How do you stare in the face of profound pain, sadness, and fear and manage to give a smile, a high-5? While hearing her say “we’re going to beat this thing”, thinking to yourself “I hope so” but hearing words of confidence, strength, and encouragement instead. “We had a good week mom. We have many more good weeks ahead. You keep fighting and we are right there beside you every moment. Live each day.”
Earlier, just before celebrating Craig’s 32nd birthday Lawler-style with dinner, presents, and obnoxious song, she cried. It’s a rare occasion for her to cry despite having every reason to. Lots of folks complain and sob over more trivial things-work projects, boyfriends who don’t pay enough attention, long commute, stupid incidents in the grand “incident” of living. Tonight, she broke down in a sobbing pain for something far, far more significant. The deepest, gut wrenching look of sadness and fear overtook her. It was the look of a woman fearing that this was the ”last time to be here to celebrate his birthday” as she later explained.
Diane, Jill and I were there with her in her bathroom as she processed. She said she was sorry for breaking down. We encouraged the tears, the expression, and shared in the sadness. I said, “You’re here now, Mom”. Diane followed with, “Take each moment as it comes, one day at a time”. We wandered back to her bed. Dad came in at this moment, whistling. He saw the four of us crying, said “oh”, and left. It was too intense, maybe. Craig was in the family room either completely oblivious to the moment or purposefully checking out. He was noticeably disengaged for the duration of our time together, despite doing the traditional jog around the cross country track and work out at the gym. While Diane, Jill, Mom and I played, giggled, sang, wrestled, watched back to back episodes of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit together, he slept. Something was different, distant. On occasion, he’d tune in to an episode, but not often. He typically did his own thing-walked down the street playing harmonica, swam. When we’d ask him if he wanted to do something, he mentioned that he “couldn’t keep up with our pace”. To his credit, that’s probably true. Tired, worn out, emotionally spent, all these expressions or attributes somehow turn another tide when dealing with mom. You have energy because you have to. You have charisma and playfulness because you have to. For the sake of mom, normalcy must at least be entertained (whilst not ignoring our reality). Normalcy includes joking around, working out together (walking around the track together), cooking, standing extremely close and talking as if in a huddle and the competition might hear our plays. (The visual is particularly funny given her smallish stature (4′11) and fluffy bathrobe). Normalcy includes watching the Bedlam game together and talking to the TV, then going to get coffee during halftime. Normalcy includes dressing up - Mom in her new brown sweater and amber jewelry. My favorite. She sought out Diane’s makeup — had a real yearning to put herself together which was nice to see. Man she’s beautiful.
When the family’s together, time seems to slow for us - to stand still. Tonight, we were as we were and have always been. The disease was ever present and would sometimes rear its head with tearful exchanges but we dealt with it gracefully. The context was never lifted but we managed to live inside it as Lawlers do- with a jovial, determined, contagious spirit. Still, the context was inescapable certainly when mom cried at dinner. She was frustrated that her food options had become limited by the cancer. Cancer feeds on sugar. The better the diet, the better the chances of surviving. More importantly, she was sad from all of the ”last moments” –the possible last Thanksgiving, possible last celebration of Craig’s birthday as a family. In those moments, I become very angry for what she is enduring. Why her? Why us? It’s unfair that she has to live in that continued threat of “lasts”, to envision her inexistence.
Back in her bedroom, her daughters just listened to her, gave her support where we could and showed her how much she meant to us as she discussed the possibilities. On these days, it seems worry is our most persistent friend. I think every mother takes on the role with a kernel of doubt whether they will end up being “a good mom”. Knowing that opportunities may be limited in the future, we tried to show her in that moment that she was our everything. We told her it was okay to cry. It was okay to be scared, to be sad and angry. It felt odd to be coaching our mom in expressing emotion, to feeling vulnerability as if we were somehow stronger in the moment and sharing our strength. Maybe we were, maybe we weren’t. Maybe we were still kids drawing from her all that she offered even in the moments of cancer. A mom facing cancer and all that it represents is a mom, a woman, and a role model. I don’t know how she does it but she does it with grace and tremendous courage.
Those moments of crying for her are fleeting. She usually stops them with a brief comment, “crying makes my head hurt”, over a familiar sardonic smile and new look of anguish. It’s just too much for her to get into, to entertain for too long and I can’t blame her. To entertain losing her for even a moment is too long for me. It’s simply too painful, though some part of me accepts that scenario as one version of reality this disease might lead us to. I see it on her face like I see it on mine, an indescribable fear tempered by unfettered resilience. It’s the “I’m not ready yet” look. I wish I could take her pain, transfer her disease to me - a younger body with a better chance. I would if I could and she knows that. We’d all lay on the tracks for her if it meant even stalling this train.
When saying goodnight, I said at any time you’re scared, sad, angry, whatever it is, just talk and we’ll be here for you and she said she would. I told her we’ll listen at all times and there will be a time where we’ll need to talk with her (to talk of aspirations she has for us, to share how much we love her and will miss her). She told Jill and I that all she wants for us is for us to be satisfied with life. (Was she, I wondered). With our careers, the people in our lives… When asked, she said she wasn’t disappointed we haven’t met anyone because she doesn’t feel we are ready to settle down yet. One day, she said. On the topic of parenthood, her biggest piece of advice was, “choose your battles”.
I don’t think she had many with me. I recall the great Battle of Polar Bear (which Jill and I won and took home a life sized polar bear from Sears that we didn’t need looking back on it BUT loved and used as a reading chair) and the infamous battle of “Quit your bitching”, which I also won. Perhaps those were battles she chose to lose. I’ll never forget her smile when she did and hope I’m only half as tolerant…
As feared, this was the last Thanksgiving and Craig’s birthday to share with Mom. …and with Craig
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