My mom was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, and after an all too quick battle, she passed away late last fall. I’ve been offline with the blog for awhile just because it was too much, I wanted to take some time to process and figure things out, and quite honestly my heart was too tender to want to share anything.
And, I wanted to share the right things with none of the wrong things. It’s my story about my mom, but it’s also her story, and my dad’s story and her entire family’s story and everyone’s story is different and deserves to be respected. So I waited until I felt like I cold frame it properly and honestly, with the right clarity.
Grief sucks, it well and truly does. You can know it’s coming, you can read about it, prep for it, understand it and still it envelops you like a wave washing you out to sea, steals your breath, and wipes out the ground beneath your feet. And the only remedy it seems is to resign yourself to the fact that you have to ride the wave and endure. Good days and bad, highs and lows, and a heaping dose of honesty about how you are doing…really. There’s nothing for it but to just go through.
I’m not there yet, haven’t got it all figured out, not even close to speaking like I’m the resident expert in any of it. Just saying that I’m processing, rebuilding, coping and thinking about what was, what is and what may be next. And as I work through this season, remembering what it was like to be able to share a simple cup of coffee my mom not that long ago, and dealing with the fact I never will again, the very first emotion the wells up every time, is gratitude.
I am so incredibly thankful for the gift of time, and let us be honest, warning, that time was shorter than we would have liked. I used the knowledge as a lens to focus everything else I did over the past year with no regrets. Below is a list of the things, or at least some of the things that experience and time tell me were good and wise decisions.
- I do not regret taking time. From the moment mom my called and said that they saw something on an x-ray and were sending her for a CT scan, I knew, knew where the story was going. I remember turning my chair towards the rest of my office colleagues and saying “My mother has cancer.” Then and over the next few days I opened my calendar and cancelled every unnecessary thing and pooled all of my vacation time in a giant invisible box called “medical appointments with my parents” and used those days judiciously. I didn’t go to every appointment, but I, with my mom’s permission, called every doctors office and asked which appointments where “big” and important to attend. And I found a way to get to almost all of them which. Was no small feat since I live in a different city. It helped me to understand what was happening, but also gave me a chance to write stuff down and ask the questions my mom and dad wouldn’t think to ask, and then allowed me to talk them through things later. Cancer is so overwhelming, no one should have to go through it alone. I am so grateful that I was able to be there for my parents.
- I do not regret asking for help. When my mom’s timeline shortened from months to weeks and then to days, I tagged in friends, families, and colleagues to help. My little engine that could, couldn’t anymore. I pulled in all of my reserves for the difficult road ahead, concentrated on my mom and dad, and trusted everything else to survive until I got through the other side. My work graciously allowed me to work remotely for a brief season until I could no longer. Our friends, neighbors, and small group/church community all pitched in with meals. A daughter in nursing school, a son finishing high school, and my husband working full time with trips to come and help left very little time. For them to grocery shop and prepare food and these generous people got us through. My husband, carried everything at home with alternating visits to my parents and my kids stepped up to help him in every way. I’ve never been prouder or more thankful for my family than right the. My son learned how to cook. How awesome is that? And that is why he more than anyone appreciated the meals delivered by friends like this honey mustard chicken. My daughter, bless her to infinity even came to me when I didn’t even know I was running on fumes, and helped in the most profound and personal of ways. For the first time I truly saw her as a full on adult and it was a profound moment for me since I have always carried her, until she showed up to carry me…while I carried my mom. That right there felt like the circle of life in reverse. It was heart wrenching and beautiful at the same time.
- I do not regret spending money on and with my mom. Anytime I was at my parents, whenever I could, I paid. I paid for parking, I bought my mom soduku books, I took both of my parents out for meals together and separately. Sometimes they insisted on buying the meal, but I always drove. I crammed every thoughtful purchase and positive memory I could into the last year. After every medical appointment, we went out for lunch, and they got to pick. There was breakfast in the diner that my mom worked at before she even met my dad. Same floor plan, similar menu, 60 years later. There was lunch at their favorite submarine shop, dinner at their favorite fish and chip restaurant, and all points in between. It was a bit like a yearlong tour of every greasy spoon in the area but I am so glad I got to just sit and listen to them reminisce. I’m so glad I stopped to breathe and take it all in and just enable them to do their thing, instead of trying to direct them to things that were comfortable a familiar to me. After being out of their house for so many years it was a gift to me to watch them be together in sync, in their world. When we were alone for an appointment my mom and I had a habit of having a quick lunch and stopping at Homesense. We’d tour the aisles and my mom would buy little kitchen trinkets and gadgets and unique coffee cups. She was ever on the hunt for the perfect coffee mug and she tried a good many in her search. And my mother, who was nothing if not frugal, had no qualms telling me to splurge on things that caught my eye that I typically would have passed by. I have not yet used my ravioli maker, but to the end of time I will be so glad that she talked me into the beautiful decorative bedding in shades of purple with silver sparkles to accent. My saint of a husband had zero say in the matter. And graciously went along with it, but every time I make my (now) fancy and not utilitarian bed I smile and think about how much fun it was to be impulsive with my mom that day.
- I do not regret taking care of myself. It does not take too many nights sleeping on a hospital cot, drinking too much coffee, eating crappy convenient food, and just plain worrying to start feeling unwell. I think I got two months in and I was pretty certain I was starting to dance with high blood pressure. Headaches, exhausted, irritable, puffy and every other negative adjective related to health you can think of. I’m not sure if the low point was me going to a nurse at work and asking to have my blood pressure checked, or when my supervisor looked at me and said “ I’m seriously worried about your health” while I thought “me too”, but I did know that no one could help me but me. I am by no means a paragon of health and fitness, so don’t be led astray thinking you’ll see me on the cover of any health magazine anytime soon, but I was resolved to make sure I had the health I needed to be there for my parents. I dusted off the elliptical and used it….more often than I wanted to? Probably a few times a week and any time I had stress/big feelings nipping at my heels. We supplemented that with a used but functional treadmill. I also used my fitbit to set the goal to improve my activity levels (that step counter works!) and track my food. Partially tracking calories because my habit of eating my feelings was getting out of hand, and partially to keep a log of what I ate so I was conscious of not eating crap. Or at least as much crap? To be clear, not a diet, but sustainable improvements and better choices. I cut empty calories like putting sugar in my coffee, processed breakfast cereal, and sweetened yogurt, I decreased alcohol, increased water, swapped more veggies and fruits onto my plate and reduced/made better choices for my starches. It wasn’t rocket science and it’s all the stuff you already know to do, I just….did it. I also added one of those green nutritional supplements into the mix. I know someone who swears by Pranin Organic Supplements and incorporated their multivitamin and a B complex supplement into my diet in smoothies…about as periodically as the elliptical. Finally, I kept melatonin in stock to help when I couldn’t sleep. The results? I felt physically better almost immediately, my emotions stayed in line, I had clarity of thought, I caught only one cold all year, I slept, my energy levels increased, my muffin top diminished, I was able to do all of the things that needed doing.
- I do not regret setting up boundaries. You can’t be all things to all people, and if you are going to run a marathon, you’ve got to throw some stuff out of your pack because it’ll be too heavy. Very early on, when I started culling my schedule, I closed my circle. I surrounded myself with people who were the most dear, that I could trust with my heart, that understood what I was going through, would be gracious when I disappointed them, had an off day, or dropped out of society in general. Basically people who loved me enough to have zero expectations from me for a season. As an aside, it took me many years to create a group of friends like these but I am grateful to have found them. Everything else I minimized, if it was going to drain my energy, I opted out, if it was going to full my tank I did it. I even cancelled parties at my own house that I wanted to throw with those same dear people but realized was too much and a bad idea on my part in the first place. I said no to some business trips, girl’s nights, my usual volunteer obligations, and whatever else I needed to say no to. I said yes to my family, yes to my parents, mostly yes to the board I’m on, and yes to work, which included one business trip, but a fun one. No regrets for saying no, and no apologies for it.
- I do not regret taking some time to reengage. My mom has passed and the sense of urgency is gone with it, but just because life does go on and continue forward, it doesn’t mean I have to jump back in with both feet. I took some time before going back to work, (again thankful that I was able to), I kept and continue to say no and plan to keep my circle closed for a while longer so that I can be very intentional about when and where I pick up and move on. I took the time to make sure my sleep was solid, and I took the time to plan ahead for some fun things to re-charge. We’ve got some big celebrations over the next 18 months and we are going to mark every occasion in style. I took a break from the internet in general, social media and messaging in particular, because it’s ok to stay offline for awhile when you are mending. We forget that we don’t have to answer a phone when it rings or answer a message or text that comes in unless you want to. I took the time to say thank-you to everyone that helped me get through and I’m taking the time to re-plug into those healthier habits that wobbled a bit sideways since she passed. And I am taking the time to be honest about where I am in the grieving process, and intentional about really appreciating my dad, my husband, my kids, my community, my workplace, and my life.
There is a season for everything under the sun, and as this season runs into the next I am thankful for the things I do not have to regret.