Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Anniversary and Mother's Day

For all of the years I have been a mother, I have boycotted Mother's Day. As a child, I was forced to endure the torturous behavior of my mother. If we failed to make her feel special "enough" then we were subjected to emotional abuse for being ungrateful children. When I finally became a mother, she stripped me of that role and that child. By the time I had children the world recognized as mine, the sour taste was so strong in my mouth, I just wanted nothing to do with the occasion.

We've long run away from Mother's Day even in the days we were consistent with our church atttendance. I actually think it's been nineteen years since I was in church for Mother's Day, by my personal and deliberate choice. For those same reasons, even when children came into my life, I refused to make it a day about me, something that I forced into being for my family. It was never meant as a passive aggressive thing. I merely felt that my family knew it was Mother's Day and if they opted to remember it, then that was their decision but not one I would make for them. If we've had any sort of family tradition, it's that we almost always go hiking. That was merely a result of hiking being the most isolated way to escape the commemoration of the day without staying in bed for the day. Since I homeschooled for most of their lives, I did tell them it was Mother's Day, but I never played it up.

What has never been as easy for me to accept is that our anniversary falls within the same period of time as Mother's Day, sometimes even falling on the actual day. Until last year, the biggest celebration I can ever remember in all of the years we've been together was the year I decided to buy a Wii for the family, instead of an actual anniversary celebration for us. When the fall happened, I didn't want to celebrate being married to him. It took me at least two celebrations to see anything joyful about the date instead of a time of mourning for me.

Last year was perhaps the first time I was willing and ready to truly celebrate being married to this man....and Micah was dying. We did an overnight stay at a major attraction and then headed home. It was absolutely beautiful, understated, and the first time we had been alone overnight since we traveled to India years ago to pick up Ch. Let me just say, a $10/night hostel where they spend an hour at midnight trying to sell you tourist packages and then hand you a skeleton key for your door is just NOT romantic, especially when it comes after a long day of international travel and just before an early start to a second day of domestic travel. How I actually slept knowing the small bar of metal was the only thing between myself and any intruder came only from the belief that if I died that night, losing sleep was not going to make the situation any better. I also made II find a better hotel for our return to New Delhi with Ch. The rest of that trip we were not alone, and I was fully focused on Ch's medical situation that was clearly unstable when we picked him up. So, last year truly counts as the first time in nearly a decade that both of us went away overnight together. He's sent me away, or I've traveled on a rare occassion. He's traveled for business, and lived alone until we moved to New England last spring. We have not been together.

Last year's trip was mostly my initiation. There were no additional gifts, since Micah was dying and S had just been dropped on our doorstep. S came with a long list of expensive needs and immediately sucked up a good portion of our trip budget. I am grateful that I was able to check something big off my bucket list, but it wasn't exactly a long, nor decedant trip.

II has a long, long history of bing a lousy celebrator for birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine's Day, and Christmas. I have taught him a standard that I want the children to never know what it is like to not be celebrated. My entire childhood was able not being allowed to draw attention away from my mother and onto myself. The only people who celebrated me on any holidays or birthdays was my grandparents, who made things magical to the best of their ability to work around her and from a long-distance. I wanted more for my children. Thus, we do celebrations big for the kids. It's not about dollars, because sometimes there have been far too few of those. It's about making sure they have a day where THEY get to shine and be special, and holidays about focusing on making them magical for them. Until I struggled to even like him, I did the same for II for celebrations--muted compared to the kids but still as much love and heart as I could pour into celebrating, even if all I had in my purse to spend was $20.

Only one year did I do my own celebration and I was so upset and sad that I swore I would never do so again. I had spent my lifetime in the shadows. I would rather stay in the shadows than have to force people to see me and acknowledge me when they did not care. Since II has never bothered in the past, and I won't promote myself, the children have done very little most of their lives to celebrate me. I would rather be the steady strength they know is always there than force the issue. I accept that from the children. From II, it was devestating. However, I could not force him to behave differently either.

When he moved to New England, he apparently made a vow to be a better husband. Yet, Micah was dying, and that changed everything about our lives. It wasn't that I didn't believe his effort to change was dishonest. I just didn't believe he was capable of follow-through, nor of my ability to appreciate any efforts at that point of time. I don't even remember my birthday last year, coming so close after Micah's death. II and I spoke just yesterday of my desire to not try to remember that birthday. I recall what II was planning, and that the planning fell through when Micah died. I don't remember what we did, if we did anything. I don't want to remember. That birthday is too tied into grief for me to want to be apart of it. So, I cannot tell you if II did change how he has treated any celebration that was about me. I know he was trying and then our lives fell completely apart

What I do know is that II did an effort at Christmas, not to merely put something under the tree, but for it to be about meaning and connection. I was deeply touched by his efforts at Christmas, but did not honestly believe it would happen again, not with his history. When Valentine's Day rolled around, two of our teens destroyed any ability for us to do anything by their insistence that they go to a Valentine's Dance at their school...as 8th graders who cannot date, mind you. We both gave up on the idea of Valentine's Day.

A month ago, II came home with a box for no occassion, and no reason. He gave me a necklace, a beautiful one. He never gave me an explanation as to why. Having not recieved even small gifts from him since before his cheating days, and certainly not without a very specific reason, I was nervous. This month, for the first time as an adult and as a married woman, early May was not a time when I was forgotten and trying to run away from the cultural attention.

II went way beyond my comfort zone in shining attention on me. It wasn't about the money, though he did spend some. Perhaps the most precious thing he did was send hourly love notes via text when I worked on our actual anniversary. For fifteen years love notes are the one thing I have asked from him, which he never even attempted. The attention he shone on me for the first two weeks of this month have been nearly uncomfortable to bear. Yet, the heart I see behind these choices is something so very precious to me.

In addition, now that most of the children are in public school, they have been fully indoctrinated at school regarding the holiday of Mother's Day and the expectation to honor your mother on that day. Instead of the usual lack of even recognizing the day, my children behaved differently. Having long focused on the value of handmade gifts, my children presented me with a large stack of that very type of gift. The oldest two teens gave no gift, not surprising for those two, but they did remember the day and hug me, telling me they love me. One of my children spent meticulous hours in secret burning a love letter into a board of wood for my gift. As soon as II figures out how to mount it, it will go on my walls--likely for enternity.

To culminate my tradition of escaping the day, we loaded up as a family and went to help a friend in need. Her family bought a fixer-upper and were in desperate need of manual labor to finish getting the house habitable so they can move out of their rental and work at the rest of the fix-up work as they live in their home. In a month, they made frustratngly slow progress. Thus, we loaded our crew up and headed over to lend a hand. My children gave cheerful effort, and serious labor to the day. Our friends are now looking at moving in as soon as they can now pack up their belongings, hopefully as soon as this upcoming weekend.

This was truly the best May of my adult life.

Friday, May 3, 2013

So long, my friend

They warned me when I started this job that there are certain patients you will become more attached to. They warned me to make sure and take care of myself because sometimes these losses will hurt more than others and will stay with you. I've been in the shadow of death before, just not as I fully embraced this path as a professional, dedicated to walk this journey with those who are dying.

I met you while I was on orientation, though I don't think you realized it yet. You had only visited us a few times at that point, so it was all new and overwhelming to you. You were just one of many until that day you were cold. You were so cold that your entire body shook, and your fever climbed, and it was rapidly clear to all of us that you were not cold but reacting, badly. Trying to help you get stable that day pulled at my heart. Telling you that you were not driving home, whether you wanted to or not made your strength and determination shine through. The look of love, devotion and terror on your wife's face when she came to pick you up endeared you to me, to see her love and her heart breaking as you struggled.

Quickly, you became a regular, coming to see us three times a week for life sustaining blood products. Most days your visits were short. Sometomes you spent all day with us. Each time, you wanted tomato juice because nothing else tasted at all to you anymore. On New Year's Eve, you remained in good spirits, but made it very clear that you had to leave in time to cook surf and turf for you beloved. Those lobsters weren't going to cook themselves, you insisted.

You spoke of hope, of your wife, of your children, of vitality and overocming. Only in whispers did you ever give credence to what lurked underneath. Once you told me that the doctors had told you the cancer had stopped responding to any medications. You still took them, but you continued to come to see us as well. You talked of your two children, of the joy that day so long ago that you were called to drive to Ohio and pick up your baby son, after years of longing to be a father. In your words and your devotion, love shown through.

You talked of your youth and how you played basketball on a community team. When you saw an old basketball competitor, you took time after your own visit to sit with him, to comfort him as cancer wracked his body so horribly but not his mind. You saw beyond what life had given him and were simply an old friend until he too was ready to go that day. When he died, you were the one to tell us, having read it faster in the paper than we did.

All of that time, I knew what your chart said. I never let your records guide me, but I knew what the end would be. I knew that all of that vitatlity would not battle this disease tearing down your body. I knew eventually I would have to say good-bye, no matter how much you brightened my day when you came. Knowing you would come, and we would laugh, and when I showed concern you would repsond by standing up and trying to dance helped pass my days. Knowing that I could give you something precious, compassion, support, comfort was enough. I knew when it was your season it would hurt. I knew you were my first patient to be atached to. I wasn't the only one attached to you. It was hard to not when you light up our clinic with your smile and your gentle ways.

The lesions came and I knew goodbye was getting closer. I knew those lesions came from a complete shut down of an immune system. You sought a second opinion and they told you what I already knew, there was no hope for something more. Still, you continued to come, to act as if this was temporary and it would be over soon. Then, the lesions grew and more come. You often came with bruises covering your body and I cringed to know that to give you life sustaining blood, I also had to hurt you.

There was a day our assistant walked into the office and commented that she could no wait until you were better and didn't have to come so often anymore. I pointed out that your ending was not going to be with getting better but passing from this life and she recoiled. I knew from the very beginning that you were one who would not get better. I knew, as I told her that day, that our job is not always to get you better. Sometimes we simply make sure we make your life better every moment we are called upon to support you. Sometimes that has to be enough.

You made an appointment for a third opinion, and I knew in my heart that it would not be any better than the other choices. So, it was no surprise this week to be told you have moved to hospice. Hospice will not pay for the palliative treatments of blood products. Blood is not merely palliative but life-sustaining. It just doens't cure but it prolongs. Hospice will not pay for you to return to us, so you pass from the season where our paths cross to your last journey without the chance to say good-bye and to give you one hug.

Thus, I carry your memorty with me, my friend. So long, my friend. It has been a pleasure and privilege to hold your hand. It has been a blessing to stand with you, to make these months of your life more comfortable and attainable. My prayer for you is that your passing will be without suffering and surrounded by those who love you as much as you have shown that you love them. With them, your memory will be eternal. I will open my clinic doors tomorrow and another soul will greet me in your place. They will require the minstration and attention that I poured into you, and I will soothe their suffering as I did yours. May your memory be eternal, my friend. You will be missed by so many, mine is but a small voice that says good-bye.