from Wikimedia Commons
So on Monday, I'm going to be 54, and the following Tuesday, Mom will be a frail 77. I have contemplated our age difference a lot recently, thinking about how unformed I was at 23, how wounded at 24, and then reflecting on how my Mom had me, at barely 23. I was, to say the least, a challenging child. I can't imagine. Especially, I can't imagine my Mom and my Dad and how they ever managed the quantum entanglement that resulted in a hurtful marriage and me. I can kind of understand, knowing both of them, what led my mom afoul when I was 3 (hey, long before post-partum depression was understood, and regular depression is still such a taboo... A failure of will, what a lack of discipline, pull yourself up by your bootstraps and just get on with it, no matter how many times you get knocked down!) and how my parents circled one another like a they were like bowling balls, or twin stars, on a gravitational track into a black hole. Swish, swish as they swirl around each other, both to be extinguished, crushed and then, the quanta exit to form new worlds.
Wow, that got side-tracked... So anyway, after years of diffident and sometimes hostile-avoidant interaction, here I am worried about my Mom. The same Mom I overtly blamed, in a sadly seen by her diary, at age 16, for the ruination of my "family" (not that it had been all that awesome, mind you) by her refusal to try anti-depressants, and for her lack of "participation" in my life. (Yeah, that thing about not showing up at all for anything in school still burns. Award ceremonies (senior year got 5, but friend's parents were the one's clapping for me). Parent Night (I was a guide, showing everyone's parents around but mine), College graduation (all she cared about was that Phi Beta Kappa pin but she didn't go to the ceremony, even for that...), So yeah, she watches Fox News now (incessantly and thinks Bill O'Reilly is awesome and that Bobby Jindal is soooo smart) and I watch BBC and Al Jazeera. Oil and water, my mom and me, the mostly my father's active, go-getter child, on a social justice crusade because, hey, ya gotta do more than fill your time gardening. (Oops, I do garden, come to think of it...) And yet, she influenced who I am, my intellectual curiosity, my interest in music, art, literature, more than my Dad ever did. My dad was never around much and then he left. Such common wounds, these. Yet bridged, or bandaged, by urgency, by foreseeing a future with so little time.
About 5 years ago, my mom lost 30 pounds. It seemed gradual, but one day, as leaving after a visit, I hugged her and I realized that there was just too little of her to be right. Enter the aggressive pursuit of fixing my Mom. After a 1.5 hour wait and total indifference from her then GP, I ditched him on her behalf and after asking the Provost of UM (connections, man!) for a recommendation, got to an autoimmunologist (old school) and a really good geriatrician. Aggressive pursuit of reasons for weight loss and a slew of other things (platelet aggregation disorder? Hematologist! Refractory celiac? Diverticulosis? diverticulitis? GI! Nodules in the lungs? Pulmonologist!) led eventually, five years later, to now. Ah. Let me talk about now.
At the last geriatrician appointment, my frail mom, who used to be 5' 4.5" was measured as barely 5' 1" ("Stand up straight, dear!" said the kind nurse with the Caribbean accent) and 119 lbs, up from 118 lbs (and way up from 107 lbs!), but I know it's only because she didn't take her sweater off. This was the appointment where we found out that the cancer in her lungs maybe probably came from elsewhere only we spoke in code because the language my mom speaks is "Don't touch me, I'm tired and I am tired especially of all this." Later, I read the PET scan report and found out that what we had been told was primary lung cancer and early stage 4 was actually primary colon cancer and waaaay stage 4. Like lungs, adrenal glands and colon. Oh, my! Three colonoscopies over the past
three fifteen years, capped by a virtual colonoscopy in May of this year, and none of them showed... the clearly visible on PET scan massive lesion with more than half the maximum uptake of the radionuclide-tagged glucose (8.1 on a maximum scale of 15)!
Today, I saw the actual scan, with a good friend of my mom's who is her acupuncturist and a modest practitioner of Chinese Medicine. My mom, who naively but firmly stated to me that her friend had both seen the scan and understood how to read it, doesn't know that her friend Mary and I sat down and I basically interpreted a little shop of horrors for her. About the best I can say is that it hasn't made it to her brain. The lesion in her colon is so large that in comparison to her frail frame and narrow hips, it took my breath away. A lesion missed by so many exams, a lesion that will consume her.
In recent weeks we have made end of life preparations- Advanced Directives, Living Will, Designation of Healthcare Surrogate, Trusts. so much planning. Yet all I can remember of this, right now, is a narrow pelvis and a colon cancer the size of Texas, in my mind. I've had other friends who have battled cancer- some lost, many won, with all the modern techniques and treatments. But this is somehow different. Both the painfully accurate five years long conviction that something is really wrong with her, and heartrending reality that it's too late to do anything now that we finally, finally figured out what was wrong. And the unrelenting reality that she is being eaten alive from the inside out and there is nothing I can do, or anyone can do, now, to fix it. Did I mention how strained my Mom and I have been? Or that I would do anything to "fix" her? To buy her more time? To buy her no pain?
When we were working on the trust, the deed for her house will be tied to her trust, of course. I was so absorbed thinking of what will become not of the house, but of her garden, her life's work and the one thing that makes her happy. An ecosystem for cats, for birds, for squirrels, opossums, raccoons and at one time some sort of exotic fowl that I still can't confidently identify (cruelly killed by some predator, crushing my mom). No one will be able to maintain that garden, and as my husband says, with maybe too much gusto, no one is going to want that garden... Something inside me just quails at this. It was the one thing, in 54 years on this earth, that I knew made her happy. She, the one who grew camelias in Miami, delphinia, and so many other northern plants I love, the creator of magic, reader of stories with voices, the offerer of wonderful books, art, music, is dying. Somewhere, the intersection between PET scans and gardens spells disaster. I can drop a Google Maps pin and show you where.
There is this garden. It's a slice of magic. And it's gonna die. Just like her.
It hurts so bad.
Garden as a metaphor for a person? Hey, why not.
Garden as a metaphor for a person? Hey, why not.