It’s pouring down rain, middle of the day, both Mom and I are bottom down, on the wet pavement, reeling in defeat, not twenty feet from the car. The day didn’t start out this way, there were no warning signs, or ominous premonitions, but you know how God likes to shake things up, especially when we’ve become complacent (ring a bell?) Napoleon Hill claims, “every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” Not what I was thinking at the time, more pressing issues had my focus, but after a laborious reflection came clarity and insight…
The day begins at 5:50 am when my floral covered cell phone starts beeping, it takes three seconds to figure out how to turn off the horrid sound, I take a deep breath, brief nod to God, as I review the logistics of the day. If I get up right now, Mom and I will have enough time to enjoy a cup of coffee before dressing, and arriving at the Stanford Treatment Center by 7:15 am. We are professionals at this whole infusion thing, this is our fourth round, and believe me when I say “we have it down.”
I’ve become the unsung doorman (woman), as I maneuver no less than three bags, two lukewarm coffees, one set of keys, and an unstable mother from condo to car. Juggling these obstacles like a seasoned clown I feel the need to Snapchat, but that’s not part of my skill set, and I might drop something. So my talents will remain undocumented as I move our little entourage towards the carport. There is a moment when I stand back, watching her laborious movements, and I can’t help but acknowledge how her courage strengthens my own.
When Mom, bags, and walker are safely stowed in the car we hit the road – this is when I’m seized by a powerful urge to drive away from it all – the cancer, the treatments, empty pill boxes, labs, errands, chauffeur duties, sleep-deprived, appointment driven life – but that would be a mistake, because this is exactly where we need to be, in this space, at this time. I happen to have a schedule that permits me the privileged of time. It’s my currency and I’m a big spender (ask Larry). My third child, Tony, told me on the phone just last week, “it doesn’t matter how hard it is, stay present, you will look back someday, and appreciate every moment.” A wise young man indeed.
“Can you see the holiness in those things you take for granted – a paved road or a washing machine? If you concentrate on finding what is good in every situation, you will discover that your life will suddenly be filled with gratitude, a feeling that nurtures the soul.” Rabbi Harold Kushner [Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett]
We arrive at the center just as the sun is peeking through the clouds. It’s a sign, right? The entire facility is surrounded by these gigantic picture windows. The scenery explodes in front of us with this glorious ray of light breaking through the pall, a storm cloud is forming off the horizon (which I choose to ignore), I focus instead on the lush green mountains that surround our valley, divided by a maze of intricate roadways, teaming with toy cars. I am mesmerized, clearly God has a hand in this day, and I claim it as good. Mom is called in for labs. I get to sit in the waiting room with the bags, cold coffee, and the view. Winning.
This is when things get sticky, her veins are not easy to find, some have collapsed, and the rest are compromised. This is not good for chemo. After two stabs in search of a good vein the lab tech moves us to the treatment center, to let the RN have a ‘stab’ at it (I can’t resist). She finds a good one, bless her heart, and finally gets the much anticipated sample of blood to the lab. As a woman it seems as if I’m always dealing with blood, waste products, and bodily functions. (Compost for a future blog?)
The news is not good. Her white blood count is too low for treatment today. Disappointment is the ranking emotion, like being cut from the team, we feel rejected. I want to cry, but I’m afraid I’ll never be able to stop, so I remain stoic. After three and a half hours they give her a shot of nuprin and send us home with a follow up appointment for next week. We drive back to the house in silence. I send Larry a text update with a sad emoji.
“Once you enter into this way of, I would call it companionship, walking with the suffering person who has come into your life and whom you have not rejected, your heart progressively gets educated by them. They teach you a new way of being.” Xavier Le Pichon [Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett]
This time getting the bags, the walker, Mom, and two empty coffee cups back into the house seems as if we’re retreating from an overwhelming battle. We land in our chairs in the living room and listen to the news. Glum is a good word for our current dispositions. I look at mom, I know, she knows, I know…it’s our communion. I think this is what Jesus tried to teach us.
Larry sends a text, “Let’s head up to the lake.”
Me, “Bring Mom?”
“Hell yes, if she’s up for it.” (I’m wondering if he is up for it?)
I present the idea to Mom, she practically leaps out of her chair, not really, but she starts spewing directions like an army sergeant, “I’ll need the nightie hanging on the bathroom door, fresh underwear, my pills, a toothbrush, my phone, the port-a-potty, a bottle of Gatorade, my cleanser, cream, Vaseline…,” at least she doesn’t have to deal with hair products, I spring into action, racing back and forth from car to house loading our gear.
After helping Mom into her muted red rain coat, I grab the sturdy walker, the one we use for ambitious outings, and we begin the slow march back to the car. On the way I pause to thank God for collapsed veins and low white blood cell counts. It’s as if my original urge to drive away from it all has been divinely answered.
We are twenty feet from the car, maneuvering down a gentle slope onto the carport, when her legs give out. Unexpectedly. She goes down, slowly on both knees, and then onto her bottom. I could not stop the process although I tried. I’m wondering if this divinely inspired outing might be a fool’s errand after all?
I panic and attempt to yank her off the ground.
She remains perfectly calm, “let me rest a minute.” Keep in mind it’s pouring rain and we are not sheltered.
I sit down next to her, “Mom we have to get you back into the house.”
She bristles at my words, “No, I’m going to the lake.”
I’m aghast, “Mom, you’re too weak.”
She is not budging, “No, we’re going.”
I move on to more practical issues, “Mom, let’s get you off the ground, and then we’ll decide.”
She’s more determined than Malala Yousafzai, “I’m going.”
It’s impossible said pride.
It’s risky said experience.
It’s pointless said reason.
Give it a try whispered the heart
I move behind her, place both my arms around her middle, and lock my hands together. “Okay, on the count of three.” I lift, she pushes, nothing. I can’t lift 116 pounds off the ground? What the hell? We try again, “Mom you have to push with your legs.” She tries, no progress. I start calling on Dad, “a little help here, your bride is sitting on the wet pavement, in the pouring rain.” On the third try I miraculously get her off the ground and onto the small seat on the walker. We look at each other, the rain dripping off our noses, I’m completely traumatized. Yes, I have the urge to Snapchat, but I resist. She points to the car.
“It is when we are confronted with poignant reminders of our mortality that we become most aware of the strangeness and wonder of our brief life on Earth.” Kathleen Bamford
The lake is not up for discussion. I settle her gently into the passenger seat and we drive away from it all – the cancer, the treatments, empty pill boxes, errands, chauffeur duties, sleep-deprived, appointment driven life – and we head to the lake. It’s exactly what we need, at precisely the right moment, “a miracle can only be the resurrection of love beside the unchanged facts.” (adapted Kate Braestrup)
“I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles because I’m 81 years old, but it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets. It has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story.” Joanna Macy [Becoming Wise, Krista Tippett]