As we speak, my mother is dying. She has Stage lV cancer which started in her lungs earlier this year. Despite radiation treatment, it has spread like the insidious interloper that cancer is to her lower back, liver and stomach. This time there is no effective treatment being offered. She is managing the pain of being eaten alive from the inside out with a morphine pump. My mom has always been a trooper, as they say, preferring not to acknowledge her own discomfort so as not to trigger in others inordinate worry. If you were to ask her even now how she is feeling, she'd say fine, thank you, how are you? And genuinely wait to hear your reply.
What you can't know until you've experienced it is how all-consuming and exhausting grief is. When I do sleep through the night, I awake in the morning with that swimming under water feeling - weighted, submerged, breath-less. And it sticks with you all day. Your limbs move as though in slow motion, your brain functions only at a very basic autopilot level.
Of course, it is made all the worse right now because of, in the recently spoken out loud words of my mother, this fucking pandemic. When my dad died in 2008 I quit my job (not as noble as it sounds, I hated that job) and spent my days at the hospital with him. I rode my bike over every day where my mom and I took turns just hanging out with him and were at his bedside when he took his last gasp of living air. Because we could do that in 2008. But now, in 2020, my mom can have no visitors. Like so many others who have died alone in the last two months, my mother will join the club.
And so we email, and phone, and Skype. And cry. There's a lot of crying. I can feel our intertwined energies slowly untangling, strand by strand, and left dangling alone in the dark unknown. It hurts, this visceral uncoupling. And I wonder who I will be when I am absent of her.
Mothers and daughters. There's a reason so many goddamn books have been written on the subject. There are no half-measures here. The love, the hate, the disappointment, the loyalty are all fiercely felt. The bonds between us are deep, rugged, sharp, and formidable. My mom and I have spent my lifetime being mad at each other. Cruelties have been committed on both sides. There have been good times when we lived on the tenuous hope that it would last, and times when we were simply too much to bare.
And now, she is 85 and dying. And I am wrecked. Brought to my knees by the pain of it. Just when I think it can't hurt any more than it does, another tidal wave of grief and regret and pure unadulterated love washes over me and pulls me under, the sediment particles of our shared past pulsating around me.
I think no two related people could be more different than my mom and me which probably contributed to our mutual disillusionment. It's gotten in the way of recognizing how we are similar. Probably the most obvious of these is in how we look.
The black and white photo is my mom; the colour photo is me. We are both about 14 years old. It's like looking in the mirror. When people remark how much mom and I look alike, we smile, smugly, as though we've achieved something momentous although in reality it is the only thing that ever came easy.
The truly momentous achievement is how much we love each other, how much forgiveness has passed between us, how hard we have worked to achieve this and the Herculean level of courage it took us to get here.
I love you, mom, and I know you know that.