To recap, last week I found out that:
- my mom is in the hospital
- my mom needs surgery
- my wife is pregnant
- my mom has less than six months to live
- my wife’s pregnancy won’t last
- my mom’s surgery was unsuccessful
- my mom has days to live
- my mom has more than days to live
- my wife is no longer pregnant
It’s a lot to take in 7 days and I really need time to process it all, but time really isn’t an option, so I’m on a plane headed to Maryland to see, first hand, how my mom’s doing. This, of course, means my wife is left alone to process her grief by herself, but, being the gracious, loving, powerful woman she is, she tells me it’s okay and that I’m not a bad husband for leaving.
Since my mind is nowhere near as gracious and loving as my wife, it has been torturing me with visions of what my mom will look like – pale and gaunt, with tubes and machines performing most of her bodily functions. I finally give in and ask my sister to send me a picture. She thinks I’m crazy (no big stretch there) but complies.
When I open it up, I see mom, sitting on her new hospital bed, looking as normal as ever, talking to some former ballet students. Apart from the fact that the bed she is sitting on is a hospital bed in our living room (which is weird), it could be any candid snapshot of my mom from pretty much any time in the last year. It certainly isn’t the image I expect of a woman who has less than six months left to live. It really makes me wonder if everyone is just overreacting.
That feeling is reinforced when I actually see my mom in person. She has an oxygen tube (dubbed “the snooty thing” by my dad) which she hardly remembers to wear, and she’s on an increased regimen of pills, but other than that she looks and acts no different than the last time I saw her.
My first night home, after everyone else has gone to bed, mom and I stay up chatting. It is somewhat of a standard ritual for us, trying to recapture however much time we’ve been apart in the few hours before we’re both to tired to stay awake. This is when the serious mother-son talks have always happened for us. When we’re alone and tired and just happy to see each other.
I finally tell her about the other events in my life over the past week. About the pregnancy and the blood tests and being told the pregnancy wouldn’t hold and the finality of Lyena getting her period. I feel a little silly dumping all this on a woman who spent that same week in the hospital finding out she was likely entering the last six months of her life, but she generously takes it all in and is genuinely sympathetic.
I tell her that it doesn’t feel real – all of this is happening all at once. In particular, I’m having a hard time believing her prognosis. She looks fine. She sounds fine. She’s not ready to run a marathon or anything, but are we really looking at just six months? “I think much less,” she tells me. “Why?” “It’s like I can feel it happening,” she says, “and there’s nothing anyone can really do to stop it.”
Perhaps sensing my fear, she says, “It’s okay. I’m ready to go.”
“But I’m not!” The words are out of my mouth the instant I think them. “I’m not ready for you to go.” Tears start welling in my eyes and she looks at me with the kind of love only a mother can express. “I know you’re not. And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.”
This is real. This is really real.
Whatever fear or hesitation I may have had about asking and saying all those things I’ve felt were too stupid to ask or say vanishes with that realization. I spend the rest of the night feeling like an insecure six year old…
“Do you love me?”
“Are you proud of me?”
“I don’t know how to do this life without you here.”
“I’m sorry for anything and everything I ever said to hurt you.”
And, repeatedly, “I love you.”
For her part, she gives me all the answers I want to hear. Except when I ask, “Do you have to go?”
After I finally kiss her goodnight, I feel an odd sense of relief – as if some unseen muddy water has been filtered from my system. I am sure there will be more hard questions. But now I’m also sure I can ask them.
Later that night, I call Lyena to catch up with her. We share our respective grief for a bit and then return to the topic of baby-making. She has decided she wants to jump right back in, which means in the next week or so I’ll have to fly back to LA to… you know… get it on with my wife. Ah, the lengths I’ll go for a little nookie.
Up next… Long Distance Booty Call