Wednesday, April 27, 2016
November, 2013: Angels Among Us
I have seen them everywhere. Shuffling in the parking lot at Trader Joe's; taking slow, careful steps in the library; sitting in the audience at the elementary school chorus concert. They're mostly women although that may be coincidence. They are ghosts of themselves, with their thinning hair and translucent skin, barely hanging on to their husbands/children/sisters. Their effort to remain in the world is almost too much to bear. I can't make myself look at them because they envelop so much loss.
We began losing my mother much more quickly than I expected but exactly as I feared. She spent 7 long weeks undergoing intensive chemotherapy in 2011. We celebrated her birthday the first weekend she was admitted. Celebrated is not the right word - although we tried. When I left her, I hugged her harder that I was ever able to hug her again. I was afraid of the word chemotherapy; afraid of what it would do to her. I was afraid I would never see her again. She hugged me back and told me it would be okay. She was never the same.
Because I lived two hours away, I spoke to her a lot on the phone during those weeks in the hospital. She remembered a lot; she always knew who I was and asked about Duncan and Jamie. She also talked about the who were keeping her imprisoned in that place and how poorly they treated her. I couldn't tell if she really believed she was being held hostage or if she was using a metaphor. She talked about the clouds in the corner of the room and sometimes about the angels. The same mother who raised me to be a card-carrying, devout agnostic...We began to develop our sense of dark humor as we knowingly spoke of "chemo brain." Sometimes, it gets better after the treatments end, and sometimes it does not. I imagined a complete recovery followed by five years of remission and counted to five obsessively, wondering where we would all be in five years. I really believed we would have five more years with her, and even though five years is really no time at all, it can be a very long time if you spend it well. It would not, in the end be five, but you see how those fives add up, optimistically, when you count them over and over by five.
Almost two years to the day later, I held her cool, fragile hand, kissed her forehead, and smoothed back her beautifully white, baby fine, angel hair. My father and sister were so much better at managing the entire hospital experience than I was. I was so afraid, already drowning in the weight of loss. I was still learning to just be there together in the moment.
I met my friend Laurie shortly before she lost her own father and before my mother was diagnosed with leukemia. In his final days, her father had taken to carrying these silver angels in
his pockets. He gave them away to everyone he met. After he was gone, she continued to find them everywhere. Stacked in her son's room, on the windowsill, under the bed, next to the socks...she gave me one of his angels, and I have carried it in my wallet since. I pull it out from time to time and stroke it softly, adding three, subtracting two, subtracting 2011 from 2016, smoothing away the years before and the years after. Always, we end up here, today, where literally everything is different, and we are learning to rebuild life in the shadow of loss.
I see them everywhere. Shuffling in the parking lot at Trader Joe's; taking slow, careful steps in the library; sitting in the audience at the elementary school chorus concert. They're mostly women although that may be coincidence. They are ghosts of themselves, with their thinning hair and translucent skin, barely hanging on to their husbands/children/sisters. Their effort to remain in the world is almost too much to bear. I want to hold their cool, fragile hands, kiss their foreheads, and smooth back their beautifully white, baby fine, hair. They are angels among us.