Death, Mother's Love

You Needed to Stay

Your flower frog in my vase

You’re everywhere, but you’re not here. You’re in the grey fog hovering over the backyard. You’re in the daffodil stems springing from your flower frog. You’re tiptoeing on morning moss dusted with dew. You’re warming up the car on a cold morning. You’re you through and through.

Getting that baseline shot

Some years you’re here and others I think you must be playing tennis or sunning yourself on a beach somewhere. Did you grow out your hair? You never did let it reach your shoulders. Do they let you smoke where you are? Tell me you didn’t start up again. Do you enjoy bourbon still? I hope you’re having cocktail hour with your parents enjoying all the nibbles Gammy sets out. 

Just when I think I’ve put you away, you come back, as if you’ve overcome death. We didn’t finish what we were saying. I’m so sorry you couldn’t catch your breath. I wore an Ann Taylor cream and brown houndstooth dress to your funeral. Did you like it? I went to Lenox crippled with grief, but I needed to find something you would have picked out, stay your Susie a little longer and dress cute for you. I figured you’d make fun of me if I wore black and joined the throngs of mourners cloaked in dramatic greys and blacks, and say things like, “Why so sad? It’s okay.” I felt silly sitting there in the pew by the aisle at St. Luke’s, the only light-colored dress in the place. Why was I not weighted down like everyone else? You insisted I be the light. 

You and Jim and a sweet pup

So many memories backwards and forwards, sometimes I don’t know where to land, where to find you. Do I remember you that cold winter day when you left without saying goodbye, or do I remember warm summer nights and you finding us pickle jars for our fireflies? Or happy birthdays and the burning candles lighting up your face as you brought in homemade cakes dressed up with flowers you grew. The children and pets you doted on or the clothes you sewed us, or poems you wrote. You needed to stay. There was so much more to say.

When you died, I took several of your suits and altered them to fit me and wore them around for months. We squeezed everything out of those suits, didn’t we? I needed to wear you. I needed to know where you were and if not on me, at least you’d be hanging in my closet. I still see people who knew you and it makes you more real as if it’s not a dream I made up. You lived a full life and all I can do for my children is describe you as best I can. 

You in that lovely pink dress you made and Anne and me in our matching nightgowns

I see your eyes in my sister and your pretty skin too. Every day you bothered, you worked hard, sweet Sue. You made spaces beautiful, gave them all your touches. You were the arms to lean into as you whispered calming hushes.  

I look around and with so many of your things you left behind, I see you everywhere–in Christmas ornaments, furniture, art, even your old-fashioned grocery list I still hang on my wall. I wish I could cook for you. You’d like what I’d make: sundried tomato meatloaf, asparagus with ginger and orange, and an apple tart with sour cream sauce. We’d watch a movie and say goodnight and meet up again for coffee in the morning light. 

But you are here in my coffee, which I still take light with plenty of cream. You’re in our cats’ faces who track me each morning looking for breakfast now awake from their dreams. You’re the pile of warm clothes fresh from the dryer, you’re clean sheets on a made up bed, you’re the sound of a dishwasher humming after we’ve all been fed. You’re the elegance of tall taper candles in the dining room, the sound of clinking shoes on hardwood floors gathering for a meal, the whirr of Christmas eve and Christmas morning. The joy of our dog licking the mashed potato pot or gobbling up a ground beef birthday cake. 

You’re roasted tomatoes and sweet potatoes, zinnias, and mint. You’re the flame in the wood on this table where I sit. You’re the candle when the power goes out, the bath I draw when there are things to sort out. You’re the bunnies nibbling on our lawn, sweet strawberries in spring. You’re the bourbon in my eggnog, the lemon in your poundcake which I proudly make. You’re Crème Brulee and filet, tonic and lime, tell me please why is it you couldn’t stay?

You bothered, you showed up, you talked a lot. But you had sparkle, and like me, your friends were drawn to all you’ve got. I’ve changed from that 30-yr-old girl you left, yet I haven’t, but I don’t need to tell you that. You know. You’re here with me. So here we are, twenty-nine years later and holding, as you’d say. I’m not yet the age you reached when you passed that day, but when I hit 62, as I often do, I’ll be sure and think of you. 

You and Lad swimming in a lake. Our pets adored you.

Check Yourself

View from the 8th floor

Cancer sucks. Went to my oncologist the other day. Routine visit. Waiting room as packed as a gym in January. I’m hoping it’s cancer screenings bringing people in for a healthy start to the new year and not the room full of cancer patients it appeared to be. The cheerful lady checking me in was wearing a Cancer Sucks button which I prefer to Fuck Cancer, if there is such a button, because while cancer does suck, that is simply a fact you can acknowledge as you set about getting rid of the thing. With a Fuck Cancer button, I see anger with a scrunched face, the very negative energy cancer probably would delight in provoking, and I’m not stooping to that f-ing level. I will occasionally use the #fuckcancer hashtag because it invites a warm camaraderie.

Foot in mouth syndrome. I showed restraint this time and shut my mouth in the lab as the last visit was mortifying. As an aside, much as I have tried to conduct myself, I similarly have taught my kids to not stare or ask people inappropriate questions, such as, “Mommy, look, that lady has a baby in her tummy” when that lady might simply have a thing for Lays chips and Breyer’s mint chip. I mean, who doesn’t? So back to last visit’s labs. I noticed that the nurse drawing my blood had lovely skin and a kind face, and I was happy to see that she was expecting too. I never ask people when they’re due because of that same advice I give my kids because what if they’re just plump? This was not the case with this woman as her weight distribution and tummy swell were clearly the hallmarks of a baby to be. I smiled and asked the question but instead of the ubiquitous, “When are you due?” or “What are you having?” I decided to give my query a unique spin and out of my mouth came this winner: “What ya got brewin’ in there?” fully assuming she’d tell me the baby’s gender. Seriously? Seriously. Smiling through a strained grin, she matter-of-factly offered up, “Honey, I’m just fat.” We found ourselves in the most pregnant of pauses and grasping at nothing, I looked away from her tummy at her bright eyes and said she looked like she was up to something, you know, with those up-to-something eyes and all she must be brewing up something?—she’s mischievous?—and then blathered on about her expert blood draw, piling on an enormous compliments and situation spin avalanche to quickly flatten my beyond ignorant and disrespectful question. We both knew it was a C- attempt at a save, but thankfully she needed to remove the needle from my vein and bandage me, so we moved on. I repeat: seriously? 🤦‍♀️

Lab etiquette. As if she were a teacher handing out gold stars, this lab tech showered me, her star student, with compliments. The instructions were kindergarten complicated: How nice that I got up when my name was called, listened to the instruction of which chair to sit in and rolled up my sleeve. Thankfully there was no time for me to search the room for the not pregnant lady and try and issue an apology expression for four months ago, which of course would have only buried me deeper.  This nurse gushed over her surprise that a patient could actually follow directions, peppering our dialogue with stories about everyone else needing to be called two or three times, missing the lab door entirely, much less locating the proper chair, and then wearing too many layers which took forever to peel off. Somehow in this same exact seat as before, this time I managed to get it right. If only A’s were this easy everywhere. 

Stop helping everyone. Anne Lamott said it best here in in this practical advice from her Ted Talk, which I rewatch every year for a good kick in the butt. Stop helping everyone. This visit found me urging my western educated highly trained oncologist to get in to see a chiropractor. Not just any chiropractor, my chiropractor. The poor guy looked strained when he walked in and said he will be standing because he has an injury from ten years ago when he fell off a ladder. From time to time his pain flares up, and today’s one of those times. He looked miserable and instead of talking about me, I focused on him. He’s been to PT and is doing the exercises, but I asked if he’d consider seeing a chiropractor because I also fell years ago going down Stone Mountain. Not to outdo his ladder story but my tailbone hit granite. What did yours encounter? Clearly, he was not interested in my chiropractic recommendation, but nonetheless I went on. After two visits I was pain free and would he like the name? He wasn’t having it.  

Lucky 7. Yes, we realize alcohol is a toxin, but still, we cancer patients like to bargain in hopes some new study has churned out an even higher drink allotment. It turns out it’s still seven drinks a week I get, but best to have one on Monday and one on Tuesday etc., instead of two on Tuesday or three on Wednesday, which can only promise more fun. I smiled a what’s the point smile and we moved on.

Carbs aren’t your friend. With labs thankfully uneventful this go round, next up was my weight, literally. Despite my practically stripping before stepping on the scale I’d still managed to gain two pounds. In my defense, I have perfected my scalloped potatoes recipe, tweaking it twice in two weeks (and loving every minute of it thank you very much). Not sure how it came to be that I live with people who don’t share this same obsession, but I happily incorporated these potatoes into breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Try it!

Uneventful visits are the goal so I’m counting myself lucky this go round. As I’ve reminded you before, ladies please do monthly breast self-exams and stay current on your mammograms. xoxox