Monday, September 20, 2010
And a Little Child Shall Lead Them...
Somehow they know. Maybe God whispers to little kids, telling them things that take us grownups months and years to face. Last Tuesday morning my nineteen month-old granddaughter, Haven, walked up to the refrigerator, held her arms up toward my mother's picture, and said "Please?" Her mom got it down and handed it to her. She proceeded to walk around with it all morning, kissing it as she went about her business.
Who knows? Maybe it was the exact same time my brother and I were with our mom at the oncologist's office that morning, hearing the news that she has two to three months to live.
We knew that this day would come, but that foreknowledge still didn't make it any easier to bear. Last weekend Haven and her mom (my daughter, Amy) came in to town to spend some time with the family as we prepare to say goodbye to my mother (who is also known as Nanos, because that's what my children and grandchildren call her.) Late Saturday afternoon all three of my daughters and both granddaughters stopped by my mom's to see her. Mandy's daughter, Piper (age two and a half) can sense that things have shifted, and she's been a little more prone to stand on the sidelines (rather than referee the game, which is usually a beautiful feature of her extroverted personality!) She just took it all in and apparently came to her own conclusions.
Later that night Mandy was putting Piper to bed. At one point Piper said, "Mommy, I'm sad." Mandy asked her why she was sad. "Because Nanos is tired," she replied. "I need to go and see her."
Two year olds can't comprehend death, but yes, Piper, Nanos is tired. She's been battling ovarian cancer for three and a half years, and she's put up a hell of a fight. Truth is, we're all very tired. Helping a loved one battle the disease is one kind of energy, and saying goodbye is another (though the two undeniably overlap.) Just about the time you're hitting the 26th mile after years of chemo and hospitalizations and blood transfusions and accidental falls and more CAT scans, MRI's and diagnostic tests than god himself should have, the marathon staff changes the road signs and points us in a different direction. They say, "Death: 26.2 miles."
And we are all plodding along. As a family we are blessed to have so many people who are cheering us on and handing us cups of cold water. We've been extended so much kindness and grace; people cook us food, send us texts/emails, and ask if there is anything at all they can do. And it really helps to know we are so loved. My niece posted a video on my Facebook wall today, just letting me know she was thinking of me; it meant a whole lot. But the bottom line is that there's not much anyone can do. We're walking our mom toward death and none of us has ever done it before. It's scary. Sad. And though I can say without reservation that my siblings and I are deeply, fiercely committed to running this race, we still have shin splints, bruised feet, and are out of breath. I'm rarely at a loss for words, but for now I can't figure out how to convey how overwhelming it is to help a loved one face a terminal illness. That said, I can't even imagine what it's like to be the one facing it. And to think: it happens to people every single day.