Tag Archives: family

On Love and Cancer and the Universe

It’s amazing how quickly a day can change.

This morning I woke up thinking about how great it felt to decide to make time for the things I want to do (build this space, gain experience, make a transition) and how quickly the internet can make things happen (Doni really is a Fairy Blogmother). I was looking forward to that plus my trip with AOhDub back to Tennessee for football and friends and food and fun this weekend. Things were honestly looking up (in spite of some eye-rolling revelations I had today about a boy thing that now seem beyond stupid).

Then, during a meeting my phone went off. It vibrated, then again, and again, signaling not the usual text from AOhDub but an actual call. A quick check told me it was J, one of my favorite people and my best friend in Tennessee. I didn’t think much of it– we’re staying at her and T’s place this weekend – until I listened to the message to find that they won’t be in town. Instead I found out that they’ll be down in Atlanta because T’s mom is being put on hospice care.

The news was a surprise but not a complete shock. She has been battling cancer for over three years. 15 months ago she was doing pretty well at J & T’s wedding but I know how quickly things can change with cancer. And part of the problem with living far away and not doing a good job of staying in touch is not knowing these things before they sneak up and cut you to your core.

Regardless, this is an amazing woman who laughs a lot and loves so hard it’s not even funny. I moved to TN and became T’s roommate sight unseen and before I knew it I had another mom there to keep an eye out for me while I was below the Mason-Dixon Line. While I lived in Knoxville she doted on me and J like her own daughters and when J and T got engaged and then married, she was over the moon to finally have a kid who would call her back and listen to her stories every time. This is a woman who scolded T for exclaiming “Dude!” to me on the phone because “she’s not a boy” (even better is the fact that he didn’t ever say dude before the Californian moved in). You won’t meet a sweeter lady and although she might gasp at my language the only thing I want to say is fuck cancer.

Life gets turned upside down sometimes. But those moments are often the only times we allow the universe to remind us of our own mortality. Of our own complete inability to make plans. Of the need to tell people how we feel and to get rid of toxic people and things from our lives.

So, I guess all I can say is, thanks universe, I hear you loud and clear. And everyone else, think of J, T and his parents this week (I know I will be, even while I’m willing the Vols to crush the Gators) and give everyone you love lots of hugs.

No Guarantees

Disclaimer: If you’re not in the mood for something just outright fucking depressing turn back now and go visit these corgis being awesome and I’ll be back to my usual random ridiculousness soon.

You know how people (grown-ass women, mainly) say things like, “Don’t let me die alone” or “I’m never going to find anyone; when I die dogs are going to find me surrounded by Dove chocolate wrappers”? It always seems hilarious until your aunt is found by the police three days later in her apartment.

This isn’t meant to be a cry out for sympathy or empathy. I can’t say that I’ve even seen my dad’s sister in person in the last five years. I can’t claim that I was good to her in the time since I came back from grad school in Tennessee. Not responding to her text messages about women’s college basketball and not being able (or willing) to answer her phone calls during work was truly hurtful and uncalled for. To be honest, anyone who heard about the extent of our relationship since I became an adult and she became our “crazy aunt” might consider me disrespectful, mean or even despicable.

Regardless of how our connection had deteriorated, she was my dad’s only sister and she died alone. She died alone, probably scared and nobody was around to realize she was gone for three days. Her voicemail had to become full before anyone started to worry.

I know I should be thinking about all the good times with her (which are difficult for me to remember). The times when she babysat my brother and me, playing Pizza Party and Don’t Break the Ice until we dropped or at least until one of them cheated (or won) and I pouted, thrusting my bottom lip out in such a fashion that my aunt would threaten to cut my lip off and fry it up for breakfast – her only defense against a potential tantrum.

But instead of thinking about her life, a life that I realize I know very, very little about, in the end, all I can think about is her death. It’s not clear yet exactly what happened, but one can imagine nothing good could have happened when the police find you in your apartment three days after you’ve died.

And here’s the thing I can’t get out of my brain: she shouldn’t have been alone. She and her husband had been married for decades. Decades. According to popular culture and marriage lore, getting married not only solves all of your problems as a female, but also will be sure to prevent you from dying alone. Or at least from dying and nobody realizing it. How many times a week are we told that if we just find that special someone, we won’t be “found by the dogs” like Bridget Jones quips or discovered in bed surrounded by half-eaten cheese and bread?

If it wasn’t clear before, my aunt’s death has taught me once and for all that getting married or finding someone to be with forever doesn’t guarantee that you can avoid the troubling and, honestly, terrifying end which she met. It’s not right or fair that this is how she died. Her husband can’t be blamed for having to stay in a physical therapy clinic and the rest of us can’t blame ourselves for not even knowing what was going on in their lives right now. But I think we can all agree that nobody, not even our worst enemies, should be fated to die scared and alone.

So, in honor of my aunt, Sandi, who, even with her faults, was a loving and dedicated daughter, sister, wife, aunt and friend, let’s all remember that nothing is guaranteed. If that means we should do something that we’ve putting off, or tell someone something that we’ve been meaning to say, or just check in with someone who we should have caught up with a long time ago, then just do it. You never know where you might be in three days time.

Love and Loss and the Stuff In Between

My grandmother has been in the hospital lately after breaking her hip in two places. Over the past three weeks, she’s been on morphine, OxyContin, Tylenol and under anesthesia for surgery.

You know what those drugs (maybe not Tylenol) will do to a person? Make them absolutely hilarious! I’m not talking about knock-knock jokes here, either, I’m talking about the delusions and false-rememberings of a person with the many memories of a life very well-lived.

There’s truly nothing like listening to my normally very composed and sweet grandmother tell drug-induced tales of getting married without any shoes on or about the high jinks she and her sister got up to at Stanford hospital just hours after surgery. It was also highly enjoyable to hear her tell my brother that I “look good as a blonde” when she’s actually referring to my mom. Or to have her respond “they’ll do” when asked how the sweet potatoes are and ask who made the gravy on her Thanksgiving lunch tray in the hospital.

But then I turn away and a second later she’s moaning in pain, calling for her mother. I can’t blame her, I imagine I’d be in tears and calling for someone, anyone to help me, if I had metal scaffolding and pins holding my hip together. Watching someone I love who is so strong, who I’ve never even seen shed a tear, cry out in pain and confusion and being unable to do anything to help her is one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had.

Then I look over at my grandfather and he can barely get his words out because he’s silently sobbing, and I realize that I know nothing about the worst feeling in the world. I’ve never known what it’s like to love someone like that, for more than 60 years, and see them in pain. I’ve never watched, helplessly, as my one and only slipped in and out of the real world and a drug-induced haze of partial memories. And I’ve never been so scared of losing someone that it paralyzed me, took away my words and brought me to my knees.

Seeing him (and her) like that got me thinking about love and all the other stuff that comes with it. Everyone knows the saying, “It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” I’ve always agreed and I still do, but seeing the depth of pain radiating from my grandparents over the past three weeks has made me question it all.

Is being alone all that bad in comparison to what I’ve seen? Is it really worth it to find love and stick with it through thick and thin only to watch your love go through the slow and often painful process that is aging? Or to force them to do the same for you? Or is it just my single, selfish mind making me think being alone is a better choice?

Watching my grandparents over the last few weeks has been a challenge to what I imagine love is supposed to be. I’m not so naive that I thought love was always roses and puppies and happiness and smiles, but knowing that I might one day have to sit by helpless and watch that love in pain or even death, scares the hell out of me.

But then I think, it’d all be worth it, right? The memories – no matter how muddled they might become, the family – no matter how dysfunctional they might end up, and the happiness – no matter how much sadness might come along with it. They’d all be the product of a life well-lived and well-loved.

And perhaps, if it all comes down to pain and suffering and aging, knowing that I could be there to distract from the pain, ease the suffering and, well, tell them how young and spritely they still look, it’d be worth it in the end. The love. The loss. And all the stuff in between.

And at the very least, maybe we could get in a few good morphine-saturated anecdotes.