June 9, 2011

Grief for the living

Cancer means grieving while your loved one is still alive.

Hospice care only underlines this fact, the truth that while you are given this time to comfort them and ease their life to its close, at the same time you are brought face to face with the knowledge that goodbyes are near.

For the third weekend in a row, I will make the drive to my mother's hometown to visit Gammy.  She has been set up in a hospital bed at home, now, and while the hospital in St. Louis put in stints to help her liver function a little longer, they can no longer combat the ravages of cancer tearing through tissues like tornadoes leaving scars on the Missouri countryside.

This morning, my mother sent me a message saying to bring funeral clothes with me, just in case.

Just in case.

Even though with my mind, I knew that the end was near, I had divorced this knowledge from my emotional center.  Unlike the past few days, when I would roll over and hit the snooze on my alarm for another half-hour, today the text message came right before my alarm would go off.  I lay in bed, eyes wide open and staring myopically at the ceiling.

My breakfast tasted too sweet, clinging to my mouth and settling like lead in my stomach.

I have been at work for forty-five minutes and this was all I could think of, I could not bring myself to focus on reading journal articles or preparing for my meeting or contemplating the benefits of gardening on self-efficacy in urban populations.

We speak of how the heart aches and it is cliche.  But the cliche exists because it is true: my heart is heavy, pendulous, each beat weighing on my chest wall and pulsing in my throat.

June 2, 2011

Hours and hours and hours

Time spent in a hospital is oddly vacant.

It stretches out, blank and empty, tucked neatly into hours like the cotton blankets on the patient beds.  Like a vortex, like the Bermuda triangle, the hours spent in a hospital swirl and cycle and somehow never move forward to truly pass.

Gammy's face looks like a crayon, the color of dandelion petals faded by the hot July sun.  Her hair, soft and fine and shockingly white, is brushed back and also flattened so that it stands out like a tiara, a halo of daisy petals around her face.

The doctors give us words to learn: cholangiocarcinoma, adenocarcinoma, lymphoma.  I already know the parts of the words and it is up to me to explain them.  Chol- from cholesterol, meaning bile.  Angio- meaning blood vessel or duct, like angiogenesis or angiotensin.

Carcinoma, meaning cancer.

It is days before they are able to do the biopsies and endoscopes and procedures that confirm what my gut already knew was true: inoperable, untreatable cancer.  Tomorrow she goes home with arrangements for hospice care and a fool's timeline, anywhere from a month to a year to live.  The lack of precision is astonishing and disheartening, and while I would normally consider myself an optimist my experience with Dad tells me to count only on the low end, if that.

I am already mentally packing my bag to leave tomorrow to go and help my mother settle Gam back into her home, or possibly to help her pack up to move to Kansas City.  It will be a long summer, but will it be long enough?