Mom has had a rough couple of days. By extension, I have had a rough couple of days (and I expect the same could be said for my father). She had a CT scan yesterday, in order to restage the progression of the cancer, but she won’t receive the results for a week. They had a hard time getting the IV started, the barium milkshakes were nasty, and perhaps worst of all, she hadn’t remembered that they were doing a full body scan. She thought, due to the milkshakes, she was just getting a chest/abdomen scan – and instead she has a technician telling her no, they’re scanning her brain to check for tumors. Surprise.
Yesterday evening, several handmade cards and small angel-themed gifts from some of my younger cousins were delivered, courtesy our braving sleet and snow mailman. I don’t remember why, but Mom didn’t get around to opening them until late in the day, and she made the decision to call the relatives to thank them for the very sweet cards while I was watching The O’Reilly Factor. The next thing I know, she’s leaving a message on the answering machine and crying and hanging up, and I’m sitting on the edge of the armchair with my arms around her as she cries and Bill O’Reilly rants in the background.
I kept telling her it was okay, she can be upset, she’s been so strong, that I’m so so sorry I’m leaving, and she kept telling me she’s not strong, we just never see her cry, she wishes I didn’t have to go.
We never see anyone cry. We all do our crying alone, in the bathroom, out on walks, in the snow.
Then when Mom does cry (even our language for crying is awful – breaks down? Breaks down? Like there’s something wrong and dysfunctional about crying when you have cancer?), she feels guilty and upset and then I feel the same, not because she’s crying but because through my crying alone, with my cats, at night into the pillow, I’ve contributed to an environment where she feels she has to hide herself and excuse her tears.
I don’t know how to walk the balance, to make a space safe for her, but one that doesn’t wallow in her illness. And it doesn’t matter, because in less than 48 hours, I’ll be on the opposite side of the country from her and unable to do anything, anyhow.
Except worry. And cry alone, without my cats, at night into the pillow.