Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Children of Survivors

My mother and I are occupying the same couch in our family room.  The house is quiet except for the hum of the ceiling fan.  The T.V. is off.  My sister is at a friend's house.  My dad is flying, and my grandparents are just a phone call away.  The sun is streaming through the floor to ceiling windows that are partially covered in drapes on the opposite side of the room.  Normally on a day like today, my mother would have kicked my sister and I out of the house.  Told us to play outside.  Gone with us on a bike ride, or driven us up to the Boerne river to feed the ducks a loaf of bread.  That is, on any other normal sunny Saturday afternoon.  But it isn't any other Saturday.  Not for us.  It is just my mom and I.  She on one end of the couch, and I on the other.  Our legs pass each others in the middle.  I have just had five teeth pulled by our orthodontist who insisted on speeding mother nature up.  I am in third grade.  I wear braces.  The gauze in my mouth still tastes like a mixture of blood and the numbing medication.  I am in pain, but nothing comparible to my mom's.  And so I just lie there watching her.  I try not to let my eyes drift to the tubes that are coming out of her.  Try not to focus on the bags that the tubes lead to.  Try not to focus on the grimmace on her face that paints a picture of the pain, more than words ever could.  She won't talk about it though.  I know that all I have to do is tell her how much my mouth is hurting, and she will be in the kitchen prying off the childproof cap to the bottle of pain medicine Dr. McCourt had prescribed so fast it would make your head spin.  Never mind her own pain.  And so I lie there quietly, and decide to wait until she wakes up from whatever little sleep she has managed to sneek in. 

For some reason, this picture is the one that is seared into my brain.  Twenty six years later this is the image that comes to mind when my mother's cancer is brought up .  When someone mentions the word mastectomy.  Why is this the memory I recall?  When my mother had over a dozen surgeries?  I wonder that myself all the time.  And I am almost embarrassed to give you my hypothesis. My meager attempt at self-analysis. I think it is because it the first time I had to be still.  Had to stop what I was doing.  Had to soak in my surroundings.  It was the quietness, the togetherness, the stillness.  I don't think that prior to this I had ever stopped moving long enough to realize what was going on with my mom.  Realize what she was going through.  My mom kept everything moving, perhaps as much for her own needs, as much as ours.  The distractions are what helped her NOT focus on the cancer 24/7. 

So what got me thinking about all of this now?

Last week, at my dad's annual 'Hallween Bash', a family friend posed a question that I have been pondering now for a couple of weeks.  Something I hadn't really given credence to in well over a decade.  Which is odd, given the nature of this blog, and our family history, or rather more specifically, my mom's history.  Before I even share what this question was, I need to give you a little back story.  You see, every year my dad's Halloween bash pretty much goes as planned.  The same people dress up, and the same people don't, we drink the same 'witches brew', eat the same pizza and lick our chops after we indulge in the same delicous pumpkin pie.  It is all very routine.  By the book.  No surprises (other than the costumes--which DO change every year :)  We enjoy the company of the same friends that have attended our Halloween Party for the past six years that we have been throwing it.  Except for this year.  This year we had a very special visitor.  A little girl I will called "Ann".  She was the guest of one of our close friends.  Their neighbor, to be more specific.  And the reason she was at our house this year?  Because her mom had suddenly passed away last month, her dad works weekends, and our close friends who have the kindest hearts, have graciously offered to watch 'Ann' while her dad works.  Our hearts broke for this sweet little girl.  And while she along with the other children, was upstairs playing, a couple adults got into the inevitable question, "I can't imagine....".  And I honestly couldn't imagine.  So therefore it surprised me when another close friend of ours turned to me and asked, "Casey, how did you feel when you thought you might lose your mom as a child?"

The question caught me offguard.  Not because the question was offensive, or out of place.  But it took me back all the same.   And I have been spending the last couple of weeks trying to figure out why.  And today, watching my three year-old son, completely oblivous to the world around him, playing with his leggos, it suddenly occured to me why the question startled me.  Because as  a child I never even considered the notion that my mom wouldn't be alright.  Never thought for a second that my prayer requests every day of  my entire year in 3rd grade in Mrs. Tabaka's class would go unanswered.  It just wasn't on my radar.  And this is not to say that my faith was that great, or that I was naive (which I clearly was), but I believe most children have the amazing capacity of looking beyond what others might consider overwhelming odds, insurmountable challenges and see the bright side of the situation.  The silver lining.  Call it "naivity", "ignorance", or whatever. But it is a coping mechanism nonetheless.  And while I don't know why sweet Ann, and others like her, have to lose their mom so young, when other children, like the 7 year-old child I was, are incredibly blessed to have their mothers around for years to come, I do think there are a lot of mothers out there battling breast cancer, who have young children, and wonder what their children are thinking.  How they are handling it--how they are coping. And now, as a 34 year-old mother of two young children myself, I can give you somewhat of an answer with the little bit of clarity that 26 years can bring.  Did I have the occasional nightmare?  Absolutely.  In fact, I had my fair share of them. Many nights, unbeknownst to my mom, I would stay up till she went to sleep, just so I could check in on her to make sure she was okay.  Did I have some level of anxiety operating on a conscious level that things might not be okay?  Sure.  But children will amaze you.  And while all children and their feelings are unique, (as a disclaimer I must admit that I have occasionally been told that I have my head in the clouds), I do know that children are astoundinly resilient.  Dreamers.  Survivors.  Just like their moms.

Here's to all of you moms out there who are currently waging the most important battle of your life.  Fight the good fight.  And keep the faith!  We are all rooting for you.

Wishing you all happiness, health and healing,


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