Today marks 30 years since my mother died from, what I’m pretty sure is today, a manageable form of leukemia. Don’t ask me the details; I was 14.
There’s a lot I remember about the nine months between diagnosis and death, and even more I can’t or don’t want to. I do remember approaching it all from a practical perspective. I don’t remember checking out of daily living, and I’m pretty sure my grades didn’t suffer. (Yeah, you can interpret that a few ways.)
What struck me as so interesting as I sat at my table earlier today eating the yet-to-be-revealed cancer-destroying diet of French toast, maple syrup and a honking-huge cup of coffee, while reading some eulogies and letters about my mother, is how much I think I am like her. To be fair, I’m sure my siblings feel the same way about themselves; it’s only natural, I assume, to see some of one’s parent’s attributes in one’s self. But, my age and my medical situation, along with some of the things I read, allow me to lay claim, at least at this moment in time.
Humor. My mom had that gift. More accurately, though, she had the sharpest of tongues.
As one eulogizer wrote, she listened intently to a grand scheme presentation, designed more to bring accolades and applause to the presenter than achieve a goal. My mom’s response was typical: “I’m underwhelmed.”
Difficulty in suffering fools lightly. My sister related that she was keeping my mom company in the hospital prior to her marrow transplant and a nurse, unknown to my mom, came in to ask some ridiculous questions, most notably: “What are your expectations from this procedure?”
Advocating on her own behalf. She never abdicated her rights as a patient, and when a doctor she didn’t know would come in to see her for some reason or another, she’d say simply, “And you are…?” (I totally pulled that from her playbook when I was first hospitalized and the chairman of the surgery department visited me on grand rounds. He loved it and was my best friend for the remainder of that stay.)
Work ethic. My mom stayed in touch with her office (OK, somewhat easy as she worked in the same hospital where she was treated…) and continued to do what she could to be helpful in running her department.
Keeping a warm and welcoming home. My brother spoke of his perception that friends would rather sit and talk with her than with him. (Not sure my kids would agree that we have the same in our house, but we try to be as warm and welcoming as possible.)
Holding her friends’ confidence. She was a vault, said a friend. What she was told would not circulate.
I guess my ambivalence comes from the knowledge that 30 years ago, what my mother had was fatal and it is likely not so today. Perhaps the fact that I am in such a similar situation to where she was then is too disturbing to truly contemplate.
Please don’t misunderstand. I miss my mother and sincerely wish so many milestones and experiences could have been shared with her. But I have spent more than two-thirds of my life without her. In so many ways, the longing is more intellectual than emotional.
One might think that it is upsetting to know something that is fatal today might be manageable (curable?) tomorrow. Maybe for some, but not for me. For now, I continue to do what my doctor asks of me. I had a CT earlier in the week. Blood tests will follow and then there will be a discussion. Whatever the next steps, I remain confident in my proudly inherited traits and coping abilities.