Of course, I’ve been getting asked this question a lot lately.
We’re told, as caregivers, that we have to take care of ourselves: eat right and sleep well; exercise and take care of our own medical needs; go out occasionally, take breaks, enjoy the occasional night out on the town. This is not entirely for ourselves, of course. The better shape we’re in, the better off we’ll be — the more strength we’ll have — to do our part in taking care of our sick loved one.
I also think that question is, often, an invitation to “dump” and tell war stories, pulled straight from the trenches of our battle against whatever ailment we’re helping our loved ones fight (edited for time and context, of course; other people have lives too, y’know!). It lets people be helpful simply by listening; lending a genuine, sympathetic ear for five minutes can do wonders for someone; indeed, it can be life changing (I kid you not) for not only the caregiver but the one open enough to listen.
When I do “dump,” (and God, that sounds nastier than I intended), I try to keep it brief-ish (a nearly impossible task for me, as anyone who’s read this blog knows), but as I go about giving health updates, commiserating with friends and their now all-too familiar personal stories, and answering the question so often asked. I keep coming back to the same answer:
I’m fine. My life has been disrupted, and I’m not going to the gym, and working has been next to impossible, and I’m months late to a dentist appointment, etc, etc.
That shit’s all fixable. I’ll get my life back; I’ll figure out work; I’ll get my crown. Might be tough, but it’s all eminently doable. I’m lucky enough to have access to friends and coworkers who are willing to help me, and the drive to set that stuff right anyway.
What’s really sucks about all this — the truly horrible part of it all — is watching my mother suffer so.
It’s really not about her dying, and potentially dying very soon. Intellectually, at least, I’m prepared for this. This is what happens to human beings. They live for a certain period of time and then they die. People, after all, are biological organisms with inception and end dates; like every other living thing on the planet.
(this discounts that ancient clan of immortals who have been manipulating world affairs from their stygian lair beneath the Vatican for the past 3,000 years, but that almost goes without saying. Almost).
What’s truly, truly hard is watching her suffer. What’s overwhelmingly painful is seeing how quickly her life turned from something golden and wonderful to something wretched and filled with disease. What really hurts is seeing the confusion in her face as she tries to figure out ways to get comfortable, or as she spends half an hour violently throwing up phlegm and the two tablespoons of ice cream she had for dinner, because it’s all her system could stomach, or be roused from her already troubled sleep because she’s not sure where she should have her body cremated and she can’t get it off her mind.
My mother moved to NYC at 62 years old and changed her life in ways I would never believed she was capable of when I myself moved to NYC over 20 years ago. 62 years old! Can you imagine? Would you be brave enough to do that now?! And lo and behold, not only did she move, but she became a physical and social whirlwind! She made wonderful friends; started going to art museums and the theater and eating international foods; she traveled to Europe and spent Christmas in Paris and started taking French lessons and cooking lessons; she went to roller derby in Brooklyn and began working on 5th Avenue and became a surrogate mother for any number of NYC “orphans,” who could talk to her in ways they could never talk to their own mothers. She became one of my closest, dearest friends (and we were pretty tight to begin with), a woman whom I genuinely enjoyed spending copious amounts of time with, all after decades of forsaking everything for everyone but herself. She came into her own when she moved here, the woman I always believed she could be.
And now, because of one bad habit and some genetic bad luck, she got hit with not just lung cancer but about half a dozen others that are rotting her body from the inside out. She’s suffering every day, and it’s very likely it’s not gonna get any better. She’s talking about her funeral (she doesn’t want one), and where she wants her ashes spread, and starting to realize that she might never get to go back to Europe and that it might be impossible for her to see the Christmas windows at Bergdorf-Goodman one last time. She’s getting depressed and frustrated and there’s nothing I can do for her except make sure she takes her meds, rub her back while she dry heaves, and tuck her in every night and make sure she knows that I love her with all my heart, and that many, many other people do, too.
I’m not selfless enough to trade places with many people suffering physically, but if I could trade place with my mom right now, I would in a heartbeat. I’d take on the needle jabs, the pills, the nausea, the hospital stays, the fear — every last bit of it — if I knew she’d get another few years to enjoy all that she couldn’t for so long before she moved here. If I knew it would spare her this terrible pain, and suffering, and fear. In a single fucking heartbeat.
So me? I’m fine. I’ll always be fine. My mom, though? She could use a miracle right now.
Anyone have one to spare?