Friday, November 30, 2007

In preparation

Yep. Another topic I have been shying away from. But after reading Heather B.'s post, I knew I had to say it.

Over the last seven years, it seems like there has been this endless cycle of illness and death in my family. Yes, I know that this is what happens as we age. But some of these folks weren't that old. It got to the point in 2002 when I thought that I didn't have any tears left in me. But I was wrong.

Of course, watching my grandmother slowly deteriorate over ten years helped to prepare me for this past year. It also taught me a lot about the differences between myself and my parents. Me? If I hear that someone has a serious illness, then I start to prepare myself for the worst. In my mind, I feel like if I don't think about the worst case scenario and then it happens, the feeling will be like having the rug pulled out from under my feet. In an emotional sense. It comes from remembering the dark times of my teens and 20s and not wanting to ever go back to that place again. Because that's what it felt like back then -- the whole rug thing. My dad always believes that there is something that can be done. Even when all signs say otherwise. My mother is somewhere between us on the spectrum.

January will mark the one year since my stepmother was diagnosed with cancer. I had been telling my father since this summer that he needed to hire someone to be with her in the daytime. He did not do this until this past month. This would be after he went of town for a long weekend. One of her friend's stayed with her. The friend came to the same conclusion after that weekend. Because my stepmother fell four times because she can't see steps and all. And she washed clothes ten times because she had forgotten that she had washed them already.

I went to see them the Saturday after Thanksgiving. My stepmother answered the door and thought that I was her sister. Anyone who has ever seen her sister knows that about the only thing we have in common is our height. Well, and maybe our attitude. I knew from previous visits that my stepmother could not hear well; she's lost 40% of her hearing over the last few months. But this trip I could see the evidence of how much worse her vision had become since the summer as well as her memory issues.

According to her last tests, the two remaining tumors in her brain have shrunk some more. (There were originally five. The doctors have told us that these two will never go away completely though because they were so large.) Today she goes in for more chemo. And then there's one more treatment in this round. But there will probably be more chemo. Because the cancer seems to be growing in her liver. I'm not sure about the status of her lung. Yes, it's in all three places.

And so I have been preparing myself for her death as of late. There was a time in the spring when I was more hopeful. But not now. Because my stepmother is not a fighter in the same way that my aunt is. And things just aren't looking good. And I have to be prepared because my father isn't going to be. Maybe a little part of him is but he keeps that part hidden.

Because I remember my grandmother's funeral. The second time in my life that I can really remember my father crying. (The first was when he discussed the whole divorce thing with me when I was about 12 or so. I often forget that because the conversation was supposed to be about how I was feeling and instead became about all the pain he was in.) And then a year later I saw his tears again at his youngest brother's funeral. And I remember how he wouldn't really talk to anyone about how he was feeling until I asked the right questions.

I know that this is part of the reason why I am no longer in the classroom now. Teaching took a lot out of me emotionally. And with all the stuff that has been going on with my family, I haven't had much extra. Because that's always been my role in the family -- the one who can listen. Even though when some of them are pissed off with me, they will say that I'm not that good a listener. But when they're in pain? They tell me the stuff that they won't say to other people. It's also why I don't really like being around family on holidays. Because while they smile and make nice to each other, I know what they really think about one another. Some days it's hard being the keeper of secrets. And so sometimes I go to therapy just so that I can let the secrets out. Before they eat away at me too much. And so now I'm also in preparation for Christmas with the family.

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