12 years

I’ve thought often about what memories of my mother I’ll share with N.  It seems such a daunting task.  How can you ever convey the entirety of an entire beautiful (if brief) life in a few words?  Express all that energetic love in a single story?

So today, on the 12th anniversary of her death, I want to jot a few down for posterity:

  • She woke me up at 4:35am every single birthday.  She’d say, “Welcome to the world my darling daughter!” and I’d glare sleepily at her with as much scorn as a 7-year old could muster.  We’d almost always grab a birthday breakfast at a diner chain soon after.
  • She loved Christmas.  And decorations.  And tradition.  It was sacrosanct.  The Thanksgiving feast would start with a Christmas-themed present on my dining room chair, after we’d spent the afternoon as the turkey cooked wrapping the Christmas presents she’d always have fully purchased before Thanksgiving.  The decorating, tree cutting, house trimming, cookie baking, and light-hanging would continue on for the rest of the weekend.
  • She woke up early.  4:30am was late.  She’d get more done before dawn than most did in entire days.  She didn’t pass that vim and vigor on to me.
  • She always fell asleep with her TV on.  I’d sneak into her room and be the “TV fairy” and turn it off for the night, before I – night owl already at age 10 – would settle in for the night.
  • She loved me “’round the world and back again.”  Just as I love N.
  • She had a truly inspired way of making games out of tasks most could wouldn’t want to do.
  • She was fiercely protective of her only child, and defended my perfection to any who’d doubt it.  Sometimes her loyalty was well-earned, other times, she gave it to me in error.  Knowing she always stood behind me, though, made me strive to always prove her right.  I never wanted her to be wrong.
  • She was the embodiment of her red convertible.  Loud, but not offensive.  Proud, but not boastful.  Conspicuous, yes, but never flagrant.  How many nights we spent staring at the stars, reclined in those seats, listening to “our song.”

Ultimately, though, I know none of the items above will even come close to cutting it.  But, in the process of jotting them all down and tweeting with another IFer I had one final memory.  My mom would always get a little strange each February.  I don’t know how early on in our young lives we can tell when another human seems in distress, but I felt it annually from that point forward.  I’d never find her weeping in a corner, or losing her temper, or anything nearly that obvious.  I’d just silently sense her pain.  Her eyes would be duller, her ready laugh a little less genuine, her pep a little less present.  In retrospect, she’d act like a muted down version of how she’d act in the pain-med-addled final days of her battle with cancer.  She’d just cease to be my mom.

Somewhere in my mid teen years I got interested in genealogy.  Something about having so many dead immediate relatives, I think.  Anyway, I started asking about family statistics – birth and death dates, ages, places of birth, yadda, yadda.  That’s when I realized it.  My mom’s dad – my grandfather I could barely remember – died in February.  It clicked in an instant.  In that moment I knew the love she’d felt for that man more than I’d ever garnered from countless stories and anecdotes.  Her grief changed her mentally and physically.  A change so major even an self-centered 8 year old noted it.  This man must have been special.  This man really mattered.

I’m not thrilled at repeating this process, of having N intuit my pain so young, but I can only hope his conclusions are ultimately the same as mine.  That he one day knows both the anecdotes and visceral reactions her loss has had on me.  And that mom’s pain underscores the power of the grandma he’ll never know.

Can you laugh your way into the looney bin?

The prospect of updating this space with news of the past 2 months makes me cringe.  How can you possibly fit all that joy and sadness, bliss and stress into an empty textbox?  When I started this blog it had one purpose.  To provide a space to scream loudly, cry publicly, type angrily about infertility.  Infertility.  That disease we so frequently suffer in silence.  That disease we still so frequently have to convince people is a disease.

Cancer’s not nearly so silent.  Yet, two months in to losing my second parent to cancer, I sit here silently.  It’s too much to type.  It’s too much to fathom.  It’s much too much to manage.

So, we’ll start with a story.  A single event.  And an event that’s even loosely tied to infertility when we’re all said and done.  Now lookey there!

I got my period on Tuesday.  The first since August 2013.  The first since IVF, since pregnancy, since the arrival of N, since my dad’s cancer diagnosis and craniotomy, since waving the white flag to breastfeeding with an insufficient supply and dying dad 7 hours from home.

When I pulled the toilet paper up to inspect it (will this nervous tick IF and multiple miscarriages ingrained in to me ever go away?), I saw the red.  When I saw that red I laughed.  I laughed a laugh so hard I shook.  I shook so hard I laughed some more.  At some point the laughter transitioned to screams of misery and tears of terror.  My face went numb, I laugh-cried, I fell to my knees.  This was it.  This was my breaking point.  This was surely the moment I wouldn’t recover from.

*******

30 seconds prior to that wipe, my husband was holding a fussy N and answering my father’s home telephone.  He was screaming to me, “It’s your aunt.  She wants an update on your dad.”

1 minute prior I was walking through the door of my father’s house with sushi takeout in hand.  I was greeting my husband and son, ready to settle in for a late dinner after a hectic day.  I said to my husband, “I really need to call my aunt and update her, but I haven’t peed since noon and I’m going to wet my pants if I don’t take 30 seconds to do this first!”

30 minutes prior I was driving in my car with my husband and son discussing how upside down the day had gone, how hungry we both were, and how much we needed to just get some takeout and relax for the rest of the night.  I was handing my husband my phone to call in my spicy tuna roll while I drove home from our errands.  I made plans to drop off the boys, let the hubby get a headstart on N’s bottle, bath, and bed routine, and go retrieve our food.

1 hour prior I was sitting in the Target parking lot with a fussy N in the back seat waiting for the hubs to return from getting the special AR formula my refluxey, fully formula fed baby now needed.

1 hours and 30 minutes prior I was standing in the aisles of Sam’s Club cursing them for not having N’s formula.  I silently mourned again the loss of the breastfeeding relationship I thought I’d have with my much longed-for child, but I quickly moved back to our mission.  More diapers and formula.  We’d be staying in town for longer than planned. We’d need more diapers.  More formula.  Feed the baby.  Change the baby.  Love the baby.  Don’t be so stressed when plans keep on changing.  We’d still have our Thanksgiving feast.  Dad’s would just be reheated in the microwave and served on a hospital tray.  We’d sneak N in in his adorable bow tie to cuddle with grandpa.

3 hours prior I was standing in the hallway of my hometown hospital listening to my dad’s quirky (aka obnoxious) oncologist utter the words, “He’s a tough old bird.”  No, he didn’t really know how this affected prognosis.  No, he didn’t know what the next few days would look like.  No, he didn’t know much.  “You see,” he’d said, “I don’t really know what to tell you.  I’ve only ever seen blood clots this bad mentioned on autopsy reports.  I don’t really know how he’s still with us.”  He literally has a clot floating in his heart.  Bouncing around with every heartbeat.  How is that even possible?  Ok, change of plans.  Not home for Thanksgiving.  Not home for a while.

4 hours prior I was sitting by my dad’s hospital bed explaining that we weren’t dooming him to live the rest of his life in a hospital.  I was explaining as simply as I could that there were two different things the doctors were talking about.  “Two separate things,” I’d said.  “There’s cancer and there’s blood clots.  You’ve got both.  One caused the other, but they’re separate.  You’re here because of the blood clots, and only here until we get over the hurdle with these blood clots.  You’re not here because of the cancer.”  When dad asked, “Then what the hell’s wrong with this doctor?  Why’s he so negative.  He had me thinking I was going to die!” I had to respond – again – “Dad, you ARE going to die.  The cancer will kill you someday.  Probably someday in the next 12 months to 2 years.  You’re here because the blood clots almost killed you.  And, they almost killed you yesterday.”

5 hours prior I was screaming at my husband that the fucking nurses station had me on hold for over ten minutes.  My dad could be dying right this minute and they’d put me on hold.  Then they hung up on me.  I was livid.  I called back, said I’d be there in 10 minutes, and I expected the doctor to be there waiting to talk to me.

5 hours and 10 minutes prior I was just taking my jacket off when my dad called from his hospital bed.  “I’m really confused and upset,” he said.  “This doctor came in.  I don’t know who he was.  Things are very negative right now.  He’s very negative.  Something very bad is happening.  Something with my test this morning.  I think he thinks I’m dying.  I don’t know what’s going on.”  I cursed again a cancer that manifests as transient confusion akin to Alzheimer’s.  I cursed again a doctor speaking to my dad without me being present.

5 hours and 20 minutes prior I was just settling in after returning home from visiting my dad and doing a giant grocery shopping trip.  The emergency room doctor the day before had said he could maybe be home by Thanksgiving.  I went straight from the hospital to the store, buying all things turkey and pumpkin.  We’d have a real feast.  My dad’s last, and N’s first.  If we were going to miss our usual big family holiday with the in-laws, we were at least going to gorge on turkey and make sure my dad enjoyed our visit.  All we needed to hear was that the echo they’d done that morning was clear.  He was obviously strong to survive so many clots.  To walk into the ER with a pulmonary embolism and only be complaining of a little shortness of breath.  A clear echo, a prescription for blood thinners, and we’d have our Happy Thanksgiving.

6 hours prior I was pulling out of the hospital parking garage feeling relieved.  Dad was in good spirits and less confused today.  He’d even been pleasant with the ultrasound tech.  Maybe I’m too used to reading the expressions on tech’s faces for my own good after more scans – internal and external – than I can count.  But, didn’t that echo take an awful long time?  Didn’t that tech get really silent?

*********

When I wiped red all I could think about was the day.  Not the emotions of it – the ups and downs, the bad news the good, the baby giggles and the terror in my dad’s weak voice.  I zeroed in on the places.  The grocery store.  Sam’s Club.  Target.  The Rite Aid next to the takeout restaurant.  They all had pads and tampons.  I didn’t.  Not a one.  I waded up some toilet paper, shoved it down my underwear, kissed baby and hubby goodbye, and drove to the Rite Aid.  My eyes were red and raw, I stumbled around like the drunk my dad was before cancer.  My laughter on the toilet echoed through my head.

As the clerk rang up my goods – value pack of tampons, pads, 500-count Advil, and, of course, a Hershey’s bar – I thought to myself, “Well, the day could have been worse, I suppose.  I could have run into someone from high school here in the pharmacy.  Doesn’t that always happen when you’re home for the holidays?  Dodged a bullet there.”