Saturday, December 10, 2005

The beginning of the end.

I’ve been awake since 4:30 AM. The thoughts racing through my head are awful. I don’t wish them on anyone. Around my neck is a necklace carved from bone in the shape of an edelweiss flower. My German-immigrant grandfather gave it to my mother in 1955. On his own, he went to a jewelry store in Chicago and picked it out for his daughter. She gave it to me this summer along with that story. This is the first time I’ve worn it. I stumbled upon it this morning. I don't even know what I was looking for, but the minute I saw it I knew I wanted to wear it today.

I’m on an airplane. Nothing I expected to be doing this morning as I went through my day yesterday. In fact, I’m supposed to be at work right now. It’s 9:20 AM. Parents and prospective students will be walking through our doors in 40 minutes for our Saturday recruitement event and I will not be there to welcome them. Instead, I’m going to Minnesota to be with my mom. Did you know the going rate for a flight from Salt Lake to Minneapolis eleven hours in advance is $1,168! Thank God my mother gave me her password last month. I have stolen her last World Perks miles. Unfortunately, she won’t need them. Yesterday her oncologist told her that she would be dying this month.

The men in my life all knew. My husband and my brother are sad, but not surprised. Chris, I believe, feels that her body is just too ravaged by the six years of chemo. He’s not happy about it, but has a better acceptance of its fallibility. My brother sees her more often and started accepting the inevitable in the last week or so as her normally sharp math skills, and memory, have started to fail. She asked him the other day to take over her checkbook. I could probably write volumes on my mother’s bookkeeping skills. Suffice it to say that her inability to no longer calculate the accrued interest on my loan from her is hard to believe. My father just knew. He watched both of his parents die from cancer so maybe he senses the timing in situations like this.

The two of us women left over were fairly clueless. My mother went to her doctor appointment yesterday afternoon following the same routine she has for the six years since she started weekly chemotherapy. She would bathe, put on makeup, put on her wig, get dressed and grab her purse. The last two appointments, or so, my dad has had to help her walk to the garage. Her weakness has gotten worse and she can’t rely on the walls to keep her balanced anymore. As she was getting in the car yesterday, she panicked for a second, “Glenn, my calendar…my purse. I left them by the bed.” My dad knew exactly what she meant. She carries a little pocket calendar in her purse to record all of her doctor appointments. In fact, just three weeks ago, I bought her a new one. She wanted the two-year model, 2006-2007. Neither my mom, nor I, balked at her request. I didn’t even think about it until this very moment. (Ok, now I’m crying in public.) He brought her the purse already knowing that she wouldn’t be scheduling anymore appointments and drove her to the doctor. My father tells me that the conversation was very frank. The doctor said that there is no available treatment option left that would make any sense. Her blood test results indicate that the liver tumor is growing rapidly. He went on to say that her life expectancy was very short. Weeks…maybe four. He described the coming symptoms. It will be fairly painless. Since her body can no longer filter things through her liver properly, her body will fill with toxins and then she will slip into a coma and die. According to him, it is a pretty good way to die. He said that. (I guess I can’t be too upset with his candor. There are not a lot of easy ways to tell someone they are dying.) I asked my dad how my mother handled it. He said that she was surprised. Like me, she was expecting another option. This doctor has given us options for over seven years. At this point she just said, “Well, that’s that.”

I found out during my commute from work. I had a hair appointment scheduled last night so I decided to call before I went in. My Dad answered the phone. Up until last week, my mother answered the phone EVERY time it rang. Now she answers every third call or so. He recounted the doctor visit and then said that some people from Hospice services were coming this morning to talk to my parents. He then wanted to talk through the funeral. In detail. I was on a busy freeway in Salt Lake City (home of the worst drivers on this planet) sobbing. He wanted help and advice on who should be at the wake, etc. It was almost surreal. I cut him off when I reached the salon and told him I’d call in the morning. He suggested after the hospice meeting. Little does he know that we will be able to talk it all through in person.

After talking through every emotion I was having, for over two and a half hours (cut and highlights!) with my hair stylist, I felt better. I think if I had had to go directly home after I had received the news, it would have been harder. I needed time to regroup and grieve. By the time I got home, I was better able to focus on my kids and help get them to bed. Around 9:00 PM, I decided that I needed to see my mom right away. It’s amazing how skewed your thinking can get in situations like this. I had been very concerned about my responsibilities at work. I had to be reminded that it really doesn’t matter. If I were in Chris’ shoes, I probably would have said the same things to me that he did, but I’m not. I’m in my shoes. I’m the one who has to face the consequences of missing more work.

Thankfully I listened. In the scheme of things, family is ALL that really matters. My brother and I will both spend the afternoon with my parents today. No spouses, no grandchildren – just the four of us.

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