Saturday, August 8, 2009

Life as I know it...

Okay, I know this is supposed to be a bread-baking blog, and I know that I haven't updated in a while, but I'm sure my tiny (and I do mean tiny) collection of readers will forgive me if I use this space for some therapeutic venting. Feel free to skip this post entirely if you have no interest in my bitching. I won't blame you one bit.

My mom died in May; you should know this, I blogged it a while back. She died of cancer, colon cancer, the most treatable form there is. Except by the time any doctor figured out what was wrong with her, she was in the ER in excruciating pain because the tumors had spread so far and grown so large, they were choking her internal organs to death. Now, this is not to say that my mother wasn't partly to blame. I love her dearly (yes, love, present tense, because so long as I live, my love for her exists) but she was not the most medically responsible in the world.

As a child, my mother had problem after problem with her health. Most of it stemmed from the first 11 years of her life, when she lived without a good portion of her diaphragm. This usually kills people at or soon after birth, but my mother's organs shifted upward in the womb, providing the same support to the bottom of her lungs as a normal diaphragm would. She got lucky. But no one noticed. So her organs kept moving up, her lung capacity shrunk, and her heart had so much pressure put on it that it enlarged and had to struggle to work.

X-rays showed doctors the problem, and a series of surgeries fixed it. But damage had been done; more surgeries were required through her childhood as problems cropped up because of this damage. It was hell. My mother understandably grew to abhor the hospital, and she wasn't very fond of doctors, either. Not because she didn't like them -- she was quite grateful to the profession -- but because most visits to the doctor had ended in months of recuperation and pain. As a result, she only saw doctors on a "crisis" basis in her adult life. And only when forced by myself or my grandmother.

Don't believe me? She lived with chronic, debilitating migraines for twenty years (that's 20, as in two whole decades, as in most of my life on this earth) before she went to the doctor for help. Her logic? They weren't going to kill her. And as long as she didn't risk losing her job because of them, they could be dealt with. It was, in fact, the risk of losing her job that forced her hand eventually. My mother, bless her, would out-stubborn a lazy, tired, old, sick, half-dead donkey if making it move was her goal.

But I know my mother. I lived with her for 18 of my now 23 years on this planet, and I went with her on many an occasion to the doctor's office. I know she told at least two separate doctors about her intestinal difficulties. Do you know how they see warning signs of colon cancer? A simple outpatient procedure called a colonoscopy. A stupid camcorder they shove up your ass. Her insurance would have covered it, and god forbid they hadn't, the damn things aren't that expensive. I would know, since the guy I happily shack up with and love to pieces has collitis, which requires ROUTINE colonoscopies. Seriously. He gets one every one-two years. It's THAT simple. It's pretty much the same as a mammogram.

Actually, it's exactly like one. They're just checking a different part of the anatomy for cancer.

This one, simple test could have saved my mother's life. But two doctors -- two! -- missed the early warning signs, so she never got one. When her cancer was finally caught, she was a hairsbreadth away from terminal-stage. That's when they tell you to go home and kiss your loved ones, because there's nothing they can do. They had to extract a good portion of her insides just to keep her alive for the chemo.

Her doctors were skilled or lucky or both, because she survived surgery against all odds. She went through round after round of chemo. The doctors told her if she lived through the next year, she might have a shot. Her quality of life would be severely diminished, she would have to be closely monitored by specialists for the rest of her life (however long that might be), but she might just live. At this point, my mother just wanted to stick around in whatever form to watch her grandchildren grow up, and be damned the condition of her body. As long as her mind was intact, she insisted, she could bear through it.

My mom? Was the shit. A rock in the storm? Psssh. She was concrete-reinforced, diamond-hard, nuclear bunker style. She gave death the finger for two and a half years, and by god, she took the cancer down with her.

Originally, I was devastated that she could have beaten the cancer only to die from the aftermath. Now, I think of it more as a, "I'm gonna die? Ha. You first." Which is just awesome. If Mom had to go, I'm glad she took that sack of shit disease out first. Bend over and grab those ankles, Fate. But see... she shouldn't have died. She fought so hard, went through so much in her life, the deck should have been stacked in her favor, not the other way around. Hadn't she paid her dues already? Hell, she PREpaid.

No parent should ever, ever have to bury their child. It is cruel, unfair, and downright twisted. I wouldn't wish it on my worse enemy -- and believe me, the things I have wished upon them are pretty dark and dastardly. But to have nursed your child through some of life's biggest shitstorms, gotten them to a relatively normal adulthood, and have all that thrown back at you? That's just plain wrong. My grandparents are blessed in so many ways, but in this, they got jacked almost as bad as Mom.

I'm not very close to my family anymore. Usually, this isn't such a horrible thing. I know that if anything important happens, the family grapevine makes a stop at my house. We younger generation (heretofor "The Cousins") have all grown up, and most of us have moved on to the bigger picture of life. The two who are actually still minors are teenagers, the last of the group, just thankful that they're finally moving from the kiddie table to the big one. They, like most teenagers, take only passing notice of the rest of the clan. This is good, this is normal... and believe me, we can use all the "normal" we can get in this family.

But on nights like tonight, I really wish I was closer to them. Especially The Cousins, as they are of my generation. My grandparents are wonderful people, and they try so hard to fill the void left by my mother, but it isn't the same. I can't talk to them on an equal footing because I will always be a child to them, as all of their offspring are. Logically, we are adults, but as any parent will tell you, emotionally, we will always be "their babies." At least The Cousins are all of a relative age, and I could talk to them as peers. But I've drifted apart from them.

I guess it's my fault for picking up and moving to where we had no family, immediate or otherwise. There are hubs of family in many a state, but Michigan is not one of them. I moved away, and therefore all close ties were cut. Only my mom, and by extension, my grandparents, were "immediate" family anymore. It hurts that the cousin I was closest to as a child has so wildly diverged in lifestyle from me; I miss her, I miss being close to another human being who came from the same insane bloodline as I did. I may respect her for becoming her own woman and making a life for herself, but that doesn't mean I can't mourn the friend I lost in the process.

So I'm sitting here, alone but for my kids (who can't understand why Mommy is so upset), thinking about my life. About the unfairness of losing my mother at so young an age, about the family I once was part of and now am simply an extension of, about my lack of human connection. I'm expecting my third and final child, I have a good man, a roof over my head and food to eat... but I feel like I've been ripped off. I want my money back, damnit. And I wonder if I'm just being ungrateful.

But you know what? I figure, if life can suck, so can my attitude for one night.


Frieda said...

I am so sorry for your deep loss. No one understands losing a parent unless they've lost one themselves. My husband lost his mother this past March to ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease).

She was only 66 and we watched her slowly become paralyzed over the next 2 1/2 months. It's hard to see a loved one go through so much pain so quickly. This is a disease that basically chokes a person to death.

The grief comes in waves. You are allowed to dip yourself into the waters of grief and allow the emotions to wash over you. The only thing I can tell you is that even though it is hard, you will get through this. Not over it, but through it.

You mom sounds like a very strong, amazing woman who would be very proud of you as a mother.

12gViolet said...

Thank you, so much. It helps when someone can empathize so you know you're not alone. I knew in theory I wasn't the only one feeling this kind of loss, but actually hearing it from someone else is comforting.

Mom was the strongest person I know, and that's saying something special, because I've had the pleasure of knowing many strong people in my life. And I'm absolutely determined to make her proud. :)

Please pass along my condolences to your family, especially your husband. Losing a parent is never easy, and losing one so young to something so horrible... like you said, it's hard to understand if you've never been there. My thoughts are with you guys.