Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Grief Revisited

A friend of mine recently sent me some writings by her late sister-in-law, a woman who journaled her thoughts about life, and then about her own impending death from cancer. I was moved by her words in ways that are hard to describe, my soul touched in places I that had not dared to explore for so long now, shining a harsh and exposing light on dark places I had not wanted to see.

I remember when I was informed that my mother hadn't been well, and was enlisted in the campaign to convince her to see a doctor. She had been losing weight without dieting, suffering night sweats and it was clear to all of us that she had lost much confidence in her physical abilities. She no longer wanted to drive, she seemed less balanced overall. When she had agreed, I made arrangements for her to see a new doctor.

The diagnosis was frightening, but as with all problems, the focus on the solution takes over. My mother had a large tumor in her abdomen. It explained why she was losing weight without actually appearing smaller except that her arms and legs were shrinking, leaving flaccid skin to hang listlessly.

The doctors removed a tumor - the size of a basketball, they told us. My mother recovered from surgery more quickly than I would have believed a woman of 77 could do. But the bleak news came after the biopsy. The tumor was cancerous, a form of sarcoma, not treatable with radiation or chemotherapy, and likely to return.

My mother had a few good months between that surgery and an ultrasound done as follow-up. She was lighter on her feet, thinner than she had been in years and seeming so much younger. But all the while, the cancer was spreading and growing in the background, launching a more aggressive attack.

She had already ruled out more surgery, and I don't believe she would have gone for other treatments had they been available. My mother had always believed in natural medicine, vitamins, minerals, and nearly anything but doctors.

They gave us no hope and short time by their calculations. The growing tumor would squeeze out other internal organs, she wouldn't be able to eat by September, she would not see Thanksgiving.

My mother didn't do as the doctors predicted, she never did what doctors told her. She lived on past Thanksgiving, and she never lost the ability to eat. Although the tumor was now enormous, bloating her body and making it nearly impossible for her to even move its frightening weight to roll over, on the eve of her death, she sat up on the side of the bed and ate her dinner from a bedside table. I can't think of anything that makes me more proud of her than that.

I meant to write here about loss, about grief, about courage and about the world and how it changes when someone important has left it. I can't right now.

One day, I will tell of those things, but for now I find I am crying over the death of someone I never met, but now know through her writing. Cancer is a powerful force that levels all its victims and their loved ones to a common ground. Grief is often unspeakable, it only escapes us through tears and deep groanings in our spirit. But through a few words today, I experienced more than my own grief over my mother, I experienced the utter callousness with which cancer steals from its victims and the futures that it claims.


glenniah said...

Thank you for your very honest and moving writing. I can but agree with you, cancer is a thief, a parasite entering where it is not wanted. Callously stealing lives, hopes and dreams.
All we can do is live each moment to the full and keep loving memories in honour of those whom cancer dared to touch.

Andrea Paulsen said...

I meant to write something else, but I couldn't go deep enough to say it. Perhaps someday, I will.