Friday, October 02, 2009

Exposed Nerve

On Sunday it’ll be 8 years since Mom’s been gone. The last six weeks of Mom’s life did not at all represent who she was. Her cancer spread, and the tumors compressed her spinal cord and she lost all feeling and ability to move from the waist down. My sisters and I dropped out of our lives for those weeks and took turns taking care of her. I blew off work for most of that time, and only went 1-2 days per week.

I never really let myself fully absorb what was happening at that time. I slipped into denial robot mode and shielded myself from the possibility of losing Mom. Everything I did during those six weeks was done with the sole purpose of making her live. My mind assigned extreme importance to every little mundane task I accomplished every day. My first thought in the morning was how making her favorite breakfast would make her live. The laundry, done just so, would make her live. I concocted protein shakes with fresh fruits blended into them to make her live. I was careful not to get shampoo in her eyes, because one sudsy splash would tip the scales in the wrong direction. Any little thing could make her live, and denial robot had to perfectly execute every chore so not to risk causing her demise.

The denial robot mode fully took over. Nobody could talk about any other fate than Mom surviving around me. There was no other option for the denial robot. Mom dying simply did not compute. Period. It was exhausting. But when you’re a denial robot you never get tired. You push and push because nothing else matters. (My sister and I watched the 9-11 attack on TV, then simply turned the TV off and bathed and dressed Mom so we could get her ready for radiation treatment in Hartford.)

I vividly remember her wake, when my cousin Anna had said to me “It gets easier.” Anna’s dad had died when we were seniors in college. Later on that night my cousin Theresa said, “You just have to live through the pain.” Her dad died when she was in her early 20s and I was only 7 or 8.

And it’s true. They were both absolutely right. I’ve said the same things to other people I know who have lost their parents. “The first 6 months will completely suck. Just get through them and you’ll be OK” I told them. Later on they told me I was right.

But my first six months were riddled with spontaneous sobbing at inopportune times and vivid nightmares. The denial robot’s battery ran down and left me to deal with what actually happened in those six weeks. Mom’s health gradually degraded until we were all with her when she took her last breath. And none of those things I did, that would surely make her live, worked. In those six months I waited for the answer to be revealed to me, but of course it never was. There wasn’t a chore I missed that didn’t make her live. It was the cancer that didn’t make her live.

Now here it is 8 years later. And while the pain of losing her has subsided, there are times when it bubbles to the surface. It's usually something entirely random that triggers it. Today a client at work called me from Bristol, Pennsylvania—where Mom lived when she first came to the United States. I’ve only visited Bristol when I was a kid. It wasn’t a part of my childhood—but I knew the story of Mom taking the train from Montreal, Canada to Bristol when she first arrived on this side of the pond. I spent the rest of the day walking around feeling like I had a stone in my stomach and I randomly burst into tears in the car on the way to dinner at a friends’ house tonight.

And that’s what nobody prepared me for when they were trying to comfort me at her wake. That it never fully goes away.

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Anonymous Taoist Biker said...

Wow. I didn't expect this on a Monday morning. Hell, you're going to make crusty old me well up a little bit here.

The pain in this post is still raw and palpable - which, I think, is a wonderful testament to how much you loved and cared for your mom.

I'm very sorry for your loss.

October 5, 2009 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

Sorry to bum you out on a Monday, TB. But thank you for commenting.

It's quite possibly the most painful thing I've ever experienced. But before she died I got the chance to thank her for everything. And that's helped me so very much.

October 5, 2009 at 7:38 PM  

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