Saturday, May 26, 2007

Between the slices....

Ah, reality. The mundane. The quotidian.
Whatever you want to call it, I’ve hit the blogging version of what my friends and I used to call The Twenty Minute Lull. It’s the point in a conversation when anything interesting stops, and everyone wonders if it will ever start again. My daily comings and goings (none of which would interest 99.9 percent of you), combined with some personal surprises, have kept me from writing. And yes, I know, nothing should keep me from writing. I’m aware of that, so shut your pie hole (this last imperative applies only to certain readers, and you know who you are).

As you can tell from the date/time stamp, I’m enjoying my usual exciting Saturday night. Here’s what’s on my mind.

I used to laugh at those popular culture labels…that is until I found one stuck on my shirt: The Sandwich Generation. Perhaps the term would have been more precise if it had been coined thusly: The Shit Sandwich Generation.

Without revealing too much personal (i.e. boring) detail, I’m slap in between the slices and I feel like excrement. My mother, who is 85, has been holding her own against the inoperable Stage IV cancer that was discovered, by fluke, in her otherwise healthy body exactly a year ago. She was given three months with no treatment, maybe as much as a year with palliative chemo – that is, if she responded. She did. I hope every day that my genetic lottery card will reveal such vigor when I get around to scratching it off in old age.

But in a Groundhog Day flashback, at yesterday’s oncologist appointment – the one I was hoping would ease both of our minds so that I could hit the road to Oregon this Wednesday and she could hit the skies to California for her usual summer visit in July – we did not get the best of news.

That’s one slice of bread.

The other? My seven-year-old child, brimming with life, who missed the summer in Oregon last year as a result of the diagnosis, has been counting on this summer’s trip for 365 days, and who may very well miss it again this year.

What’s in the middle of the sandwich? Me, feeling alternatively altruistic and selfish, wondering where my obligations lie. Mother or child? Behind or ahead? And dare the poop consider her own needs?

What I wouldn’t give for a crystal ball. I suspect many of you are in the same boat.

Of course, the obligations toward Mother can easily be read as obligations toward Child, as well. Last year, when my mother apologized for our change of plans, I told her not to be silly. I told her that, in a way, she was giving her grandchild a gift through her illness. I very much remember the deaths of the two grandparents who died in my early childhood. I remember sitting in hospital waiting rooms. I remember seeing old people in extremis. Both of my grandmothers lived with us, at different times (I even shared a room with one for a while), and I saw what it was like to be old. I remember families coming together. I remember figuring out that life goes on, and that death need not be scary.

Now, many of my child’s friends’ grandparents live far away. If they live nearby, their aging has been managed and ameliorated, disinfected. Ill grandparents seldom come to live in a child’s home. Illness happens behind closed doors, ones behind which children are not welcome, usually in big scary hospitals where no one would dream of taking a child.

If we could manage to normalize death and illness, I told my mother, we would be giving my child an advantage her peers would not have. We could give her an idea of humanity writ large. And this indeed came to pass to a degree, but not with the drama I’d anticipated. We’ve been very matter-of-fact about everything. For one thing, my mother never spent a day in bed, not even during the worst of chemo. When she began to lose her hair, for another, my child and I took her to have the remaining patchy strands shaved off. It was a surprisingly upbeat event. We made what could have been traumatic commonplace.

My mother would be the first to tell you that she has had a long and wonderful life; she does not want to disrupt mine. If I am brutally honest, I don’t want my life disrupted. I could head west and fly home if things take a turn for the True Worse.

But that does not seem like the right thing to do.

No comments: