I have been putting off writing this episode for weeks as it will be my final one for now (final for now, how vascillatory is that?). And I have been putting it off because it has felt like tempting fate which I don’t, of course, believe in but which has kept me from writing anyway. I have thought, well, I’ll write after my first full round of check ups in Feb and March. That way I would be sure I am not going to have to immediately backtrack, “oops! Sorry! the cancer is baaaack”. Except I won’t ever be sure and could go on like that for awhile so here goes.
I am not sure how to frame this idea because in this metaphor for parenting cancer, one is a parent and the cancer is that recalcitrant toddler. In real life that toddler changes everyday and eventually grows out of the particular phase of recalcitrancy. In cancer, we have removed the bedrooms in which the toddler sleeps after filling them with poison gas. This metaphor definitely had its limitations which I chose not to engage with in the beginning. Killing toddlers is not a pretty picture.
But moving beyond that particular unfortunate thought, what does life look like now?
We’ll just go with the household being back under control, my cells are behaving to the best of my knowledge, and mom needs a life outside of mothering cancer cells (which is very different from when I was parenting real life toddlers which I loved and needed no life outside of). So it’s back to work, right? restart my business, Funerea Ltd. Co., creating Celebrations of Life for families and friends of loved ones who have died, right? Apparently not so fast, missy.
I am just REALLY different internally from 12 months ago and that’s not just the absence of breast tissue. I don’t know if the old me is going to come back; the old me being a tetch more driven, excited about turning the funeral industry on its head, being a change agent. I had dreams of total success, creating a sort of chain model of authentic funeral providers, selling to somebody for a bajillion dollars so that I could retire to the Yucatan Peninsula. Now I want to sit in my recliner (thank you Rebecca) and read The English Patient again, revel in the language, maybe have a cup of coffee and plan the next adventure with my kids.
I have, however, taken a position with Seven Days (thank you Paulita), an alt weekly newspaper for you folks not from Vermont, as project coordinator for their website All Our Hearts. It is a great match for me and Funerea as it provides a venue for people who have lost loved ones to opioids to celebrate their person before and underneath their opiate addiction. As the Coordinator I read the submissions, interview the submitters, asking them to expand on certain topics, then put together their person’s story along with photos. I also do some data analysis, community outreach, etc. I urge you to check out the site and direct anyone you know who might benefit from a non-judgmental place to share their story.
I love this job, really love this job (thank you Paulita). I don’t know why it is but I seem to be meant to listen to people who have suffered impossible loss. And then help them to present their stories, their human-ness, out into the world, either in celebrations of their lives, or in story form on this website. I feel incredibly lucky and honored to be witness.
I had breakfast this morning with Donna at the Swingin’ Pinwheel, the best kept breakfast secret in Burlington, shhhhhhh.
During our free wheeling conversation (which can only be had at a swingin’ pinwheel) I admitted something out loud that I have had pop into a corner of my mind and then have ground under my cowgirl boot heel. Then it has welled up through a crack in my frontal lobe and with a gentle finger I have smooshed it back into the dark crevasse. Oops, here it is poking out of my heart and I hit my chest as if I have indigestion. Alright already Mary, what is it!?!
There is a piece of me that, should I find out I have had a recurrence of my cancer toddler cells, would be relieved. Yes, relieved. There, I said it – and I feel the requisite guilt. How could you say that Mary, mom, sister, friend? Well, do you remember the days after 9/11 when we were all on tenterhooks waiting for the next shoe to fall? And then there was an airplane crash on Long Island, engine failure not terrorism but I felt (guiltily) such relief. I felt like I could breathe again. The tension had broken. I think that’s the way I would feel were I to have a recurrence. Just to know, OKAY, THIS is how all this is going to look. NOW I can plan. Because I don’t feel like I can plan. Because what I would do were I to live for 5 more years is WAY different that what I would do were I to live 20. And yes, really we all plan and know that any given plan may not happen. But it’s way more real when any given plan may really not happen.
So I do continue to plan in the midst of all this quandary; I’m toying with a major reno on my house, going to Montana with the kids for Isabel and Kyle’s wedding in September, dreaming of a walking tour with said kids in Provence, or perhaps a barge tour? In other words living beyond my means because my means may outlive me and fuck that noise.
This Minute? No, How About this One… Wait! That one?
It’s hard when no longer in treatment to hold on to the “this minute is it, and this one and this one” mentality. But then your dear friend of 40 years has a bad climbing accident that could have had the worst of outcomes, and then your sister-in-law’s sister’s husband who you’ve known for 30 odd years has a recurrence of his cancer. NOTHING IS FOR SURE.
So, I’m going to fold the laundry, snuggle with Charlie the new kitten because new kittens solve every existential crisis (thank you P. Scott and Gaby), walk the dogs, have a cup of coffee and finish up the English Patient which has not failed in it’s delivery of lovely poetic prose, look through and glean some old photos (you may get a text of one or two, something that makes the process oh so much shorter… not) and clear the walkway of ice.
So goodbye for now. Thank you for accompanying me on this most unexpected of journeys and giver of gifts. Perhaps we shall meet again on these pages. P’raps not. I s’pose that’s the fun (and what I have been babbling about this whole post…).
And as Mary Oliver asked and will always be asking:
What are you going to do with your one wild and precious life?
Love, Mary (Hamilton not Oliver)