My mother would be 79 this year. Not so young, but not so old, either. Her mother lived to 86; her father well into his 90s. Same thing on the other side of the family, where both my grandparents lived into their 90s. I feel robbed of time that there should have been… at least another 5 years. Five years for my son to graduate from high school. Five years of holidays, five years of time.
I always thought that there would be more and different time, one day. I realize that this isn’t the way that life works, that people are what they are, and that expecting miraculous changes is a fool’s game. But I thought that sometime, something else would happen. When I was a child, my mother was always busy. Busy with my sisters, busy with a thousand things with which she occupied herself as respite from a difficult marriage. I understand that. I did the same thing, thirty years later. But there never seemed to be time for me. I would come home from college and wait. And wait. And when I left, she’d say, “We never get to spend any time together!” Well, I was there. You weren’t.
Things began to change after my son was born, as he gave us a common ground, one free of anger and resentment and reservation. But then, my parents divorced, and I was so angry. I still am, for the too-late betrayals of my childhood, for her willingness to bail when there was a safe alternative, rather than when her children needed respite from fear. But we do what we can when we can, I suppose. I feel like I should say that these things do not matter now. But they did, and they do, and I doubt that anything can change the way that they hurt. Forgiveness is far easier than forgetting.
And the new marriage… not so long later, her new husband had a stroke, and then there was a decade of caring for him. Again, a choice. A choice that you could not blame her for making, but a choice that meant, again, little time for others, ever-shrinking time as his conditioned worsened and his care became more difficult. Certainly not an easy choice for her, not an easy life. And in the final irony, his death only a few months ago, freeing her… and I thought, maybe now there will be time. Maybe she will be well enough, and she’ll come and look at my garden and admire the rose I planted for her. Get to know my husband. Spent time with my little family, time undistracted by the care of others. It’s not going to happen.
It’s selfish, I suppose, to be focused on how this is a tragedy for me. And when you get right down to it, would that time ever have happened like that? Wouldn’t there always have been something else to get in the way, a thousand things… and not the smallest is my own resentment, the barriers that I put up over the years, the solid wall that keeps me from saying what I would. Now isn’t the time, and there never will be a time.
Life is filled with these inane ironies. The second cancer death in a family with no history of cancer. The second cancer death of women who lived in her apartment (and that seems coincidental, but maybe not, especially since there have been only two). The thing that starts your cells growing and colliding and eating you from inside… what is it? What malign combination of chances coalesce into this thing? You start noticing it after a while, the sisterhood of women with this killer disease, the related brotherhood of people with pancreatic cancer, another killer. The possibility that you, too, contain some ticking time bomb. Wondering what would have happened if only…
And sometimes time is even shorter than you think.I got here yesterday morning, and she seemed, in some relative sense, fine. So happy that we were all here, looking forward to my son coming tomorrow. Actually able to smell the roses I brought from my garden... a small miracle since her sense of smell has been bad for years. I stayed here for a while, and then my youngest sister and I decided to go out and get some things that were needed... better pillows and so forth... in part to give my other sister a break from all the people, a chance to sleep. She called us while we were out, and Mom was doing ok; they'd gotten her up, but she was exhausted. We walked in the door an hour later, into crisis. Mom has fallen into what I suppose would best be called a coma. A deep, unwakeable sleep. My sister thinks that she may have had a stroke, that the standing released a clot in her leg or something... but in a way, it doesn't matter what exactly the cause of this is. The odd are that it's just waiting now. Waiting and watching and trying to keep her comfortable. Wondering if she can hear you. Looking at all the scraps of her life around you, the scraps of her handwriting, still so vital. Wanting to do something, anything... but there is nothing to do.