October is breast cancer awareness month, which always leaves me wondering who is not aware of this disease. I suppose it’s about the raising the money, I suppose it’s about a reminder and revisiting the grief that many of us have experienced—including myself. I was lucky enough to be a part-time caretaker for my mother as she slowly transitioned into death. The final stages are not pretty. Water weight gain was so drastic, I could barely help her walk across the room, then in few days she would drop 50 lbs. I could carry her without effort.
I remember I never saw her without her wig during chemotherapy, but once she offered to show me her mastectomy scar, being fascinated with all things macabre, I took her up on the offer. Where I’d once nursed was nothing but a thickened white scar. Weird.
Juarez Mexico, Tulsa, Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Cruces … if I was needed, I was there. There is certainly a lot I don’t remember too. It became a blur after awhile, the appointments, the planes and the multi-hour drives…I do it again, unquestionably.
I do remember after about three days of no sleep, and her in the depths of a morphine stupor, had me convinced (momentarily) that she’d dropped an ornamental tassel and it had somehow fallen through the mattress. She had me crawling under the bed to try to find it for her. Of course, I obliged; you do that sort of thing for a dying loved one.
I remember holding her hand as I lie next to her as she tried to sleep. I remember she’d sometimes call me by my pen name; I don’t know if she was confused or teasing me. She said, at one point, “I admire you for writing, no matter how bad it was you just kept on trying.” She was my biggest fan, my inspiration and my encouragement.
I remember her eyes in the last few minutes before she died, the saline drops did nothing, the lenses of her eyes were as dry as a cycada’s wings. The final moments were in most ways, horrifyingly beautiful. She wasn’t ready, but if all truths be told, the rest of us were. She was suffering badly, the worst I’ve seen a human endure. She wasn’t ready, but it’s what needed to happen. There is something glorious about it, make no mistake.
Of course, there was Luke, my son, like the old cliche postulates, they were just two ships passing in the night. Luke, who came into the world just about the time he was leaving. They shared many a moment though, and I think that’s what’s important. She got to see something of her legacy, untainted and perfect. He also enjoyed wearing grandma’s wigs, or at least we enjoyed putting them on him. He was a little skeptical. Then, tragedy struck again a few of months later after my mother finally found her peace.
My youngest sister, who had struggled with with mental health issues most of her life, eight months pregnant, found her own final peace for her and her unborn. She was as brilliant as any celestial star, beautiful, a semi-pro model, intelligent, and wonderful. I see her face in my daughter’s, I see her unborn child in the endless New Mexico clouds, floating among all that is ephemeral and ever changing, and I feel them both in the chilly winds of October. I’m not one for tracking dates, but I believe it was early November when we ran her through the kiln along with her unborn. This is the last picture of her and myself together, celebrating something or other, I forget what, something at a gay bar, I’m not even sure how she got in. She was doing well then, dealing with life as best she could. She was born on the Fourth of July, and believed as a child, that the fireworks were just birthday, and later, she would perennially light, drop and then accidentally step on a sparkler.
What does she have to do with boobies? Regretfully, she ultimately could not deal with both her own mental health and my mother’s death simultaneously; we lost her and her unborn because she lost her anchor to the world, my lovely mother who fought hard, who did not want to die, and left us far too soon. She lost everything a good mother does for her children, we all did.
At the time I wrote the following reflections on the loss, the pain, the beauty of coming together to watch over her, to provide and to love:
Wandering the Elysian Fields
The touch of a loved one’s hand can be more powerful than the most potent morphine.
Loyalty and love can’t fix everything, but that should never stop you from trying.
There is nothing disrespectful about laughter, loud children and humor to the dying, these are the things they live for.
Human sentience and the will to live is the most powerful and mysterious thing in all the vast universe.
The little girl in the picture is my daughter hugging her grandma’s urn. This is what we should be aware of when we talk about breast cancer awareness. Loss, in a word, grief in another, but I suppose it doesn’t hurt to toss a few bones towards research. Science is cool and they need money. So give carefully, give generously, and give for the right reasons, and as the article says, #ThinkBeforeYouPink.
As author of fiction, I processed these horrors through my stories. My short story Hunger: A Prayer can be read on this site for free. It can be purchased on Amazon for a nominal fee (proceeds will be donated accordingly). My story I Am Mercy also deals with my mother’s death, and the inevitable day the reaper will come tapping on my door, and I will have to answer that call whether I am ready or not.
‘Nuff said, so I leave you with words that I am not clever enough to write myself…the shoulders of giants and all that jazz…
Because I could not stop for Death
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –