The Perfect WordI accompanied my mother to her doctor's appointment today -- THE appointment. The appointment that we were dreading, even though we knew what was to come of it.
As the oncologist flashed her peculiarly inappropriate smile (I call it her "picnic smile" because the woman, brilliant as she may be, is a freaking loonball whose smile exudes sunshine and barbecue while uttering phrases like "last ditch effort" and "less than five percent chance), she calmly, between bites of her roasted wienie (in my imagination) explained that there is nothing more medicine can do for Mom.
I already knew this in advance, but Mom, although knowing deep within this was it, still could not accept that fact without hearing it from the doctor's mouth.
I watched my mother intently as the doctor cheerily rattled off the many facets of palliative care, the whats and the what-to-comes, and with each syllable, my mother's face, which has changed so very much in the last month or so, grew more and more unrecognizable until she took on the appearance of someone else's mother.
Mom has lost so much weight that the once-snug pink pullover shirt she wore today hung loose about her frame, the neckline fluid, sliding off over her left shoulder. I gazed at the nape of her neck as the doctor sang of chemo pills and home health care aides, and was startled by the yellowness of the skin, the slight hump that was never before a part of her bodyscape. I looked at her face again, wondering about the yellow. Her face didn't look yellow, but there was a disquieting artificiality to the tone...I peered harder, focused as much as my pitifully hyperopic eyes could, and realized that she had applied so much makeup, the yellow cast was hidden beneath layers of Cover Girl.
And as the doctor chirruped on about how very strong Mom was, and how impressed she was by what Mom had endured, how she'd seen patients half Mom's age endure much, much less, and OHfuckingBLAHblahblah, I stared at the nape of my mother's neck and thought about what it will be like to live in this world without her.
We are not close, for various reasons, and I still struggle daily with my life experience playing on a perpetual loop, the sights, sounds and smells just as clear as the day they were produced, but she is my only mother, and I love her.
And I have so many wishes that I'd hoped would be granted during our lifetimes, many of which have been waiting patiently since I was a little girl. Those wishes, I now realize, will never come true, but that doesn't stop me from believing in them. Because she is my only mother.
When the doctor left the room, Mom put her head near my shoulder -- not on, near, kind of bowed her head and moved it toward me, and so I leaned in, put my arm around her shoulders, and patted, patted, patted. It felt awkward, alien, and in that moment, I forgot how to feel.
The patient advocate walked in just then, and I, grateful for the interruption, quickly removed my arm. The woman was pleasant, just the right kind of cheerful (no barbecue), and genuinely compassionate. She asked Mom how she was taking today's news, and my mother, perplexed, asked what she meant by that. The woman gently reworded the question, adding "Many people have a hard time coming to terms with this."
Mom didn't answer her, so I spoke up, said "I think this is all still so surreal for her." The woman nodded vigorously and said that that was a "perfect word" for this situation.
Surreal. Not real. Someone's else's reality. Someone else's face, someone else's skin, someone else's pain. Bizarre. Dreamlike.
Someone else's mother.
And all the years between 1965 and 1989.
And strange lights in the sky, and whispers of goodbye in the dead of night, and laughter around an oval table, puppies, lasagna, and secret journals hidden beneath someone else's bed, the phantoms that visited us both, the angels with no names, the charcoal sketches and pastel ribbons, the houses in suburban tracts, the hope, and one thousand tiny wishes that will always be alive...
All still so surreal.