It’s looking at my husband and wondering whether he would or should find another woman once I’m gone. We’ve been together 18 years. That’s a lot of time learning to live with someone else’s baggage. Would someone else handle his myriad of crap the way I do? Would they handle it better? With tighter abs? And a better housekeeping ethic? Do I want him to spend the next 50 years alone? Do I want him to find that he is happier with someone else?
It’s experiencing a rage so blinding in its intensity that I am driven to tears every time I imagine my children growing up without me. As loud and annoying and messy as they are, the very last thing my babies deserve is the kind of pain that comes from living without a parent. Being 11 and 9 years old makes it somehow crueler. Who will fight with my daughter about the appropriate amount of skin to show? Who will argue with my sons about what a reasonable curfew is? Who will constantly remind all of my children that no means no, respect goes both ways and that they are to remain, at all times, kind and compassionate. I know my husband can do these things, but I’m a control freak. I need to know it’s being done my way. By me. And it won’t.
It’s knowing that the cruelest of all possible situations will befall my parents who will have to bury a child. It doesn’t matter that the child is 47, has children of her own, votes regularly, pays a whole pile of taxes and hasn’t been carded at the liquor store in years. It is an unnatural sequence of events and the very definition of unfair.
It’s volunteering for every single thing Ican related to my children so when they look back at their childhood, they remember that I was there for every single thing I could be. Doesn’t matter if I’m tired or in pain or if my house looks like a bomb went off in it. I show up. Even to the stuff that is mind-numbingly boring (I’m looking at you, third grade string concert). I never say no. And it is exhausting.
It’s feeling isolated and alone in a room full of family and friends. No matter how much they support and love me, no one can ever really know that anguish of knowing that you are not going to live as long as you want. The psychic pain is so much worse than the physical pain.
It’s getting a doc – A DOG! – because a warm puppy to come home to will be cheaper than therapy for three kids. It’s also trying to survive that warm puppy and his need to chew everything in sight (cans of corn, wooden spoons, flip flops, blankets, paper towels, scissors, etc.)
It’s trusting that my oncologist – my brilliant, has-read-the-Bible-in-English-Greek-and-Latin kind of brilliant – knows what the hell he’s doing. And second guessing him at every turn and seeking second opinions that confirm what he’s doing. And then fantasizing about the “vast right-wing conspiracy” of doctors and Big Pharma to keep me all cancer-y. Not really. But kind of.
It’s being eaten alive with envy not only for all the healthy people I see, but also for the ones traveling the cancer path along with me and doing better than I am. Because they’re older and have seen their children have children of their own or they are responding better to a treatment that’s failed me or they have a grace about dying that I haven’t managed to acquire. It is an unfair feeling, but very little about this circumstance is fair to anyone.
It’s realizing that every single holiday may be the last one I celebrate. The pressure to cook the perfect turkey, decorate the perfect Christmas tree and dye the perfect Easter egg is at times overwhelming. But if this is the last Valentine’s Day, 4th of July or Arbor Day, it’s going to be the most Pinterest-worthy celebration my side-effect-weakened and immune-system-compromised self can create.
It’s worrying that for all the evenings of girl talk, shopping weekends with close friends and hours on end spent on sidelines of every sport known to kid-dom bemoaning our parenting woes, I will reach a point where my friends are super-saturated with talk of my cancer and impending death and I will have overstayed my welcome. The response “Fabulous” when asked how I am is almost never even close to true, but it remains my fallback due to the fear that hearing about how I really am now will send folks packing when I need them the most.
It’s watching pictures of milestones on social media – homecoming, prom, graduation, field trips, driver’s licenses, college drop offs, more graduations, boyfriends, girlfriends, engagement rings, weddings, honeymoons, babies, new homes, dream vacations, grandchildren – and feeling so cheated out of my children’s future that I can hardly breathe.
It’s the absolute knowledge that the happiest days I have from here on out are also a little bit sad. And the more devastating absolute knowledge that the happiest days my children will have will also be a little bit sad. Because I won’t be there. And I can’t make it any better for them.
It’s constantly negotiating and figuring out when would be an appropriate time for me to die. After my kids are married and have children seems like to much to ask. How about after they graduate from college? High school? Middle school? OK, how about waiting to die at least until my daughter gets her first period. It seems doubly cruel to force her to go through that without me and to also force my husband to try to figure out which tampon and pad are best for a pre-teen. Please, God, let me live to see that.
It’s wondering what type of mark I’ve really left on the world. Whether people will really remember me once I’m gone. I know my family will. My name is on a couple of plaques in a couple of buildings in the town where I live. Will people remember who I am when they see my name? Will there be a sympathetic head tilt and the question, “Oh, don’t you remember Meredith?” accompanied by a negative shake of the head? Will my name be mentioned at the high school / college / law school reunion? Have I done enough good in this world to be remembered? Enough good that my afterlife isn’t a never-ending sauna?
My mother has always called me a “need-to-knower.” I used to unwrap all of my Christmas presents weeks before Christmas because the suspense was killing me. I could rewrap them so precisely that no one ever knew that I had done it. I only stopped when I was about 19 years old (!!) because the gift I unwrapped on my first day home from college for Christmas break was a lint brush – kind of hard to get excited about that.
My need to know what is going to happen to me and my family has me on the knife edge of panic. I want to fully immerse myself in the joy of my family and friends, particularly during the holiday season, but the freakin’ cancer keeps getting in the way.