I would be lying if I said this hasn’t been the hardest year of my life. To be fair, let’s say, year and a half. Eventful and amazing, but incredibly difficult nonetheless.
Let’s set the timer back to March 2015. I will never forget, after ten hours of flying, and a layover in Minneapolis, walking through the duty free shop in the Paris airport looking for a specific perfume that Jeanine had asked me to buy, and seeing her text message come in. Glenn, her husband, had passed away while I was in the air on my way to see him. I called Jeanine and we cried. We literally exchanged no words. I found a place outside of duty free to sit on the floor, my knees too weak to hold my weight. And then I had to sit in the bloody airport waiting for my connection to Montpelier for another 7 hours before I could hug her.
There was only one person to call after I hung up with Jeanine. It was 11pm on the West Coast and Lorenzo was already fast asleep. The person who I can always rely on to answer the phone at any hour is my brother. He will always answer and he will always say the right thing. Just like yesterday.
I called Justin to tell him that I was about to ruin his Thanksgiving plans. I told him that instead of meeting him in Pennsylvania on Thanksgiving as originally planned, that I had bought a last minute ticket to leave on Saturday. I’d been in Buenos Aires for three weeks and hit a wall. I couldn’t wait to see Lorenzo and the kids until Thanksgiving. It was making me claustrophobic and anxious thinking of waiting three more weeks. And there was so much guilt preparing to call him because I’m the sister who fucks up everyone’s plans because of my half-sane life. He knew this would happen.
Justin was sad. But, he also said he was glad I’d be there sooner for dad. And that in reality, as much as we want a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving, it will be very far from it. Yesterday Justin was sad because for the first time in this awful, violent, four month journey we’ve been on with mom, he didn’t feel confident that she was going to make it out of this forced silence, this forced handicap. Progressively since her surgery, she has declined at an insane pace. After her surgery in early July she could talk and laugh and argue. She told me I was mean for trying to get her to take her medications. She had personality. Then she started slurring her words, she started sleeping more, she started losing her balance and falling often. Then steadily she stopped communicating altogether, she couldn’t walk, feed herself, or use the bathroom. And my mom, my cute, petite, vibrant, young mom, looks like a 90-year-old in hospice.
There’s a picture we all have in our minds of the day when my mom will come out of this hell. When she will drink a glass of wine, maybe two or three, when she’ll get sassy, when she’ll drop her spiritual wisdom on us and then suggest we go on a long walk. Usually to visit someone, to meet friends at the pub or to see her 50+ friends at her book club. Or maybe we’ll wake up early, eat breakfast and go for a long walk through the woods or in the cemetary. Four months ago my mom was my mom. On July 8th, she sent me a text message while I was in Italy, telling me she had a brain tumor. She wasn’t worried, she would get a biopsy to rule out cancer and then she’d be on her way.
Justin wanted Thanksgiving to be the time when we were altogether, possibly for the last time. And writing this, in the airport, in this well-lit crappy airport restaurant, in Houston, on my way to Philly, I’m crying. Tears are streaming down my face as I drink awful coffee with hazelnut creamer. I’m crying because all of this travel, all of this work distraction, all of the shit I’ve put in my own way, is there because I couldn’t face losing my mom. And tomorrow I’ll be holding her hand and trying to tell her everything I need her to know. I have a feeling the tears will be uncontrollable over the next ten days. But Justin also knows that our family doesn’t tie things up in a bow. We’re all emotional, we argue, we get grumpy and all being in the same space would quite possibly add a level of stress to a situation that has no room for additional emotion.
I’ve been tired, exhausted, and in a spiral of spiritual growth since I boarded the plane three weeks ago to Argentina, alone. It was bound to happen. I was bound to get bulldozed by this awful truth. That my mom isn’t ok. And that my dad needs help. My dad is fully capable of handling the physical and tactical details related to my mom’s care, but what he needs is us to support him emotionally, to help him push forward through this quicksand of uncertainty. He also needs us to help him perfect his pot brownie recipe, that’s just not something he can share with the rest of the family.
My dad is a reflection of pure love. Despite everything my parents have been through over the last forty + years, and the last few years of classic old couple bickering, my dad will not leave my mom’s side. He is truly loyal and dedicated like only a real life-partner could be. Friends, if you don’t think you could picture yourself giving up everything in your own life to care for your spouse, if you already feel trapped, get out now. Marriage is giving everything up to nurture your partner’s health and well-being, because no one else will dedicate the level of love and support that a spouse can. No one. I have three dear friends who have had to dedicate this level of care and support to their spouses, all before the age of 40. I love you all for being the best humans I know, because unless you’ve been through something like this, you just can’t really know the depth of your love.
I’m stepping out of my spiritual journey, to hold my mom’s hand, to go on long runs with my dad, to cook, to clean, to organize and to face this tragedy. And this is life now. I don’t love it any less, I still see beauty and love and magic all around me (minus this horrible business man sitting next to me watching videos on his phone turned up at maximum volume). But the reason I see the world that way is because of my mom. There has never been anyone more optimistic or hopeful, no one more willing to give her time to people. Her mantra has always been, “Jame, everything happens for a reason.” Logically yes, there’s a big story behind all of this that will make sense when I sit down to write a year from now, but in this moment, it’s pretty fucking awful. Fuck this year. I’m ready to get on to 41 and for things to change.