A friend of mine has a sick mother. I spoke to her the other day about things they were doing—chemo and hospital stays, mostly. Yes, it’s that kind of sick. The kind of sickness everybody else gets, the kind that just shows up like a thief, silently and without warning, sometimes so subtly that you don’t even believe it’s there until you find yourself sitting in an easy chair one day with acid pumping through your veins and a three month old magazine on your lap.
So we were talking about it, my friend and I, and she told me how horribly stressed her sister is about all of it, and understandably so. It’s human nature to get caught up in the sheer drama of it all. As a care giver, though, you can only give so much of yourself—this thing is a journey, not an event. I mean, sometimes it does seem like you are in a low budget Lifetime movie, and all this stuff that is happening is scripted for you. You talk and act in a certain way because it says right here, scene 4, and act 3, that you are supposed to scream and throw something, or sob uncontrollably, or sit and stare at the wall. You want to look at the director and ask just what the hell your motivation is for the scene because everything you are doing seems so trite and uninspired, as if it’s all been done before and you standing there blowing into a tissue is just pretentious and contrived and the audience is going to know it.
I’ve been in a few of these plays myself, just like everybody else who has reached the age of the half price buffet. I remember when my mother and step dad stood before me 14 years ago (has it been that long?) and told me she had breast cancer. The initial drama quickly gave way to the mundane: drives to far away appointments, consults from the oncologist, and trips to the chemo chair. You tell the family, explain it to the kids, and pretty soon you stop thinking about it. It almost starts to seem normal, really, this routine in which you find yourself. Get up, go to work, maybe drive somewhere, call the doctor, pick up the pills, rinse, and repeat. All that stuff is bad enough, the drugs and the chemo, but seriously, you keep wondering when the really bad stuff is going to happen, because the doctor says it doesn’t look good and you shouldn’t get your hopes up. But there’s Mom, perky as ever, juicing her fruits and veggies because she read it might help and hugging you as tight as ever.
But then one day a van pulls up and drops off a hospital bed and then a nurse arrives and starts to tell you the future. Then the real drama begins, but it mostly involves just sitting around in silence staring at your family. It’s a waiting game at that point, maybe like it was from the beginning, except then you were waiting for a miracle and now you are waiting for something else.
Then, in the preternatural stillness of the breaking dawn, we find the journey at an end and peace finally at hand. There is drama in that, for sure, enough to last a thousand lifetimes, but there is no rending of garments or gnashing of teeth, no agony of unfulfilled wishes or fear of what might come. We know what is and there is no changing it. There is contentment in that, too, and no small amount of relief.
I don’t know what the outcome will be for my friend and her mother. I do know that one way or another, there will be peace at the end of their journey as well.