Maryann was a beautiful woman, and bitingly funny even toward the end.
The last time I saw her, just before Father's Day, I asked her how she was feeling. She said, "You want the vacation answer or the real one?"
"The real one," I said.
"Like shit," she responded. Those of you who knew her will chuckle a bit at this. She still had so much fight and spunk and spirit, even as her body was failing her. I won't go into details, but the enormity of her spirit was evident in her last few weeks, as she held on for longer than hospice said was possible. In the end, she passed away at home with both her boys and her two favorite nurses there with her.
I loved her deeply, and worried so much about her these last couple of years as her symptoms progressed and her condition seemed to worsen. I tried to cajole her into eating green muffins (made with spinach) along with Quinn, but she couldn't get past the color. Nutrition was easily her least favorite topic as her appetite declined. But she'd smile widely when I would give in and take her to the Dairy Queen drive-thru for "lunch": always a peanut buster parfait. At least there were calories, I reasoned.
I always tried to reassure Maryann (and myself) that the two of us would get through our illnesses together to watch Quinn grow up. "You and me, lady," I used to tell her.
God, how I want to watch Quinn grow up.
Quinn told me earlier this week he's going to be an astronaut and fly to the moon, then asked me what I'm going to be when I grow up, when I'm a grandma.
"I don't know. What do you think I should be?" I asked.
"A nurse!" he proclaimed. "To help people."
I just want to be a grandma, but I don't tell him that.
Last year, we turned our one-car garage into a mother-in-law suite in the hopes that Maryann would start spending the cooler months here with us (where it is decidedly not cool.) Together with Chris's Aunt Kathie, Maryann and I picked out furniture, decided on bathroom tiles, and went rug shopping together. We bought a painting of a pig to decorate the sitting area.
This week Quinn announced matter-of-factly that Grandma's room is now the "overnight room for when we have other guests."
"I guess you're right, buddy." I tried not to let my voice crack.
It will be awhile before I get around to clearing her toiletries out of the medicine cabinet or taking her robe down from the hook behind the bathroom door.
As a family, we are navigating the end-of-life closure, eventually the going-through-and-then-selling the house she'd lived in for 35 years, a memorial service, and down the road, the spreading of her ashes with Chris's dad's (who died of pancreatic cancer six years ago) over the Pacific ocean.
I am trying again to be there for my husband through unthinkable grief. I feel like I have no idea what I'm doing.
I am trying to not worry too much when my oncologist tells me: "Your scan was clean, so no cancer, which is great, but..."
... But what?
"Your liver enzymes are a little elevated. We need to take some more blood. Are you on any new medications? Antibiotics?"
No and no.
"We had more wine than usual over the weekend?" Chris offers.
"That could be it," my doctor says.
I blush and feel like a kid caught sneaking cookies from the cookie jar because in the last four years, I hardly ever drink more than a glass or two of wine, but last week I drank more than I should have while visiting my brother because I wanted to be normal again. I wanted to forget everything we have going on for a minute. I wanted to enjoy a glorious summer night in the northwest, breathing mountain air and curled up under a blanket while visiting with some of my favorite people and not worry about saying no when my glass got refilled more than once.
|My older brother and I celebrating another clean scan in January 2013.|
I'm trying not to worry too much. My oncologist doesn't seem concerned and he is one of the most cautious physicians I've ever known.
But when you google "elevated liver enzymes" and one of the first results is "metastatic cancer," it's hard not to freak out. Especially given my history. So now I wait, and will try to quell my nerves with yoga and deep breaths and probably a Xanax at night. The plan is to retest next week and see where things stand.
I also have, I think, a tendency to panic when I should be grieving. My brain gets emotionally confused -- or something -- and with Maryann's passing I can't help but feel vulnerable myself. I feel it every time a friend goes into hospice. As another blogger and friend put it, "Every time one of my online friends dies and I'm still here, I go through this combination of guilt that I'm here and fear that I'm next."
Is this an actual documented phenomenon? If anyone with a psych degree can explain my extra worries to me, I will pay you (in wine if you want. It looks like we won't be needing so much of ours).
I'll keep you guys posted on my liver enzymes. And if I'm posting a little less here lately, this is why, in a nutshell: we have entirely too much shit going on. Please bear with me for a little bit.
In the meantime, there will definitely not be any champagne toasts to celebrate my clean scan this time around. It looks like a peanut buster parfait is in order instead.