Tuesday, May 12, 2009

When it Rains...

My mother likes to say "when it rains, it pours" in the context of bad things happening. It does seem like that sometimes, that bad things happen in waves or are brought in with the tide. I think bad things happen all the time just like good things, but you don't always know the people they're happening to. And when you do know them, you feel like you should do something to help.

Daughter No. 1 and Husband were in California over the weekend scoping out apartments for when No. 1 goes to Berkeley for grad school. No. 1 called to wish me a happy mother's day, and before we hung up the phone, I had blabbed such a litany of bad news, I felt like those old people who, when you say hello, start naming all of their ailments or telling you how many of their friends died just last week. And all you can do is respectfully listen and think about what pleasant thing you'll do next as an antidote to their monologue.

Well, I couldn't help it. It's been raining bad news these days. I had just gotten off the phone with my own mother, and she told me about my elderly uncle Clifton who is in the hospital and not doing well at all. And my aunt Francis is not expected to live much longer, and uncle Travis is so "feeble" he can't be left alone for long in case he falls down and can't get himself back up again, and my brother-in-law has pneumonia...and... And I spoke to my sister who is recovering from surgery and is haunted by the possibility of cancer in some vague and undisclosed location or time.

Add to that a fifty-something couple in Small Town with cancer. The husband was diagnosed with lung cancer recently, and his wife came down with breast cancer 10 days later. I met them just yesterday when I was asked by my church to deliver dinner to their house. I gave them chicken salad in a peanut sauce and some cookies, and the wife hugged me.

Add to that my mother-in-law who has been like a mother to me since I first got to know her over 25 years ago. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer's last week, and because she is in the earlier stages, she knows what's going on—acutely. Her husband died from the same thing just a few years ago, so she knows the potential for ugliness here.

I remember when my father was in the later stages of the godawful disease, and he had created a world surrounded by his favorite things, and he seemed so happy. He imagined eating corn on the cob a lot, and he imagined building things with tools, and he tapped out silent tunes on the arm of his chair. For a man who loved food and carpentry and music, that nonexistent world was a delight.

But Alzheimer's disease isn't like that in the early stages, and it's never a delight for the people who watch you go through it. There are no bright spots in this disease, and there are no lessons to be learned from it. You don't build character by going through it, and you won't come out stronger for it on the other side.

It's likely this couple with cancer will survive and be well again, and cooking a meal for them is the least I can do. It's a small antidote to their bad news. My aunts and uncles live hundreds of miles away and probably barely remember me, so the only thing I can do for them is console my mother when they're gone. But I don't know what sort of antidote I can give to my mother-in-law. A meal won't fix anything, and a listening ear or a pat on the shoulder hardly seem to match the gravity of the circumstances. They seem more like a pool floaty in the midst of a monsoon.

Fortunately, one of her sons will be moving in with her. He won't have a cure in his luggage, but I believe he'll offer reprieves, at least small ones that he can dole out as they are needed. He'll make her laugh, maybe do a magic trick or two like he used to, and most importantly he'll be present. And he'll do this all on behalf of everyone else who is far away and feeling useless.

Wow, what a post full of sludge, huh? Do you feel like you've just run into the crusty old guy at the drug store who just told you about his foot fungus and how his neighbor has the shingles and he thinks he's got something wrong with his spleen? Give that poor guy an antidote to his woes that seem to rain down in buckets sometimes. Take him out for a some ice cream or make a few colorful scarves appear out of no where if you can, and maybe you'll both feel better.


lynn said...

Oh Robyn I'm sorry you're having so much bad news and my best wishes go out to all the people mentioned here. What a marvellous piece of writing nonetheless. I was really moved.

You're right about the no cure in the luggage, but presence is great. When I recently went to stay with my mother, I saw each day her improvement just by us being together, laughing, doing things like knitting together, reading together and watching silly girl-type films. It has a huge value, just to have someone close when you're unwell.

So glad you took the meal to those people. How kind. I bet she hugged you yes!

Lovely post Robyn.

PF said...

Ditto what Lynn said, Robyn. Really a beautiful post, despite the "sludge". And it's true...some days we just can't help but dwell on the yucky news that comes our way. Our neighbor (and Small Town's track coach) was just diagnosed with cancer 7 weeks ago, and he is in the hospital dying right now...it's just, as they say, "a matter of time".