It seems, every now and then I accept that life is a force outside my control, playing out as intended, insisting I go with the flow, all of it, whether I like it or not.
Sometimes, when I find myself pushed along the fast track of husband, two growing boys, school, holidays, finances, Lego’s everywhere, turkeys to cook, gifts to purchase…days pass. There’s contentment. A feeling that perhaps life is how it should be. All my years and decisions have led to these moments and I forget something is amiss.
Then some unexpected memory, or casual sighting of something familiar reminds me…and I’m pissed.
Often, it’s the toll cancer places on all of us, that plays out in my thoughts, but this Thanksgiving, in particular, I saw what it took from my children.
Breast cancer stole their grandmother.
It wrenched an unconditional love right out of their lives, before it ever had a chance to grace their world and when I lose myself in ordinary days, it seems almost acceptable. Something that sucks happened, and no one could stop it. It just is. Shoulders shrug. What can we do? Cancer came, collected its victim, and left a gigantic, jagged hole in more lives than I even knew at the time.
Over the years, I’ve considered how nice it would be if my boys had their grandmother, but it’s really just an idea, a sweet dream based on distant recollections of my mother with my nieces and nephews. There’s the game I play of “if only she were here, she would be… and she would do…”
But, I can’t really know for sure. I imagine how my mom, now in her 70’s, would act. I catch glimpses of her in some stylish, older lady I may spot when out and about. Something about her clothes, her haircut, or attitude ignites a sense of deja vu and inexplicably, I’m drawn to her, wanting in that instant to become her friend. Maybe, if I look at her long enough, she’ll instinctively know I’m in need and step up, but no doubt she has her own family, so I turn away. Or maybe, I look away to squelch my rising emotion, escaping sadness just in the nick of time, avoiding it before it catches me.
I couldn’t turn away on Thanksgiving day when I found myself surrounded by a slightly different holiday crowd than past years. My cousin’s in-laws were in attendance, her septuagenarian mother-in-law drew us all in. She took to my sons as if they were her own grandchildren. Playing games, giving gifts, handing out hugs and compliments to one and all, even to my husband and me. Like my mother would, I think. As if my boys were the most special boys on the planet, because I know to my mom, they would be.
And on that day, I not only felt my sons’ loss, I saw it, because here, in the form of someone else’s grandma, it was personified and at the end of the day, we had to leave. We had to go back home without this presence, without this wondrous addition to our lives.
It was clear to me then, how much cancer stole from us when it took my mother, beyond my loss, or my father’s, but the loss of something immeasurable and yet to come.
How do I put a price on the void in my children’s lives? On something as intangible as the influence of one who loves you? My boys don’t even know they’re missing out. They can’t want for something they’ve never known, but I can want it for them and be angry they don’t have it.
I know people die. People lose family members everyday. It’s life, I get it, but in my small circle of friends, the only grandmas missing, are the ones taken prematurely by breast cancer…and that, is downright infuriating.
How are we supposed to live with that? The world needs grandmothers.
The answer, I suppose, is what it always is in our breast cancer community.
Research, research and more research until a cure or prevention stops cancer from stealing grandmothers…and everybody else.