The Bright Side

And now for something completely different… a happy post.

Enough of sad, dreary ones.  I’m moving past the gloom and dark days of March. Perhaps, I can thank the warmth of spring.  Perhaps it’s because my family has been enjoying some togetherness with the boys on break or perhaps it’s simply my blank calendar.  Zero appointments cluttering my days, nothing looming large for yet another couple of months.

No doubt that’s a big contributor to my lighter mood, despite disturbing, cold sweat rousing thoughts at 2am, but I guess we all have those. No matter who we are.  If I can push past and find morning, things seem brighter.

Later this week, my dad and I are heading to California to attend my cousin, Matthew’s wedding.   Matthew wrote a poignant, guest post for me several months ago, “A Son Reflects.”  He wrote about loss, about life without his mother, of things he’d never experience…His mom enjoying his wedding, smiling proudly at  the man he’s grown to be, a mother/son dance others take for granted.

My mother and aunt had six children between them.  Matthew is the last to marry.

It’s heart wrenching, not to mention frustrating, to think they’re missing yet another milestone thanks to breast cancer, but we can’t change that fact.  We can only move on imagining their wishes for us and I’m pretty sure celebrate as hard as we can, would top their list.

But first, I need to get to Los Angeles…with my dad.

Here’s where optimism pays off.  I’m sure we’ll have a wonderful trip together.  I’m actually looking forward to it.

No, really.

I’m excited to fly 3,000 miles with my 81-year old, tell it like it is no matter what, no holds barred, father.  For I’ve seen enough of life’s losses to know such a chance may never come again.

Now, I realize there are some in my inner circle that doubt me, but I really am looking at the bright side.  I’m fortunate Dad’s still around, lucky he can travel, grateful for this time together.

And I will carry that running mantra in my head our entire journey.  The power of that belief will see me through what may be some difficult moments.

–  I will not cringe or slip away if and when my dad attempts to carry his pocket knife     through security and gets angry at the TSA agent for confiscating it.

–  I won’t be annoyed as he leaves the safety of his window seat to stumble over the middle and aisle passengers on his way to the bathroom 17 times.

–  I will smile politely at those seated nearby, acknowledging I do indeed hear the movie soundtrack blasting from his headphones, but please understand he won’t hear me say turn it down.

–  I will truly believe it’s fine if every person on the plane overhears his annoyance with the flight attendant over the lack of free food because surely it’s her fault and can’t she sneak over some snacks.

–  I will think he’s charming as he loudly swears cross-country flights used to only take 3 hours.

I will grin and bear it all just to share my cousin’s day.

Just so we can dance and talk of our mothers, those sisters that raised us.  How proud they would be of their children, all settled now, making their way through life as best they can, guided by the hands of those women.

Maybe we’ll see some sign of their presence in each other and know they’re watching.

How can we not, on this day?  They’re the reason for us all.

It will be a day of celebration, a day of remembering, and a day to enjoy our blessings.

I just hope all that happiness and good feeling is enough to carry me and my dad through the return flight.  I cannot be held responsible if he gets lost in the airport or whisked away by security.

(Just kidding, Dad.)

The Saddest Day Ever

     I’m fortunate my brother, Mark, has finally agreed to let me post something he’s written and today, on the twelfth anniversary of our mother’s death from breast cancer, he shares his memories of what we call, The Saddest Day Ever.
     Thanks, Mark.  I know writing this and letting me share wasn’t easy, but I believe any opportunity to unveil the ugliness of breast cancer, its destructiveness and the havoc it wreaks on a family, is one we must take.
     As I’ve written before, breast cancer is not pink.  It is not a pretty, smiling face and not eased by bright pink well meaning messages.  It is a nightmare endured by those personally dealing with it as well as the loved ones left picking up the pieces.
     Serious research is needed to understand, prevent or stop metastatic breast cancer, so hopefully future families will never need to know such sad days.

      I had been planning a business trip to Los Angeles for weeks, but I wasn’t sure when I could go.  My mother had been dying for the last month and a half and I didn’t want to be across the country when the end came.  After postponing the trip for a month, and under scrutiny from my boss, I scheduled all the meetings, reserved the plane tickets, hotel rooms, and rental car.  I put  my material together to go.
      We were told in January that there was nothing else that could be done for my mother, that the breast cancer she had been fighting for years had won.  She was home now, lying in her bedroom in a hospital bed.  My father was taking care of her night and day, and my sister spent a lot of time at the house as well.
      It was a Saturday in March of 2000 the last time I would see my mother.  My boys, my wife, and I drove across the river to visit her.  It was another one of those damp, cold, depressing March days, a day we would later refer to as “the saddest day ever.”
       I went upstairs to her bedroom to see her.  I hadn’t been there since the previous weekend and I knew that her condition had worsened.  I didn’t know what to expect.  She was shrunken and pale, dressed in brand new blue pajamas. A dozen oversized white medicine bottles sat on the night table with the kerchief she had always worn to cover her hair loss.  My mother’s baldness was finally exposed.
      I closed the door, told her I was there and that I wanted to talk but that I would be crying.  I lied down next to her on my father’s bed, and thanked her for all she did for me during my life.  She put out her hand for me to take. In contrast to her appearance, her hand was warm and full.  I said I would miss her and I would take care of my father and my sister who was still unmarried.  I was sobbing so loudly that my wife came into the bedroom, worried that my mother would be afraid.  I told her I would be going to California the next day, but that I would be back on Friday and I’d come see her next weekend.
      We left the house in the evening just before dusk, made the drive over the Bear Mountain Bridge and home in a hard, heavy downpour .  God was crying along with us.  Later that night, around midnight, my father called and said that’s it, she’s gone, wait for morning to come over.
My wife and I had a cup of tea in the living room while I cancelled the trip to California.

One of the few photos I have of my brothers & I with our mom.
This one is my first birthday.

March Days

What’s up with March this year?  All sunny, spring like, daring me to leave coat behind and linger in the sun awhile.

I don’t like it.

Here in my northeast corner of the country, March is typically cold, dreary skies with drippy, dirty snow everywhere.  Roaring in like a lion proves true.  March doesn’t saunter in with a bright smile.  It’s foul weather for foul moods.

March is the month my mother died from breast cancer and ever since, March reminds me of death, not the birth of spring.  No matter how hard it tries.

Though some years, it takes a few days.  I’ll go about my business without a thought of that moment twelve years ago, but inevitably I’ll wake one early March morning with a start, swearing I’d forgotten something, enduring a nagging, clinging feeling that lasts all day.

What have I lost?

Then I remember, all of it.  And it all seems so familiar now, like scenes from a sad movie.  Memories of a family holding vigil by a bedside, quietly coming and going. Whispered voices, a sleeping face, a turban askew.  The chilly, dark weather providing the perfect backdrop for the grief within the house, inside all of us.

I can’t write of happy things in March.  Even now, years later.

Sorry, March — I know it’s not your fault.  You’re a victim here, caught in a tragedy, forever to be seen as the month of endings.  Wrong place, wrong time.

Now, I spend these days pretending this month is like any other, but reminders are everywhere forcing me to face my loss.

In my son’s school for library duty I accidentally come across the Kindergarten in the hall. My son’s teacher calls out.  He’ll be happy to see me, she says.  Someone is missing Mommy.

Near the end of the line my little guy was walking, head down, mouth turned under bearing some unseen weight.  He hadn’t yet spotted me, but when he did he made a beeline for my side.  Without words, I knelt down, scooped him close and hugged as if our lives depended on it, as if I needed it just as much.

I hugged hard remembering someone who’s gone.

I hugged hard because I’m still here.

I hugged hard enough to carry us through the unknown years ahead and I hugged hard because I knew how he felt.

After a minute I pushed away asking if he would rejoin his class.  He said yes and went off to finish his day cheered up by an unexpected rush of mommy love.

I went off too, feeling a bit better, hoping the power of that hug in this month of March when I’m missing my own mother, will last a long, long time.