Last Tuesday morning I was packing my bag for work, as usual in a rush to get my laptop into the case and get to the train, when a piece of paper folded in half fell out onto my bed. It was a list of local notaries. I looked at the paper for a few seconds, opening it up and smoothing it flat, before re-creasing it with my fingertips. I stood awkwardly in my bedroom, wasting time I didn’t have, staring at everything and nothing. How had I not seen this paper in all the time I’d used the bag since then? It had been sitting in there, waiting, quietly. I didn’t have time to put it in one of the boxes, this list of notaries I would probably never use again, but I couldn’t bring myself to get rid of it. Later I could put it with everything else, all the other pieces, everything else I was holding on to, until I figured out where it was all supposed to go.
Calling a notary from the hospital and asking—borderline begging, I suppose—if he, she, anyone can please come to notarize your mother’s will because your mother is suddenly dying: This isn’t something I ever imagined doing. I don’t mean illness, death, loss. I’d thought about those. I mean the details, the unknowable sudden onslaught of details that must be attended to when you discover someone you know and love is so sick with cancer she is dying.
Not just dying, but sprinting toward death. Still, you try and control the details, keep them from blowing away in the wind, as if somehow this way you can keep her safe.
I never imagined standing there in the hallway with the notary I finally found, after a series of calls to unavailable notaries, notaries too far away, notaries not in the office. He held a big, leather-bound book. He was very professional, very courteous, very out of place in the white hallway where I had of late found myself trying to maintain control of a train that was careening over a very terrifying abyss.
There are a lot of things to learn when you’re faced with illness and death. You have to learn them if it’s an emergency or a slow-building process. You have to learn them if it’s you who is ill or someone you love. You have a lot to learn, often in a very little period of time. So little you feel like yelling about how unfair it is, all of it, everything, shaking tiny fists at the universe in futile anger and yelling about the great unfairness. Instead you switch on the light of the day room at the end of the hall and sit, at 5:00 am, the world waking up and going about its business as if nothing is wrong, to sit and talk to a lanky, bespectacled hospitalist about how exactly the doctors should interpret your mother’s do not resuscitate orders now that treatment has started.
The paperwork is astounding. Forms, coming and going. Lab reports. Booklets about what lymphoma is, what types there are, what the treatment options are, what a person going through chemo should expect, what a person-going-through-chemo’s caretakers should expect, what the types of stem cell transplants are, what will happen, what the person can and absolutely cannot eat, what the immunization schedule is, release forms. On and on and on. Even menus, from hospital stays, although to call them menus is sort of cruel. I have folder after folder of it all. A huge binder. A box full of booklets. You should see them. I should find a way to show them all to you.
In just under a month it will be two years since that first week in the hospital. Two years since I discovered what dark humor really is, how jokes an unfortunate cohort people can understand will somehow get you through grim hours. Two years I have thought about what it meant to go grey, all emotions and sensations inaccessible, to shut myself down in order to contend with something that was so much larger than me. Two years I have quietly hoarded away paperwork. Two years of learning there is more than the simple black and white of cancer, more than lived or died. Two years of nearly every emotion save paralyzing grief. Two years since my mother very nearly died, and then didn’t.
Two Mother’s Days. I count them now.
Source: Flickr / ohheygreat