Thursday, March 09, 2006

A Look Back

Occasionally I go back and read journal entries from a year ago (amazingly, in a few weeks I will be able to read entries from two years ago) and, as February and March have rolled around, I've given a lot of thought to my stepmother, whose vitality and joi de vivre were stopped in their tracks by lung cancer last spring. Herewith, from last March 8:


My father called very late last night, which he never does, to tell me that the doctors have finally advised that my stepmother move from their care to hospice care. After four months of grueling chemo and radiation, four months in which she has barely left her couch (and amost never without assistance), they have concluded that they have no more tricks up their sleeves.

The third eagle chick has hatched at Blackwater.

My stepmother was canoeing in the Algonquin backcountry with my father and sons in September. After her diagnosis, she insisted on following the doctors' treatment schedule to the letter, even though her chances were almost nonexistent and the hour-long trips (one way) to the hospital and the drugs administered there left her exhausted, often physically sick, and sometimes mentally disoriented.

The third chick is a few days later than its siblings and therefore comes into the world with the distinct disadvantage of being much smaller than its competitors for food.

I've already explored my feelings about the path my father and stepmother have taken,
here and here and here and here and here and here. I don't think I would have made the same choices. I know I would have asked more questions. But I have to honor my stepmother for being a woman of incredible grit and determination, and my father for his exquisite care of her.

The eagles don't ask questions. There is the next day, and the next, and the next. They sat on a nest for weeks, even when they were buried in snow. For the next months, the mother will be a dedicated nurturer and a ferocious defender, and the father will be an exhausted provider. In the summer, given hours and days and weeks and months of unremitting attentiveness, with some luck tossed in, five eagles will soar over the nest and the Blackwater refuge.

Despite the fact that I would have liked to have seen the hospice folks called long before today and despite my personal view that death is best anticpated with openness, in community, I feel a terrible weight of sadness this morning as those things are all about to fall into place. My stepmother is a woman of vitality and vivacity and my father is a man of great gentleness and love for the created world. It was surprising that they even encountered each other, but it's not surprising that in the aftermath of painful endings to prior marriages, each would conclude that the other offered hope for a new life and risk falling in love again. They have that, that surprising and life-affirming love, to celebrate now.

I won't see them in person, but I feel a great joy when I wake up in the mornings these days and remember that I can come downstairs and, with a couple of clicks, see what the Blackwater eagles are up to. The adults are nurturing beginnings, entirely devoted to the prospect of filling our skies with magnificence.

L'Chaim -- To Life.


Carol said...

The juxtaposition of life and death is renewing and faith building in so many ways. The anniversaries that you're observing bring memories that will be with you always. You've suffered so much loss in your life, Robin, but I believe that those losses are part of what make you such an insightful, kind, and thoughtful person.

Lisa :-] said...

Have you been following Pam's journey? She hasn't been able to write since before Christmas, and just had surgery on a metastasis to her brain on Tuesday. I would have cried "uncle" a long time ago, but I applaud her courage to keep going until there is nowhere else to go. Who can say what is the right way and what is the wrong way to handle the journey? We each have to make our own decisions.

emmapeelDallas said...

This is a beautiful entry, and I read all the links, and those are beautiful...eloquent, as always...too. My mother and sister died of cancer, years ago, Mom at 75, my sister at 37. I was young when my sister died, and pretty naive, but with my Mom...I remember talking to her oncologist, wanting some hard answers, and he just kept on hedging. When I think back on it now, I'm reminded of Shirley MacLaine (Aurora's) exchange with Debra Winger (Emma's) oncologist in Larry McMurtry's wonderful Terms of Endearment: Dr: "I always tell patients to hope for the best and prepare for the worst." Aurora: "And they let you get away with that?" You're right, social workers are needed to help navigate these waters...when my Mom was finally told there was no more hope, she decided she wanted to die peacefull, at home (which she did), but her oncologist at that point abandoned her. Had it not been for the wonderful hospice nurses, I don't know what we would have done.

Thanks again for a beautiful post.