Monday, November 26, 2007

Gathering Together...

I went down to Peoria early Wednesday morning to spend Thanksgiving with my family. As I've mentioned before, my mother is in a nursing home after suffering a stroke brought on by her chemotherapy. She's holding her own, but we've been informed that she will not be able to walk on her own again, and will most likely never leave the home. My aunt and uncle told me that night that Mom's oncologist has been very unresponsive and doesn't return phone calls (often when the patient isn't a "success story" anymore, they don't), but when they finally got the breakdown of her records for the insurance company, it said that the cancer is in her bones (which I didn't know--I did know it was in her liver, and so did she--that's why she started the chemo again).

So THAT'S why my aunt said she's terminal. Hmm. Cancer's funny that way...

My mom doesn't realize this, of course, and my aunt doesn't want to tell her, because she says it's a quality of life issue at this point. "If she has anymore chemo, it will kill her," she said. (And I have to agree that it would--she's still weakened three months after the last session.) Mom is living in a happy world where she's comfortable, people are kind and she still thinks that she's going to get out of the home and go back to work (none of which is possible at this point). And as hard as it is knowing that, especially at this time of year, and as weird as it feels starting to pack up and clear out her apartment (I was only there long enough to pack up her kitchen drawers) when she still thinks she's going back there, I feel a little bit of peace right now, too. There is some sense of closure and everyone's been so kind...I understand now how much that means to people now: to the person making the gesture, it seems so insufficient, because we'd like to do so much more. But the person receiving it is more than happy to come and meet you halfway--any kind gesture you make is magnified by 10.

We had a great Thanksgiving lunch at the nursing home Thursday. The staff did a really nice meal for the residents and the families that visited. Mom was so happy that I was there and I got to tell her many times how happy I was to be there and that I love her. It was more poignant knowing that it's probably the last one we'll shre. One of the volunteers, Judy, who was a friend of my dad and mom's from way back, was serving the meal and leaned over to tell me how proud my grandparents would be to see me there. (Wow...I didn't know eating a great meal was that special! I just couldn't think of anywhere I wanted to be more at that moment. But there are lots of folks whose families don't visit at all, I imagine.)

I'd been feeling really guilty about staying in Chicago and living my "life" while this has been going on. I had a nice talk with my aunt and uncle Wednesday night, though, and they said, "Why, do you think this wouldn't have happened if you lived here? Your mom wants you to be there, because you have to live your own life. If something happened to Jim, we wouldn't expect his daughters to come live back here (they live in SC)." It reassured me that I'm doing everything I can...I'm just glad I've saved up so much vacation time!

I'm still going down in a few weeks to help my uncle move the big pieces from mom's apartment into storage. They've also suggested that I should take her car with me, since she's been telling me to drive it and keep the battery charged and they've said that she won't drive it ever again and it will come to me anyway in the end. So I'm still investigating what needs to be done to transfer the plates, etc. It's not technically my car, and that "city sticker" thing is a bugger. But I won't deny that it'll be nicer to drive her car (a 2004 Malibu) than mine (a 1994 Cavalier that I've had since 1993--the only brand-new car I've ever bought). Hers is more dependable than mine, and there's no short in steering column that causes the turn signals not to work. But I certainly don't like the circumstances.

But I'm continuing doing the things I love the most--music, theatre, volunteering--because they are much needed at this time of year, and since I'm not married and don't have my own family, these things are my "children." (Yes, I finally realized that this is why so many gay people are artists, actors, etc.--they pour their passion into whatever gives them the most fulfillment back. Aren't you impressed? That'll be $14.95, please--hey, that's cheaper than the book once it comes out!)

I'll still call Mom every few days and go down to visit every few weeks, making the most of the time we have left. When the time comes, I'll be glad that I did.

And I'm SOO glad I didn't move to New York instead of Chicago! (Not that I ever had the balls to try NYC anyway, but works out for the best this time!)


Blogger Stephen Rader said...

If you need anything - - anything at all - - please let me know. If you need someone to go to Peoria with you to help with the move or if you need to go out and talk or whatever, let me know. You and your mom and family are in my thoughts and prayers. Much love.

7:09 PM  
Blogger Steven said...

What a heart-wrenching post! It has got to be so hard to accept the realization of what will be developing as far as your mother's future. I admire your strength during this time. It was also pleasing to hear of the good time you had celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. Thoughts and prayers are with you, Aaron. ((((Aaron))))

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Ed said...

Your mother knows you love her. We all know she loves you. I'm so sad to hear the cancer has spread. I had capitalized the word cancer then I went back and changed it. cancer doesn't deserve capitalization. It is so unfair that so many fine people are taken by this disease. Your mother will know you cared about her forever. You're a real good fellow, Aaron. Hugs to the moon and back big guy.

11:34 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments...they mean a lot! And Stephen, I will most likely take you up on the "going out" offer. I like any excuse to drink! ;-)

12:16 AM  
Blogger Johnny C said...

That is so so heart breaking. You seem to be taking this whole thing with the best attitude; and your aunt's words of wisdom that if you lived there this still would have happened are so touching. I've said it before but you're mother is blessed to have you at this time and that you have such a great family.

9:20 AM  
Anonymous Sarah said...

You're a good son.

You should check with your HR dept about family leave time (by law it's not required of all companies but often companies offer some form as a benefit. Ususally, it's not paid leave so it's best to use after vacation time is exhausted).

9:32 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Thanks, Johnny and Sarah...

Our organization does have family leave, but I'm nowhere near exhausting all my vacation time yet, thank God! In seven years there, I've hardly taken any vacation (I've used up the personal days mostly), so I've amassed quite a little chunk! I took five over Thanksgiving, I'll be taking four more over Christmas, and I'll still have over 200 hours...which will then roll over to next year.

10:02 AM  
Blogger dirk.mancuso said...

You are an amazing guy, Aaron. I'm not sure I would have the strength and ability to deal with things as well as you are.

Big hugs and tons of love,


2:00 PM  
Blogger Brigitte said...

I am so proud that you are my friend. Please let me know if you need anything at all. I can't offer much but maybe a good meal, a listening ear, and an entire box of kleenex, but it's there for the taking.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Thanks, Dirk...I guess in a way I've been preparing for this for a long time (ever since the cancer recurred 3 yrs ago), but it did seem sudden when the decline happened (almost literally overnight). But I think everyone has that's sort of ritualistic in a way, doing what needs to be done (as much as I'm able to do it). It also helps having family that lives so close to her! Without that, we'd be screwed...:-P

Brigitte, now I'm getting all soggy! Thanks so much for the kind words--I'm pretty darned proud to have you as a friend too! I think better times are coming someday...

5:32 PM  
Blogger Thomas MacEntee said...

Hey Aaron

I am just catching up on my blog reading and want to tell you that while these posts can be difficult to write, and difficult for your audience to read, they usually are rewarding for everyone.

I know. Your aunt and uncle were spot on when they said that your mother probably wants you to live your own life where and how you want. That's all my mom wants during her illness - for me to be happy. But it isn't easy fighting with the other family members who lay a guilt trip on me for being so far away.

Stay strong. And drink lots (only kidding - but I do love a man that can appreciate a cocktail!)

6:34 AM  
Blogger Aaron said...

Thanks Thomas! I'm lucky not to be getting that guilt trip (from my RELATIVES, at least--other people haven't been quite as generous, but I've told them to stick it up their ass--in not so many words--and they've backed right down).

And I love a guy that loves a guy who can appreciate a cocktail! :-)

11:31 AM  

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