Confessions of a Children's Author

Thursday, March 30, 2006

No "Plan B"

Well, I've now reached a point where the first thought as soon as I wake up is not "my mother's gone"--now it's the second or third thought.

I heard somewhere once that sadness is so often parlayed into anger because then blame can shift from oneself to someone else, and it's easier for people to be mad than to be sad. Right now, I'm both. I was reading People Magazine two weeks ago, and in the article about Dana Reeve, there was a comment that she and her family had hoped that she would be part of the 2% of people who are diagnosed with lung cancer that survive five years or more. Given that my mother had died of the same kind of cancer as Dana Reeve ("the non-smoker's lung cancer", I always feel I have to tell people), I felt a wallop of emotion when I saw this statistic. My mother had never said anything that had implied that the situation was so dire. She had said things like "I'm going to fight it and I'm going to beat it because it's not my time to go yet," as if that alone was enough to turn medical statistics on their ears. When the radiation had shrunken the tumor significantly but the doctors still couldn't do surgery because it was still in a difficult place in the lung for them to remove it, my mother kept insisting that her prognosis was still good, even though I was skeptical. "My doctor told me she thinks there's no reason why they won't be able to shrink the tumor until it's gone, and then they'll just keep checking on me," she said. Maybe it's because I didn't really want to believe otherwise, but all she kept spouting to me was the positive. She pooh-poohed the doctor who told her to get her affairs in order (he loudly told her this in front of a roomful of her roommates visitors, but some of the a**hole doctors she had is a whole other issue I won't get into at the moment), and instead latched onto the words of the doctors who kept telling her that they would be able to help her.

There are probably some people who think that I only heard what I wanted to hear, or that my mother really knew the graveness of her situation and was just selective in what she told me because she was being protective, but there is a history of my parents never preparing a back-up plan, of them never entertaining the possibility that things won't go as they want them to, and I believe that my mother thought that if she didn't even consider the possibility of dying from this cancer, then she wouldn't, and for that I feel profoundly sad, angry and betrayed. Case in point: my mother had no will. When she had her final stay in the hospital, my father downloaded some generic form that basically signed everything over to him (opening up a financial and emotional can of worms, but that, again, is a whole other issue I won't get into at the moment). What would be the first thing I would do if I was diagnosed with a potentially terminal disease? I'd make sure my will was up to date--just in case.

When my father's business was having some trouble years back, my parents took out a business loan. What did they use as collateral? Our house. What happened next? The business went under and our house went, too. When my parents were renting a house not too long ago, they knew that their landlady's daughter was eventually going to move back in and they'd have to move. Even after the landlady told them that her daughter was going out of the country and was going to move home in two years, my parents bought a greenhouse for the yard, planted rose bushes and a vegetable garden, and ignored my scoldings that they were settling in just a bit too much for a house they didn't own. What happened next? The daughter hated living overseas and came back early, and the landlady gave them 90 days to move. And even moving day came down to a chaotic, unprepared mess, but yes, that's another story. So, this is why I believe that my mother just didn't think about the possibility that she could die from this cancer, that it wasn't just a matter of her believing in the power of positive thinking, that it was not having a contingency plan. And as much as I loved (and still do) my mother, I'm angry at her (and my father, who became seemingly enraged on the phone any time that I tried to ask if the prognosis was anything less than positive) for not preparing herself for this. Or especially not preparing me.

Not that anyone wants to consider that they might not be a part of the small percentage to overcome a particular disease, but I feel that people should always prepare a Plan B. It's like insurance--hopefully you won't need it, but in case you do, at least it's there.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Learning to Be Left-Handed

Well, I survived my mother's informal "memorial" in her hometown. Though "survived" is a relative term, since I've suffered through two migraines within a 48-hour period, and there have been times since I've gotten back that I've felt just as sad--if not moreso--as when my mother first died. Part of it was the natural emotions that got stirred up by being in her hometown and seeing a lot of her family and some old friends, but a lot of it was because this was the first trip that I've taken since her death, and the first time that I wasn't able to come home and tell her all about it.

I've realized the gravity of not having my mother here anymore, which, considering that I used to talk to her almost every day (sometimes more than once a day), is substantial. But it's like after this trip, I finally realized the finality of not being able to speak to my mother ever. To not be able to tell her about the people I saw, or the food I ate or the places we went to--all the things I seemed to take for granted before--well, it's inconceivable to me. Additional things making it hard: visiting a friend of mine from high school who just had a baby, and wondering how in the world I'll be able to have a baby without being able to ask my mom the myriad of questions I know I'll have; seeing landscaped yards and thinking about how I can't wait to have a house and garden of my own and knowing that my mother won't see the home my husband and I will make for ourselves; and hearing family stories and not being able to confirm the events with my mother or be able to tell her a story I'd never heard before.

Sometimes I want to scream "I don't know how to do this! I don't know how to live without my mother being there, even in the background!", and that is the problem in a nutshell--I've never had to before. When I was about twelve years old, my family was on a trip somewhere, and I remember being with my parents in an arcade. Either my parents were playing a game together, or my father was playing with my brother and my mother was watching, and I remember standing there, watching them, when this realization came over me that someday my parents won't be here, and a wave of incredible sadness washed over me. I moped for the rest of the day, until my mother asked me what was wrong, and I reluctantly told her. She sort of chuckled, then told me I wouldn't have to worry about that for a long time. Who knew that the something I'd been dreading for years would happen so much sooner than any of us thought it would?

So, here I am, learning how to live without my maternal guru. If I had a cooking question, I'd call my mother. If I saw a bird I couldn't identify, I'd call my mother. If I was feeling blue and needed a sympathetic shoulder, I'd call my mother. If I'd written a new chapter, I'd email my mother. And now I can't do that. As I told someone yesterday, it's like I suddenly have to live my life doing everything left-handed--it's incredibly difficult, and uncomfortable, and frustrating, and sometimes painful, but I don't have a choice, it's just what I have to do. All I can do for now is try...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Lack of Sympathy

I've been debating over exactly how deeply I should delve into details, but since I haven't told any of the people I'd be discussing within this blog that I have a blog, let alone the address, I figured I need to do what I need to do...and what I need to do right now is sort some of this crap out that's been going on lately in my life.

First of all, I've been thinking a lot about my book and its characters lately, which I'm hoping will lead back to my revisions sooner than later. I'm feeling more ready to do it, anyway.

That being said, it feels almost indulgent to delve into my characters' lives and figure out what they need to do when I'm still trying to deal with things around me. I'm still amazed by the number of people I haven't heard from about my mother. Not old college friends that I haven't spoken to in a while--I'm talking first cousins. First cousins who supposedly really loved and cared about my mom. Three cousins I haven't heard from at all (though I heard from another family member that one of them was "taking it really hard"--huh, then I would figure she'd understand how much it would mean to me to just get a card in the mail from her to know she was thinking about how hard it is for me). I think the best one, though (heavy sarcasm here), is the one who called me and said he just wanted to call to see how I was doing, with no mention of why (as if it had just been a while since we'd talked), and then proceded to tell me that "I don't know if you heard the good news yet, but ." (Can't say what, but it was career-related.) My husband and I listened to the message together, open-mouthed, in disbelief that he somehow made the phone call about himself. Am I happy for him about his good news? Yes. Did I need to hear it in a phone call that didn't even mention my mother and made it sound like that was the real reason he was calling? No.

We experienced a similar incident with one of my husband's relatives. A few days after my mother died, this person called and said how sorry she was to hear about my mother, and then said something to the effect of "I know you're probably not thinking about this kind of thing right now, but there's a family thing in a few weeks and we need an RSVP by a certain date." You know what? If, in the message, someone realizes that something may be inappropriate, then it probably is. And don't say it. The last thing I would be thinking about within days of my mother's death is family gatherings. And as happy as I am for someone else's career news, save it for another call. I know that other people around me have not had their lives turned upside down like I have. Am I expecting them to stop everything to feel bad for me? No. Am I expecting them to send me lovely tearful letters and huge floral wreaths? No. But am I asking for them to simply acknowledge that my life has been forever changed? Yes. If they don't feel like calling, an email is fine. If they don't feel like emailing, then a simple card in the mail is fine (as someone said the other day, sympathy cards basically say the hard stuff already--all you really have to do sometimes is sign it).

I'll be dealing with some difficult stuff this weekend (more on that later), not the least of which is my father. I started this post intending to write about that, but it went in a different direction, so oh well. I guess my paternal dealings lately will have to wait until the next post...

Monday, March 06, 2006

The Unthinkable (Sad News)

I've been putting this off for a few weeks now, but I decided it was time to just throw this out there so I could post smaller entries every day rather than have a larger one looming that has been snowballing into a larger thing every day I don't write.

The unthinkable has happened: my mother died last month.

Just seeing those words on the screen almost gives me goosebumps. I've been using the almost quaint phrase "passed away", because it doesn't seem as hard and cold as "died"--but they mean the same thing: my mother isn't here anymore.

I won't go into too many details right now...suffice it to say that my mother was diagnosed with cancer in July but told everyone that her prognosis was good--and she was responding relatively well to chemotherapy and radiation treatments (in that her tumor had shrunken significantly). She seemed on the upswing for my wedding in November, and was doing well enough for Thanksgiving that she kept brushing off my help in the kitchen, even when I admonished her several times to sit down and take it easy, but the Monday after Thanksgiving she resumed radiation treatments, and she went downhill from there. I still cannot believe she isn't here--it was too early, she was too young, and it should have counted for something that she fought so hard to live. But, it was not up to me, or to her, and for that I am dealing with confusion, anger, disappointment and sadness.

I have lost not only my mother, but my best friend, and the first person I would call at the first sign of any crisis. But here I am, facing my biggest crisis, without the person I could always count on to help me through it. I am not one who reaches out to people easily, and especially now, I am afraid that I will scare them off if/when I do reach out. I will scare them off with my unbearable sadness and my overwhelming anger, so I either put up a false front of coping, or I just don't reach out.

My goal here is two-fold: to work out some of my sadness externally instead of keeping it bottled up, and to get back to writing in a way. My mother was my biggest cheerleader where my writing is concerned, and I cannot bear the thought that my mother won't be here to see any success I hope to have in the future with my book(s). I have been paralyzed by the idea of sitting in front of my computer and working on my manuscript, and I know how my mother would have hated the idea of my discontinuing my writing, however temporarily.

So, here's my first attempt at getting back in the saddle... I hope Mom's watching somewhere with an approving grin.