Saturday, March 1, 2008

Extra Ordinary Hope

Hope is like a road in the country;
there was never a road,
but when many people walk on it,
the road comes into existence.
~Lin Yutang


In January, I got some extra ordinary news. It is ordinary news that thousands of people around the world get every day, but yet each time it is your turn, it is still ordinary news that changes your life. Having just finished reading Joan Didion's, "The Year of Magical Thinking," a memoir about the course of her life in the year following her husband's death, I have to borrow her words now . . .
Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
[The ordinary instant.]
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self-pity.
These were the first words she wrote after her husband's death, a day or two after the fact. For a long time after that though, she wrote nothing else. In Joan's case she was referring to her husband, John Dunne, dying instantly of a massive heart attack as they sat down for dinner on December 30, 2003. In my case I am referring to "the phone call." Sometimes it is so easy to relate to the desire to engage in magical thinking.

The day before my thirty-sixth birthday, January 21st, I got "the call. " It became, however, simply the first call in a series of many. It was from my sister, Patti. It started out rather normal enough in a brief exchange of pleasantries to assess how one another were doing. She lives in Ohio, but we are fairly close and talk pretty regularly. There was something a little different in her voice this time though that I could not exactly put my finger on. Then, she saved me the detective work and got right to the point. "Mom is in the hospital," she said, "the emergency room."
Nobody likes to be the bringer of bad news - Sophocles
Though it be honest, it is never good to bring bad news. - Shakespeare
My mom has never been a patient in the hospital in all of her nearly seventy-eight years other than the few days following the birth of each of her six children. She rarely even goes to the doctor's office at all except for an annual check-up to renew the prescription for her blood pressure medication and she would not even be doing that had it not been for my sister's persistent prodding several years ago that it would be prudent to go in for a physical. She was especially happy when for a few years her doctor's office employed a nurse practitioner and she could get her prescription renewed then without actually having to see "the doctor"at all. Being a paragon of health has long been a source of pride for my mother. Throughout my lifetime she has joked, "Every time I went to see the doctor, I came home with a baby...my family is complete, so I don't need to go anymore." You see, in Mom's world there has been no affliction that could not be healed by an aspirin, Sayman Salve or some combination of the two, along with maybe a little chicken soup at times. Her favorite moniker to use when referring to herself is proclaiming, "I'm a 'Tough Old Bird,' " implying I guess that [from her perspective] people who get sick are somehow not as stalwart as herself. She has been for her family the model matriarch - always the caregiver, never the care recipient. We, her children and family, have, I think, bought into this on some level, taking for granted that she is always healthy, will always be our "Mom" and will always be there to support the rest of us in whatever capacity we need at the time. Although this type of thinking has served us well for so long, it perhaps has become our collective Achilles' heal.
A healthy body is a guest chamber for the soul
a sick body is a prison - Sir Francis Bacon
We, as a family, must now face the consequences of that pride. It turns out that Mom has been bleeding for sometime, months in fact, but she will not confess exactly how long. I can only imagine the thought processes of a "Tough Old Bird" who lives alone and whose self-image is so dependent on being that paragon of health and strength for everyone else: "This is. . .just a thing," she must have thought. "It will go away." "It can't be anything serious, not for me anyway." "I don't get sick, that happens to other people . . . this too shall pass." My mom, a child of the Great Depression beginning her adult life in the idealistic early 1950's, has been a woman of strong faith who simply accepts everything as it comes and does not [openly, anyway] question anything. Suffering in silence is somehow something to be admired in her world, character producing.
It's no use reminding yourself daily that you are mortal: it will be brought home to you soon enough. - Albert Camus
The evening of "the call" she had not been able to eat for several days prior and had been cramping a lot and lost a great deal of blood and was beginning to be very lightheaded, nauseous. She reached a point where fear of her own mortality was setting in for the first time in her life and now she was ready and willing to seek help but her doctor's office, the place she loved to avoid, had closed for the day.
A hospital is no place to be sick - Samuel Goldwyn
So, she found her self in an emergency room when she should have been in her doctor's office, months ago. Waiting through all the protocol of emergency rooms, waiting hours for her turn, the fear did not necessarily decrease. Although part of her, for sanity's sake, was still holding on to the credo, "Nothing is wrong with me," the other part, however, knew that not to be true. Being there, admitting to the problem, giving it attention somehow gave it life and made it real. The magical thinking in prior avoidance of dealing with the problem had kept it imaginary and aloof. The tests they did at the hospital that night revealed what the ER doctor thought to be endometrial cancer, but he would not provide her with a confirmation and had her promise to follow-up with a gynecologist as soon as an appointment could be obtained.
How much of human life is lost in waiting - Ralph Waldo Emerson
Six weeks have passed since that night. There have been many doctor's appointments in the intervening time. First with the regular gynecologist who did some more basic tests and announced that he believed she did indeed have endometrial cancer and that a standard hysterectomy operation would be all she needed to remove the offending cells, leaving her afterwards, "as good as new." "However," he said, "I am not an oncologist. You will need to see the gynecologic oncologist before any course of action can be finalized." So off to the gynecologic oncologist she went, feeling rather confident with this new information that indeed her troubles would soon be over. We too, though a little sceptical from taking illnesses more seriously than Mom, felt a collective sigh of relief that such a simple solution would soon bring every thing back into the status quo.
Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting, that is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience. - Unknown
The gynecologic oncologist, however, is much more thorough and comprehensive in his assessments before randomly or prematurely deciding on a course of action that would be perhaps incomplete. Mom, the novice patient, has now been subjected to a whole battery of tests. She has seen not only the gynecologic oncologist, but also a radiologist and has endured needle biopsies, ultrasounds, PET scans, MRIs . . . the full monty of cancer diagnostics. Every time we think they have settled on a diagnosis and accompanying treatment plan a new test reveals even more telling information that seemingly results in yet another test. The standard hysterectomy surgery, it turns out, is too risky to attempt in her situation. It has spread beyond the uterus and there is also cancer present in the cervix. The lymph nodes in her abdomen are enlarged and she is having fluid build up in her lungs. We do not yet know the full extent of all of these tests and still must wait longer for the "big picture" to be revealed. So now we pray. We wonder. We contemplate. We hope.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for that he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. - Romans 8:24-25

We judge of man's wisdom by his hope. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
I have to keep reminding myself that "false hope" is a contradiction in terms. Unlike Mom, I question most everything. I have a somewhat scientific, mathematical and rational mind. I believe that knowledge is power and avidly research to gain that necessary, powerful knowledge in any given situation. Stages, Statistics, Prognoses - these can all be scary things. Together we face Mom's mortality as well as our own. Hope, though, is about belief and faith, intangible things that cannot be plotted on graphs and represented in charts. Hope comes when we don't have the promises of science to hold onto. "False hope" would seem to describe a situation in which the desired outcome is improbable and unlikely, but isn't all hope based on that belief that good will endure?
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. – George Iles
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. - Romans 5:1-5
I know that my mom will not live forever, but I am not ready for this to be the beginning of the end of our time together. So, I have hope that the self-proclaimed "Tough Old Bird" will live up to her name. She has been ageless to us all for so long. Mom and I have not always seen things eye to eye. Sometimes our words, thoughts, and actions have left us each dumbfounded and grappling to make sense of what we cannot understand about one another. In recent years though I think we have both come to a new level of respect, acceptance and even admiration for one another and the lives we have chosen to live. So much of who I am, my values, the things that I hold dear, my personality traits, are linked in some part to being my mother's daughter. There are even marked similarities of character that have simply chosen to manifest themselves in different ways in the forty-one and a half year generational gap that separates us. I dearly love my mom and she loves me. We both know that to be true. I have extra ordinary hope that I will have years yet to enjoy more quality time with my mom as in her heart and in our minds she is still young. I have so much remaining to learn.
Hope is the word which God has written on the brow of every man. ~Victor Hugo
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in him,
so that you may overflow with hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
-- Romans 15:13

5 comments:

Mark said...

Your writing is wonderful. I feel for you, your mom and your family.
Stay in a state of hope, awareness and the deep gratitude that you have for your Mom and seek to understand the lessons that are being presented. Love, peace and wellness.

bkclubcare said...

If I may be permitted to echo Mark's words... and add my own e-HUGS for both you and your mom.

I especially loved the quote "We judge of man's wisdom by his hope." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
but all your quotes are right on.

THANK YOU. :)
- Care

Theresa said...

I'm sorry for the pain and fear and keeping you and your family in my thoughts. Health and healing for your mom. And kudos to you for a heartfelt, poignant post. I like the mix of honesty and hope that you attain in your writing.

bkclubcare said...

Hey you, how's everything? Hope all is well...

Bop said...

Mark -
Thanks once again for your compliments and well wishes!

Your advice is priceless - it is something that I must continue to be deliberately conscious of and keep at the forefront of mind in attempting to "Stay in a state of hope, awareness and the deep gratitude that you have for your Mom and seek to understand the lessons that are being presented."

Care -
Thanks for the e-HUGS!! ;o) They are well received! I am glad that Emerson's quote spoke to you, he is one of my favorites to quote as he has captured through his writings so many gems of the human experience. Someday I hope to read more of his work in context...hey now there's an idea for your book club reading some of the classic masters like Emerson. Theresa has recently taken on Henry Daivd Thoreau.

Theresa -
Glad to see you visiting here again! Thanks for the thoughts, well wishes and compliments...it has been a difficult balance to maintain that proper mix of honesty and hope in real life, let alone my writing, so I hope to be able to continue it.

Care -
Here I am! Thanks for your support and digging me up again, drawing me back into the blog. Hopefully yesterday's post will answer the "How's everything?" part.

Thanks to you all for remaining in my small pool of faithful readers and commenters (Even when I don't post regularly like all of you)...it means a lot to this fledgling blogger! ;o)

Have a great week all!
-Bop