She’s in Tampa now, in The Place. (Mom calls it ‘the nursing home,’ which it isn’t, but I have to call it The Place). My sister is handling everything brilliantly: the move and the first parts of the transition (there will be many more) and the first visit to the cancer center up there, the first discussions with the neurologists and social workers and nurses. My brother-in-law went over the other day to sort out the phone situation on his one day off this week and to take Mom to lunch. Yesterday was Mother’s Day, my sister’s first, and they all went for a walk in a beautiful Spanish-mossy park and played with the baby and had a good time together. Radiation is over forever, the other meds are tapering down, and soon chemo will start up again. We won’t know, for weeks, if any of this did any good in terms of the tumour itself. Everyone is exhausted.
I go to band practice. I go to dance class and New World and out to dinner and to a circus performance, wearing one of what I’ve started to refer to as my Grief Therapy Acquisitions. I download free international calling apps on my phone. I say “Oh, you know, she’s as well as can be expected” when someone asks “How’s your mum going?” I have a fifteen minute phone call with her every morning first thing at work, around four in the afternoon for her.
She was tired and sad today. She’s started physical therapy and told me, several times, that the PT is nice and friendly and very matter-of-fact. “He comes right to…to…you know, this place where I am, honey,” she said. “I have to step-tap, step-tap, step-tap. It’s very hard and I have to concentrate and I was very emotional.”
She told me that she didn’t feel like being social and that she was staying in her apartment that day (“I like my new little house, I feel very safe here,”) and about the book she’s reading and about the stuffed kiwibird that I brought for my nephew but that she’s currently borrowing to keep on her bed. She tells me about the cats, who, much to everyone’s surprise, are adapting to this new situation the best out of all of us, thereby confirming my secret belief that they know what’s going on and are playing their part in caring for her.
I haven’t sent a card or any gifts, yet. I tried to send purple orchids for the first day in The Place but they never arrived and I couldn’t call the Tampa florist from work. I think of everything I should buy or bring her, all the presents my sister deserves, everything I haven’t thought of, haven’t given, haven’t done.
We decided, all three of us, about six days after I got back to Wellington when I had to be talked down off the ledge of thinking it was a great idea to get back on the plane– you know, just to help with the move–that we will assess the situation every three months. Assess The Situation. From now until July, barring something terrible, I will live in Wellington in my rather cold flat, taking the bus to work and watching movies and sending long emails back and forth with my bandmate (“Here’s our new, currently empty YouTube channel!!”). There is no decision to be made, about my staying or going, about anything, until July. We will re-assess three months after that, no matter what happens, and three months after that, and three months after that. It’s a very sensible plan. I have to remind myself of it every day, as I try to discern which is the worst thing: to think about it all the time, or not to think about it all the time?
“I had to work so hard to step-tap step-tap,” she said on the phone this morning, the tears in her throat. “I just…I just thought, you know, “But I’m a dancer.”
I saw her for a moment, like a still photo in a glass frame on a bedside table: when she would have been about my age, taking dance classes for the first time in her life, in her 80s pixie cut, her oversized sunglasses, her leotards and long wraparound skirts. I thought about her driving me to ballet practice an hour off the island when I was eight years old, about her taking me to see the Miami City Ballet and what surely would have been a very age-inappropriate viewing of Flashdance when it came out. Thought about her getting her rose-covered cane to walk the nicely manicured grounds of The Place, about her proudly completely bald head that I have only seen on Skype, weeping through physical therapy this morning.
“I still think you’re still a dancer, Mom, for what it’s worth,” I told her, and she choked back another sob.
Which is worse, to think about it all the time or not to think about it all the time?