Jul 12

I Understand You Perfectly

Her speaking style, now, is hard to describe or imitate. It sounds like her, sort of, but there are so many little things that are not quite right. She mixes up her pronouns. There’s a lot of ummmms, a lot of uhhhhhs. I’m home sick today but I called her this morning as usual, skyping from my rucked-up night-sweaty sheets, and when I told her I have a bad cold, she said “Oh no. That’s not good. I don’t like that. You need to…ummmm…you need to make sure that she gets the medicine she needs and that there is a lot of…uhhh…a lot of…ummm…liquid for me to drink.”

She is very aware that she doesn’t communicate the way she did even three months ago, and will often tell me that she finds her difficulties with language and memory and time very strange. Sometimes she is very clear, very strong, and sometimes she can’t put two sentences together. She always gives me a report of her day and asks what’s going on with me but I can never tell if she remembers our conversations from day to day.

“It’s like four hours for you is four weeks for me, honey, it’s so bizarre.”

“Isn’t the brain weird? You must have been wondering why I didn’t call for so long then!”

“That’s right! She didn’t call for so long!”

Lately she’s been telling me that she doesn’t think she’s doing so well, and that she wants me and my sister to talk to the doctors and to see if we can get ‘more aggressive treatment’ for her, that exact phrase every time. She says this about once a week during one of my morning calls, and every time I have to tell her that in fact she has received her lifetime limit of oncology radiation (“Remember when they would put the face mask on you, Mom?” “Vividly.”) and that she’ll continue with intermittent chemotherapy, and that there are still some other options in terms of other medications, but in terms of cancer treatment, that’s about it.

“That’s it?” she will repeat.

My sister tells me that during the day Mom is much less confused and that they do ordinary fun things like go to lunch and go shopping and go to the park to play with my nephew. She tells me that my increasing anxiety about Mom is partly a function of the time of day I have to call from my side of the planet; by the time I get to her she’s just more tired, that’s all. We thought about my trying to call at midnight my time, when Mom would just be getting up for the day, but I hardly sleep at all anymore and I just couldn’t do that and get up in time for work too. So, because of the time difference, because I have chosen to live here, part of every conversation every morning is Mom saying, “I’m sorry honey, I just can’t, I just can’t do it right now” and my saying back, “That’s okay Mom, I understand you perfectly.”

I do not understand her perfectly. My empathy and love for her are not enough to understand. I have no idea what it is like to do any of this, to lose all of this. She tries, but she can’t describe it very well, and I try, but neither can I.