It's been more than a week since she's been gone. I still don't know how or what to feel.
I've been trying to help her boyfriend go through all the stuff she's gathered in 23 years of them living together in this house. I've been trying to keep going, but it's slowly breaking me down.
Part of the problem is I've got three different sets of old pain/problems getting dug up on top of mourning my mother. I've got my family of origin stuff, my problems in the wider community growing up here, and my own divorce all wailing my ears in an ugly cacophony of pain and fear and anger.
I was going through a box of craft stuff, and found a carefully preserved plaster hand-print of my younger brother when he was in kindergarten. A box mostly full of pictures of her dog and friends also had a wide vein of my wedding pictures. And old suitcase was full of old pictures of the mine, and several youthful diaries of mine I thought I'd burned. My crazy aunt just got off the phone after haranguing me about the progress on the slideshow for mom's memorial service.
I've mostly got the stuff she insisted I have packed up, but it's going to be a challenge getting it all back to my place. I don't think either one of us realized the scope. An innocent statement of "take my unfinished crochet projects" translates into the reality of multiple large packing boxes of yarn and half-done afghans. Then add in the sewing projects, embroidery projects, the half-finished memory books she'd started for my kids, various recipe/instruction books, canning stuff, sewing equipment, two full sets of china...
And something else neither one of us had really counted on was the amount of stuff that she'd kept from my siblings. Pictures and keepsakes and all those little kid craft projects have been carefully saved in the off-chance that any of them wanted to come back and be part of her life. I'm taking it all, because I think I'm the only one left around here who doesn't want to salt the ground they walk on. I know why they made the choices they made and while they hurt, I don't blame them. Unlike many others around here.
I don't know. I'll know this out somehow. And I'll do my best to do her proud and help her boyfriend through the service and it's aftermath on Saturday. But at some point here I'm going to have to face myself, and I honestly don't know how to do it.
Well, it's official. The oncologist said today that more treatment isn't a good option. It is doing far more harm than good, and barring supernatural intervention of some sort there's not anything it could really do.
The odds on pancreatic cancer are horrible in even the best case; it was stage III and involving several other organs before they even found it. They did everything they could. But once it re-occurred, there really was nowhere to go. They don't even bother to call it possible treatment; what little chemo they'll do at that stage is considered palliative treatment to keep the tumors from hurting as much or interfering with the function of other organs as much as possible rather than curing anything. And I've known since the start of this there would be a point where continuing to try would basically be torturing her as she dies.
Being told unequivocally that we're at that point is still a gut-punch.
She's at home from the doctor's now. She won't answer the phone because she doesn't want to talk about it (her boyfriend texted me behind her back to explain why I wasn't getting an answer). I can't blame her. I don't either. But I know if I didn't try to call it would be worse, and if a few phone rings is all she can accept from me right now then then that's all I'll do.
I know all this with my head. It sounds all good and wise and the best thing to do. But the other parts of me want to get my hockey stick out of the closet and go dent some heads or curl up under the covers and never come out.
One of my colleagues at GWJ posted this awesome article today, and I wanted to crow about it a bit. Sometimes it feels like I am the only one who ever thought of these things, and it's great to see when others have similar thoughts.
It was a little different for me. I don't know if it's because I'm a mom and we were in it on our own, or if it's just that I'm a pushy meddler. ;)
When they were very little, I was a very demanding GM. I designed the game, down to the last details every day. When they'd leveled a bit I helped them move onto the next realm, School, but I still kept close tabs on things.
Once they were in jr high/high school, I felt more like they were the lead in the game, and I was one of the other members of the party. The Sir Auron-type older and supposedly wiser person. I tried to stay in their adventures but let them have their quest. I tried to make sure it was a learning experience rather than actual damage, but I kept the healing potions handy. I tried to minimize the times I had step in and make it clear to anything that so much as mussed their hair that it would be very very sorry if it did that again. They have to learn, even when it's heartbreaking to let it happen.
When they were grown, that's when I truly became an NPC. I remember when my eldest son first left for the Army, and I realized I was pacing the same senseless pattern around the living room over and over, waiting for a phone call. Those first few years when they all tried their own wings and fought their own dragons were hard.
Now they're marrying and launching their own games. I still get called in for a cameo now and then, but we'll see where they all fly.
I know I'm not that old, but it seems life is very good at finding ways to make me realize that years have gone by. And just when I think I've identified all the potential trouble-spots and built in defenses, it has some sort of burst of creativity and finds a new one.
Last night, my younger daughter was over looking for some paperwork she needs to get settled into her new job and we got to talking. She's been working since she was 15, so it's not like this is a new thing. That's how it is when you're young and really haven't figured out a "career". She's worked a lot of retail and janitorial over the years, but this time it's different. This job has a feature none of them have ever had before -- her own desk. And she gets to put stuff on it.
Well, believe me, I have got this one handled. I have desk-dreck from hell to breakfast around here. So when the paperwork chase ended, a new hunt began through all the boxes of stuff that came home when my company set us all up to work from home.
As we dug down through the geologic ages, we found a box from the job before this one. That was a bittersweet thing. When I boxed everything up to leave that office, it wasn't a happy thing. And because in a lot of ways I still have baggage from that, I hadn't unpacked some of them.
There is some cool stuff in there. (Well, some. Those Episode 1 Taco-Bell cups lidded with the top-half of some of the characters are not and never will be cool). And some of the memories it brings back are good. There's some tourist stuff a friend brought back to me from Kennedy Space Center as a thank-you to me and the kids for watching his cat while he was away. The piggy-bank shaped like a toilet a coworker used to use to express his opinions about situations sometimes. The reason the box was suspiciously heavy turned out to be what is usually referred to as a Tombstone around those parts -- my Ship-it award for Office 2000.
But it also brings back the hard parts. The horrible work that came when those flush-ready ideas got dredged back up by management, and the way I had to leave. The friend and I have grown apart and the cat that was babysat died recently.
It was oddly poignant for her, too. That summer was a watershed for all of us, as a family. The kids spent a lot of time at that office when we all first ended up on our own, so on top of the geek standards of action figures and whatnot, the box also contained some mementos of those long days the kids spent trying to keep themselves occupied while I tried to get something done, all of us trapped in that little purple box.
After some amazed and amused banter between us that I still had this stuff, she went off to cook dinner for her husband with a bobble-headed doll of her favorite character from Soul Caliber and a promise that I would look for a couple other things she might find interesting. And I think I need to unpack these boxes, in more ways than one.
The morning of the fourth day is tough. The veil between the life all around you and your own doing and being has been getting thicker and now it's almost opaque. You feel like that time when someone spiked the punch with Everclear at that office party. Everyone was suddenly much more wasted than they had planned on, and everyone was sitting around trying very hard to pretend to be sober so as not to get the boss mad at them.
You sit in your chair in the correct posture at work and you very carefully try to pretend to care about that one customer who can't get into the site, or that one project that just seems to never go completely away. Start at the top. One thing at a time, over and over. The arms of the clock above the receptionist's head sweep around in strange fits and starts to some rhythm that you can't seem to catch. You get to the end of the day's presto finally, though. It's time to go.
You walk down the street towards the parking lot, fumbling for your keys like usual. Someone catches your eye. You feel the shadow sweep over you. You were hoping to skip the scherzo on this piece but that's not going to happen. You sink a little into your shoes, knowing what's coming. Sometimes you can't even tell what it is about them that makes the connection, but sometimes you can. A flash of stance, a glance of hazel eye, those ugly khaki pants he adored. It's hard to know which is worse - you not knowing if you're crazy, or having that particular bit of him dredged up again. You want nothing more than to kneel at their feet and start to bargain. You want to beg and plead that you'll give them the world if they can somehow give you yours back.
This has happened before. You know what to do. Just set the face on the "Social Smile 3" configuration, and choose a point to aim at that's way past them. Breath carefully through the nose, so the mouth forming the words doesn't get a chance to breathe them out for the wind to play with. Just keep going. Wipe any tears once you get to the point you chose to anchor on.
Another anchor-point or two later, you can start to let the body handle the breathing again. Now comes all the recriminations. The voice that tells you how stupid this all is that you're still doing this all this time later. How he doesn't care and he probably never really did. It starts listing off all the stuff he missed and the lipstick stains on the undershorts and those emails to the other women and the things he said about you in them, but you've stopped listening. It's going to rant on like that for a while and you have to get home and get dinner on the stove. It's right, but it's been right for a long time and it's not going to get any more or less right. As long as you can keep it from bringing up the girls you'll get through the evening.
You get to the car, and by carefully reciting each step as you accomplish it you manage to get into the driver's seat. Sort of like a preflight checklist. Car key in ignition. No, that's the house key. CAR key in ignition. Check. Your phone starts to buzz where you dumped it on the console, vibrating the loose change that's been gravitating into the cup holders. You have a quick flash of annoyed thought that you need to clean this mess up again. You pick the phone up and your heart sinks. It's Aunt Cathy. You close your eyes and answer it before it starts ringing in earnest.
They're at it again. She explains the latest thing Mom won't let her do that the doctor said she was supposed to do and I ask her to hand the phone to Mom. On the third or fourth try she does. Mom gives me her side of it. Go back and forth between the two of them until they realize that they're not in Jr. High anymore. Aunt Cathy's parting shot ringing in your ears blots out the jerk shouting how stupid you are and listing flaws, so that's one blessing at any rate.
You pick your forehead up off the steering wheel where it had fallen during the soi disant conversation, finish the checklist and join the flow of metal down the street towards the house. It's not "home". You don't know where that is. You're not sure you ever really did. Adagio swells under the mundanities of accellerator pedals and gas gauges.
You arrive, but it becomes clear that the director has another movement in mind. The first few bars stomp in through the front door with a gust of cool wind and muddy footprints. The cell phone buzz on the counter rings counterpoint. You pick it up to shut it up while the allegro begins. You tread the measures, restating the themes again and again until they resolve into a single bare tone.
You find yourself back at the start again, staring at the same screen that had bounced the morning sun's glare into your eyes. Finale, you hope. Time to go see what the ceiling has to say about the matter.