January 28, 2020
The most successful thing I achieved today? I faxed my mom’s Lung Cancer LDCT to Emory.
That was the one goal I had to accomplish. I am congratulating myself for that small victory.
You must understand. This was no simple feat. This was a three day affair that began on Friday.
“Yeah. Can you hold? I’m not seeing it in the system.”
I hold.“Nope. It didn’t come through the fax, either. Are you sure the doctor’s office has the right number?”
The nasally-voiced man reads it off. I recite it. Phone call two. The doctor’s office.
“Hi. Yes. We sent it over. Uh . . . email and fax. Let me tell you the number we send to.”
The nurse is Korean, so her English is a little broken. Luckily, I have decades of experience deciphering and translating my mom’s English for friends and family. It’s the right number.
“You just have to wait. May not reach them yet.”
I wait until Monday. I call the hospital. Again . . . nothing. A different voice, a woman this time, breaks the news. Somehow, I end up being responsible for faxing a copy of the order.
Today . . . I fax it. I haven’t checked to see if they got it. So, I think I was successful, but I might be wrong. And that is how life feels at 3:15 today. I feel on the edge of defeat.
Earlier this week, the occupational therapist sent text after text in quick succession. Texts I tried to read as I juggled 26 fourth graders during a reading lesson. Wednesday is her last day visiting. She texts me lists and orders and videos of exercises.
She’s peppy via text. Kind. Calls my mom “mom” because that’s what everyone calls her. She’s mom to whoever she meets.
She gives me instructions.I need to make sure she gets dressed in the morning.
- Don’t let her hang out in bed too long.
- Give her tasks like laundry.
- Have her brush her hair.
What she isn’t telling me in between those lines is the truth that I avoided for a while. Mom is losing purpose . . . she’s lonely and understimulated. I mentally slap myself.
Why didn’t I see this before? Why didn’t I notice?
I was selfish, running my own life, irritated by what I perceived as her idiosyncrasies. These thoughts run through my head all day today. By the time the students’ leave, I am somewhat distraught. Overcome with panic.
I cry so much at the end of the day that my friend Ilka has to hold me. My friend who understands what it’s like to watch a mother in her slow decline.
My friend who tells me I couldn’t have known to do more or to do better. My friend who tells me I’m doing the best that I can.
I stop by the grocery store. Noah and I rush around.
He’s looking for a snack. I’m looking for something mom might like to make with me. I am raw and emotional and I don’t even realize it until later in the evening. Keith and I are locked in frustration. He doesn’t feel heard. Neither do I. The conversation breaks down until I am a puddle and for the second time today, someone is holding me.
“How can I do my job when she is all I think about every second of every day? She’s my mom. My mom.” I am sobbing beyond recovery.
“I can’t give enough to you. I can’t give enough to the boys. I am not enough . . . I feel like I can’t be enough.”
I dry my tears. I try to let go, but Keith holds me.
“I think there’s more.”
“But . . . mom.”
“She’s okay for a minute. Let it out.”
And the tears keep coming. The feeling of never being enough . . . as a teacher, a parent, a daughter, and now, a partner. Those feelings that have haunted me since my childhood. The shame and guilt a shadow cloaking me.
I know it is my Achilles’ Heel.
I dry my eyes. We spend a night cooking together, all three adults. One boy at his school’s basketball game. The other meandering in and out to steal an Asian pear or offer his best friend a plum. They duck back into his room to watch the latest YouTube Dude Perfect trick shot.
Mom and Keith and I, we laugh, we chat, we cook, we taste-test here and there. I look at us. I really look at us. This is the measure of our success. In the time we spend together. In the way we are molding our lives to adapt to one another. I watch her at her table, rolling sushi, invigorated by the knowledge that she is nourishing her family. I look at her. And I realize I was much more successful than just that fax today.