Yesterday evening my daughter and her husband, who had been in Houston for doctor’s appointments pertaining to her newly-discovered breast cancer, returned to us. We were in touch the five days while she was gone, a quick text here, a hurried phone call there, telling me what the last doctor had said, what the last test had revealed, which results we were to wait on. It’s hard to follow those kinds of conversations. I felt I had a general understanding of what was happening, but I knew I only had information enough to understand the very tip of the iceberg that is to be her(our) journey from here, on this side of breast surgery and the unknown of treatment, to the almighty there, her final recovery.
It took a few hours after their return, with the everyday business of feeding children over, before I could actually sit down privately with my daughter and hear what needed to heard. What I so badly wanted to hear, but what I so badly was afraid to know. Funny how we both have husbands, and hers had even been with her through each appointment and exam, but when it came time for mother and daughter to address the latest developments, the absolute vital information of the breast cancer, mother and daughter wanted complete privacy. Only her older sister would have been included had she been with us.
It took going out to her car, parked in my driveway, to get that privacy. Her husband taped each conversation with the doctors, and so because we couldn’t get the one I needed to hear to play inside on my speakers, we took to the car. We escaped to the car where we could listen, and where there would be no interruptions. There, in the dark of her parked car, the security light above my carport shining shadows around us, there is where I heard the voice of my daughter recorded on her phone speaking with the man who would remove her left breast.
In that conversation, taped during the second visit to the surgeon/oncologist at MD Anderson, the one where he marked on her breast exactly where the cancer was (most of the breast) and marked what the plastic surgeon would need in order to take pictures for both of them, I could hear my daughter’s voice asking questions. I could hear the doctor providing answers. I could hear him offer information she hadn’t yet asked for, the way any seasoned doctor can. I could hear her stress and his professional calm.
There, in the shadows of her car, we listened. There, in the shadows of that car, we were a unit. The two of us. Mother and daughter hearing that a part of my daughter, a physical part of the child I’d given birth to, was to be surgically removed in order to save her life. I could see her silhouette in the shadows. I could see her sitting straight, her natural posture, as though we were listening to someone else’s conversation with the surgeon. As though the percentages and statistics he was quoting were for someone else. In truth, the numbers are good. We are encouraged. Still, listening to those disembodied voices discussing a killer disease inside her body was hard. Shortly after the conversation started, and I could hear their voices, I took her hand. I took her hand thinking I wanted to reassure her, as we sat there in the shadows, that all would be fine in the end….on the other side of this journey. I held it a long time. At that moment it was important to me that she feel the love coursing through me to her. I wonder this morning if I may have needed the feel of her hand in mine, needed to touch of my child, as much as I thought she needed to feel my reassurance. Oh, the things we tell ourselves. Is there anything more precious than our children?
Now it is Saturday morning. Two of my daughter’s three children sleep upstairs, my two precious granddaughters who live half a world away most of the year. I learned yesterday, when I learned the date of their mother’s surgery, that they will leave us on Sunday evening, tomorrow, and return to their home in Malaysia. Their dad will fly with them so that they will start their school year, though a few days late, reunite with their friends, and settle into the routine of their lives while we wait for the September date of their mother’s surgery. Their little brother will stay here, too young to be gone from his mother that long. His sisters, thought to be old enough to handle it, have no choice. They will go, whether they are old enough to handle it or not. When their dad returns alone for the actual operation at MDA, the girls will stay behind to be shuffled between their live-in housekeeper and their closest friends and those parents. They will be half a world away with no relative anywhere near them. I pray for serenity. How I pray for it over and over again. Each time they make the trip here to visit, the leaving is heart-wrenching. Each time. This time I fear their leaving in a way I haven’t needed to before. This time they leave without their mother. Routine is good, yes, but there will be no routine until she returns to them. They are returning home to an illusion, and it is not of their choosing. She is the sun in their universe. She is what warms their little lives. They will enjoy their friends, yes. They will start school and have the fun that school children have starting a new year, yes. But it will all be done against a backdrop of loneliness and uncertainty and even fear. It will all be done with an ache somewhere inside their hearts. An ache with their mother’s name on it. Children can feel fear, can sense tension. It comes in all sorts of ways to them. One is insecurity. I, as their grandmother, know all that, of course. Blessedly, they don’t yet. I am powerless to change the scenario, so I pray for serenity. Oh, how I pray. Separation from these children each time is enough of a heartache for me that bearing it is a trial, a loss that takes a toll and takes time to scab. This time, with the worry about their mother and the worry about their well-being without her, knowing they are leaving without the sun that warms their little lives, the uncertainty clutching my heart is indescribable. They will have their dad, true, and yet most of us know that dads are support for Mom, not the center of a child’s universe. Their days will be cloudy and overcast until their mother returns to them.
Grandmother that I am, I must admit I was for a moment tempted to fly to them when their dad flies here for the surgery. We all know grandmothers, at least certain grandmothers, can provide the warmth of their mother easily. My little girls and I have that connection, that bond, that love. I would be bringing some of the sun with me were I to fly around the globe to be with them. It was a fleeting thought. I know my daughter needs me here, but I confess I actually did consider it.
Dread of their leaving has already crept into my heart and taken its place right next to the dread of their mother’s surgery.
Meanwhile, cancer sits in the breast of my younger daughter. Cancer sits in the breast of the baby I carried and the woman I love. Cancer sits in the breast of my grandchildren’s mother, who means so much to them, who is the warmth in their world half a globe away from us. I will take care of her for all of us, and they will once again feel the sun on their faces and in their hearts. One day.
Again I type while the rest of my house sleeps, nudged awake early even though it was very late when my head met my pillow last night. I would like to believe it is God nudging me. I want to think He is nudging me awake to remind me that He has all this (as I know somewhere, somewhere in my conscious mind), and that I can let it go. He’ll take care of it. Let go and let God. How many times have I said those words? How many times have I meant them for myself or said them to friends? Oh, how I need to say them and mean them now. Oh, how hard it is for someone like me to fully let go.
Time to do my morning readings, my daily meditations, and to pray for serenity more powerfully than I have since my mother’s illness and death, or since my grandson left for Basic Training, but those stories are both for other posts.
Maybe even more importantly, it is time to remind myself that eucharisteo precedes the miracle. Time to give thanks for all we’ve been given, for all the times God has pulled us through other trials.