My mother’s oncologist, a man of great optimism throughout her battle, finally shot it to us straight once her liver was engorged with disease.
We were told that her predicament gave her roughly six to nine weeks to live. She was presented with a choice: chemotherapy, or not.
Ultimately she accepted the treatment.
It killed her in just four days.
She is powerful beyond measure, now. This is my belief. Her battle contained multitudes.
When I received the details from my father that Thursday morning–when I learned that she had chosen chemotherapy, I was infuriated. Confused. I judged her, assuming that her decision was based in fear, in the desperate clinging to self and life on Earth. Reaching a point of exploration, I now consider that perhaps her choice stemmed from a higher sense of knowing; an awareness of the necessity of her actions.
Inviting the poison as a means to an end: an ending we both viewed as an opening to something more. Death as a beginning.
I never again had the opportunity to communicate with her through conventional means.
As nightfall approached, the ground grew soggy with wet snow. Temperatures dropped, and I stared into an empty pantry. My belly rumbled, a heavy hunger that served to keep me in my body. Promptly I got into my vehicle, albeit mechanically, and drove myself to the grocery store.
1600 miles away from the happenings of my family, going through the motions seemed all I could muster.
I was a shell. Barely an observer.
Trudging toward the supermarket entrance, I stopped just short of the awning. Sleet poured from above without end, evoking shivers, strands of hair adhering to my jaw line. An exact replica of my father’s truck occupied the first parking spot, its license plate practically glowing in the storm. I stood with it in bewilderment.
It read “4Terry”. My father’s name.
Occasionally I receive signs and am unsure of their meaning or significance, yet cannot deny their profound nature. I am a believer in the call and response of the universe. This was such an instance. Growing still in body and mind, I peered into the phrase, 4Terry. I examined the truck.
I took a mental snapshot, and continued on, kicking slush.
Yesterday was especially difficult for my father, 13 days since my mother’s death. I witness circumstance demanding uncovered parts of him to continue blooming and birthing despite his buckling grief. He stares ahead at the television, silently rocking in his chair. Hers remains in juxtaposition, though it is empty. I work to hold space for him, but from the couch. Never will I take her seat. Through my peripheral, I sense his eyes glassing over. He dabs them with a paper towel, something I have noticed him clutching in one fist since her passing. Just in case.
A commercial flashes onto the screen, revealing medical professionals giving testimonies–an inside look into their offices is offered. With his fancy cable remote, my father pauses the television. Eagerly he points out a stoic man, equipped with glasses and a lab coat, that was my mother’s radiologist. The same individual that readily admitted his shock after she drove herself to his office, fifteen months post brain radiation. The screen still frozen, my father speaks of the odds she repeatedly defied throughout her journey with inflammatory breast cancer. The conversation takes a turn, and suddenly we are discussing the details of that Thursday morning, when she was presented with the choice of treatment in the wake of deafening news.
It turns out that she had begged my father to make the decision for her–chemo or no chemo–but he had firmly refused. He contested that it was not his fate to determine. Thankfully I was never consulted.
Apparently her oncologist had cautioned her, that a non-functioning liver was unlikely to respond favorably to more venom being pumped into the body. An already failing body. The primary deciding factor was something grander–it was the part of her that is everywhere, always. The part of her that understood it was time, and chose the path of least resistance for us all.
Placing the paper towel back onto his lap, he tells me that had she declined treatment, all suffering would have likely drawn out. He does not look at me. I envision him exerting himself to hold her up, buckling beneath dead weight as he drags her to the bathroom. Somehow he got her there each time. This went on for barely three days. He was her sole caretaker, Hospice never having to be called upon. I still notice him popping Advil, likely for back pain, at least twice a day.
The truly miraculous essence of her departure hangs in the air. I feel her there between us; ubiquitous relief delivered in death is palpable.
Each moment a miracle, I settle now in what feels like peaceful understanding. Comprehension of the sign, and immense gratitude.