I’ve said before in this space that patience is not my virtue. If I’m being completely honest, I have to confess that it’s not even in my top ten. Which makes it hard to wait. Especially for news that matters.
That would be the results from Richard’s monthly brain scans, the MRIs of last week. We’ve heard nothing, and probably will hear nothing until Wednesday morning at his January oncology consult.
The thing about waiting is that it shares a first letter with another word that I’m much too good at. This word has three syllables, not two, but it also ends in -ing. Yup, worrying. I’m a champ at that ‘w’ word, or perhaps it would be nicer to say I have a very active and creative imagination. That sounds better. But unfortunately, it comes to the same thing…
Mind you, the December CT scans of Richard’s brain looked positively normal, except for some fluid build-up where they excised a large chunk of brain. And even that fluid was stable, the neurosurgeons said. So what’s to worry about?
Um, that would be the glioblastoma tumors those same neurosurgeons removed along with the chunk of his right temporal lobe in August, not quite six months ago. The tumors that grew while he was taking chemotherapy drugs designed to prevent them, after his brain had been blasted with gamma rays every day with the same purpose. Those tumors, the kind that statistically speaking, tend to reoccur.
I’ve also said in this space that Richard’s no mere statistic. If I believe that, and I do, worrying not only does no good right now, it could in fact cause great harm, setting up a kind of negative-feedback loop in thinking I don’t want to engage in. As an antidote, I’m recalling great moments that demonstrate how far he is from being a statistic. There are a lot of them, including the one pictured in the photo above.
That’s Richard, on his 60th birthday in July, swimming in the snowmelt-cold, whitewater-fast Arkansas River just a few blocks from our house. That’s my strong, healthy, happy Richard. I remember his smile when he dove in and discovered that his body still automatically responds to fast water with a powerful Australian crawl, that he still revels in the buoyancy of water, however cold, that it feels good to simply be alive and swimming in our home river at sixty.
We’re doing another kind of waiting right now, and it’s at least as hard, and requires practice, patience, and balance. It’s the kind of waiting we do when midwifing a birth, waiting for that new life to enter the world. Only in this case, to use Richard’s wise wording, we’re “midwifing” a transition at the other end of life: my mother’s passage from this life into whatever is beyond. I love my Mom and my Dad, and want to make sure they both have whatever support they need to on this journey. (That’s my folks in the photo above, having high tea at the Brown Palace Hotel in Denver last April to celebrate my mom’s 79th birthday.)
Sometimes that’s fairly easy, like making what seemed like a hundred phone calls to arrange for Mom to be released to resume hospice care at home after she broke her hip last week and ended up in the hospital. Or helping her rekindle warm memories of camping trips with her dad in her growing-up years. Or picking up one of the stuffed toy birds by her bedside and squeezing it to release the song. As soon as she hears either the clear, descending notes of the canyon wren or the wheezy melody of the bobolink, she smiles.
What I can’t do is make the journey easy. Her hip is broken, and she’s too frail for it to be repaired. Her skin is disintegrating, giving way to bed sores that despite the best care, turn to ulcers. Her mind is slipping away with Alzheimer’s. Being with her in the days ahead as all of her slips away calls on real patience. The kind that doesn’t ask for anything, the kind that is willing to just enter into the journey with no expectation of destination or reward.
I guess it’s love. That, I’ve got.