cancer diary

Returning, albeit slowly

Ever have so much to say that you don't know where to start? I've been like that for the past couple of days; too much to say, too many people to say it to, and the end result is that I close down my email application and go do something else for a little while. The letters and thank-yous stay unwritten, but the lack of writing seems to do nothing but keep them in the forefront of my mind.

I've been moved, often to tears, by the words of others. Words, sometimes, from the most unexpected of places: Andrew's brother, out in North Carolina, whom I haven't seen in a few years. From my cousins. From those random people out in the world who have found this site.

One, though, brought home the reality of what I've been facing. Today's mail held a card, postmarked Chicago. I only know one person in Chicago, and the handwriting on the envelope matched his particular scrawl—Matthew.

Think of the souls you'll save

While we were at the hospital, Mom asked me why I volunteered to turn my days and nights around so that I could stay up with Dad during the night. It was hard to explain why, exactly, but it had something to do with contrary nature and my need for solitude. When I tried to explain this to Mom, I think it all came out wrong, but I eventually managed to maneuver my words into the direction they needed to go: "It's not that I don't want to see the friends and family that come to see Dad during the day. It's that I just do better when it's just Dad and me."

Her "I don't understand but I'll take that weird answer and run with it" shrug told me all I needed to know. I've never claimed to be anything but the oddball of the family. Not a black sheep, but perhaps a grey sheep. Or a paisley sheep. Not rebellious; just different.

Japanese maple

Home, yesterday, after a Sunday night dinner with Colter and a Monday afternoon shopping-and-lunch combination with Susan. Home, the land of very large orange-and-white cats and a spouse that missed me. Home, with a pile of movies (and dust bunnies, and bills) waiting on me.


One week and it all changes. A week ago on Saturday my priority was to get home from Nashville so that I could tidy up the kitchen. A kitchen which, now, is filled with lilies; next to a living room which smells of lilies. Heather and Andy sent a set of impossibly large and glossy stargazer lilies. The kitchen, instead of being covered over with dishes and plates and cooking detritus, now has calla lilies taking up almost every available inch of counter space.

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The nocturnal daughter

They knew me as the night shift for my family; the nocturnal daughter who stayed up at night in order to force her mother to get a few hours of sleep.

This was the tenth floor, the top floor, the no-man's-land. The cancer ward. Oncology, for those who knew the term. Well-hidden above such popular destinations such as the maternity and intensive-care floors, it was not a floor one journeyed to randomly.Even during the daytime, it was quiet. On most of the floors of the hospital, rooms marked "Oxygen In Use" were the exception. Here, they were the rule.

Those people journeying up to the tenth floor were more likely to talk to each other, more likely to be carrying suitcases. One, a careworn blond woman toting an overnight bag, gave me a compassionate look and asked, "Who are you here for?"

"My father. You?"

"My mother. Will he go home?" she asked quietly.

"No. Will your mother?"

"I don't think so." She looked down.

A blessing from the air

I didn't expect to laugh today. I expected to cry. But maybe it was something in the weather that kept the tears away. Maybe something about the fact that my father died in the middle of one of the most enormous and long-lasting rainstorms in recent memory, but that today turned out to be one of those achingly clear and crisp early-spring days that Arkansas occasionally dishes up in March, that gave my heart a lift. But maybe, just maybe, it was something else entirely.

Three roses

Visitation is over, at last. Call me selfish, but I'm glad it's over.

We've had a houseful of visitors today, and—in the great Southern tradition—they all brought food. The fridge is full to bursting, and we have drinks and paper plates and sandwiches to spare.

To quote my brother-in-law: "Don't eat that cherry pie."

"Not good?"

"Nah. I'll eat it. Wouldn't want y'all to get sick or anything."

Last I checked, Carl had eaten about three generous slices of pie so far. There's one piece left, and I fully expect that Carl will come over and polish it off with lunch.

We had a bit of a fracas today when we learned that at least one of the local florists told their customers that Dad's visitation was from 6-8 p.m. today instead of the 7-9 p.m. that it actually was. In order to prevent any hurt feelings, Jeff and I were at the funeral home just before 6 so that the people arriving early would see at least one member of Dad's family.

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