Sunday, March 02, 2008

My mother is dying

Feel free not to read. Kind of writing for my own therapy

This isn't exactly new news. 3 years ago, she was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. She nearly died in surgery to remove the big cancerous growth in her abdomen. Since then she's been through 3 rounds of different types of chemotherapy.

Recently her ca125 counts starting rising again--that was ... late last year. And they did an MRI and there was a new growth. And they were going through the plans to irradiate that. And in the middle of all that, about ... 4 weeks ago, her bowel got impacted, and the backwater (I know that's really harsh, but I live in Seattle, so there it is) M.D.'s at Monroe General hospital did surgery and ... unblocked her G.I. tract. And then during recovery, she got pneumonia. And then she got over the pneumonia, and started eating again. And then ... last week her bowel got impacted again (it means nothing is going through), and she came into a a real hospital here, and they put a tube down her throat, to drain off the stomach, and put her on IV nutrition, and decided to wait a few days to see if allowing the bowel to relax a little would allow things to start moving again.

Her oncologist says there's pretty much not a whole lot left to be done--this is what happens with ovarian cancer. They can't do any more chemo, because her immunity is too compromised. And they can't irradiate because there are two new growths. He said that there are 30 feet of small intestine all bunched up in the abdomen, and the cancer is like someone took a handful of oatmeal and threw it in there, and it attaches, and grows, and kinks the intestine, and then stuff can't get through.

And that even though now her bowel has opened up again, and ... stuff's going through again, sooner or later, and likely sooner, the cancer will cause it to become blocked again.

So my lovely mum arranged for me and Megs and our girlicans and my sister (my only sib) and all my mum's sibs (excepting one) and a couple close friends to come up to her hospital room on Monday. And when we were all there she gave this astoundingly beautiful speech. She told us about what was happening to her, and that her oncologist had said that this was the beginning of the end of her life, and that Megan and me and Kat had taught her that she should talk about things rather than pretending they weren't there, so she just wanted to talk about it, and encourage us to all talk about it with her and with each other. So I was kind of blown away by that.

And recently I learned three stories.

The zoo: When she was a little girl, my mother and her five siblings would go to the zoo. At Stoneham. Once or twice every summer, they'd all pile in the car with mom and dad and off to the zoo. And dad would feed his cigarettes to the goats, even though mom and sibs all begged him to stop. Which just struck me enormously funny. And she remembered the elephants--how big they were (to her little girl eyes). And the monkeys--they would stay in the monkey house and just watch the monkeys forever. And my Uncle Steve added that there was this box set up where you could stick your hand in, and the apes could stick their hand in, and you could just touch fingertips, and one time they gave the ape bubble gum through this setup, and watched him have rather a crazy time with it.

Steven: My mum's littlest sib is Steven, who is ten years younger. When he was little, she used to have to babysit him, from the roll of the eyes, it seemed it wasn't always exactly her favorite task (as I'm sure all older sibs who have to babysit often feel). And Steven wouldn't always go to sleep when he was meant to, and my mum was the one drafted to go up and sing songs to him. I thought that was rather a lovely picture. And wondered if my uncle Steve remembered it. I shall ask him. I've gotten the sense over the years that in some ways Steve has been and continues to be the sib that is closest to my mom. He's a real ... connector, I guess. Kind of the sense that one gets of youngest sibs in general--that they're ... harmonizers. Steve is a great storyteller.

The coal trucks: There was a big ... coal bin next to my mum's family's house growing up. They brought the coal there in trucks, and then it got distributed from there to all the houses for their furnaces, for heat in the winter. And she used to like to go out and race across the street before the truck left--a sort of race to see if she could ... get across before they ... hit her. That was the impression I got. My crazy crazy mum playing chicken with coal trucks. Awesome! I love it. Apparently her mom didn't think it that great an idea. She was ... 5 years old, I guess. And one day she wasn't maybe quite gonna make it, and got scared, and slipped, and hit her poor little head on the cement. And fortunately the truck driver stopped before hitting her. But the contact between my mom's head and the cement street was apparently rather hard, and she had to go to the hospital, where she remembers there were all sorts of things attached to her head for the purpose of making sure she was okay. And apparently people back then would be in bigger rooms with multiple people, rather than the double or single rooms I'm used to seeing in hospitals of today. My dad said when he was little only very wealthy people got private rooms in hospitals. He told me this in my mum's private hospital room. It made me realize how astoundingly wealthy we are. Astoundingly wealthy, compared to the nearly 3 billion people on the planet who function on $2/day or less.

Lynn Woods: There this big woods/nature reserve not too far from my mum's growing up house called Lynn Woods Reservation. They used to go up there, said my mum, and there was a cave, and they would pretend they were searching for gold--there were rumors gold had been found there once. And they'd go back in the cave as far as they dared, until they got too afraid. And there was a petting zoo, where you could buy grain for a nickel to feed to the goats.

My mum cried today for this reason: She said that she has been in this hospital bed, and feels like she hasn't been able to do anything for anyone. And I thought, and didn't say, "You can do something for me. Tell me stories. Stories and stories and stories. I come from you--Enstory me!"

And she cried for this reason: She said her sister (my aunt) Carol came and visited today, and asked her "Susan, are you still asking God for healing?" And she realized she hadn't been. She said it is *so hard*. I guess Dan Allender would say "hard to hope". I felt really angry and cut at that. Angry that anyone should demand my mother to hope. And angrier because the demand kind of extends to me--some sort of demand to hope and engage with God. This is part of why I stopped being a Christian. I spent some ... two years forcing (in the end it was forcing) myself to engage hope and God, and getting furiouser and furiouser at God, in light of the fucked up state of the world. And then I gradually realized all that anger was just kind of too constantly on the boil, and it wasn't doing much for me, so I just disengaged. And after that, I kind of realized my old model of god wasn't really working for me, and so I chucked it, and in the absence of a new one that does work, I wasn't a Christian anymore. There it is.


Sharon said...

Sorry to hear this Benjamin, thank you for sharing. Also thanks for your honesty about your issues with god and christianity which I can relate to, I know it does not make things any easier. I hope you are simply able to make the most of the time you have left with her- and enjoy those stories. What a treasure.

Victor and Rachel J-L said...

Yes, thank you Benjamin. we're thinking of you lots.
Thanks, too, for sharing part of your journey to not being a Christian (I realise that's probably not the best way to describe the journey , but you know what I mean).
I have a question for you: how do you now deal with the part you play in "fucking up the state of the world"? What do you do with your own mistakes or guilt? I guess, what takes the place of repentance?
Please read this as an attempt to engage rather than as attack or defense. The coldness of a typed message makes it a bit hard to convey the distinction, but please have faith (and hope and love?) in me. Thanks.
love, Rachel

Benjamin Ady said...


Thank you for your kind words


You rock. That's a perfectly reasonable way to describe the journey.

I've decided to deal with the part I play by basically just totally denying it. I find that's much easier than actually doing anything about it.

God I'm in a sarcastic ... cynical, biting, horrible mood tonite.

I'm wondering if you can be more specific when you say "the part you play in fucking up the state of the world"? That would make the question easier to get at. Right now it just feels so broad that the whole discussion borders on being too theoretical.

(I know this is shockingly lazy of me, and I could just get more specific myself)

Let me rephrase. For yourself, when you think of "The part I play in fucking up the state of the world", what specifically are you thinking of? I ask because I'm hoping your answer will help me get at the meaning of your original question.

I did not sense any coldness, attack, or defense in your question. Although I think you are wise to realize that onlineness can lead to misunderstanding due to lack of nonverbal cues =)

Hence emoticons =)



Matt Echohawk-Hayashi said...

I'm very sorry about your mom's struggle. She sounds like a incredible woman.
peace to you and your family

Victor and Rachel J-L said...

Hi there,
Am I too slow to add another comment? I mean, I know I can add it, but will anyone read it?
But your question needs an answer. I think I was trying to be vague with the "part you play in fucking up the state of the world" in an attempt to be polite. But can see now that I achieved the opposite.
I guess I meant everything from the part your taxes play in the Iraq invasion (which you've discussed previously) to the impact your impatience (for example) has on Eowyn's developing self-confindence. Of course, that's just a guess. I'd have to be living closer to you to be acurately specific.

I can't think of more to say right now (I have a headcold so I'm writing from inside a cloud of cotton wool). But I would like to continue this conversation.
love, Rachel

Benjamin Ady said...


I see that you kind of dodged the question I asked in response to your question =). Fair enough.

So I'll try again. And to be polite, this time I'll attempt an actual answer before attempting to ask your own question back to you =).

I'm right into repentance. By which I mean 2 things: 1. Saying "I was wrong, I'm sorry, and I'd like to make it up to you in the follow specific way" and 2. Actually taking steps to make amends (I'm speaking of my ideals here, not my actual actions. the two, alas, don't always match up. But I learned this really kewl and helpful and useful phrase in the 12 steps--"progress not perfection".)

You asked "How do I deal with the part I play in fucking of the state of the world?" So I deal with it by repentance, and by working toward being aware of the part I play so that I *can* repent. And on the local level, that's usually reasonably simple, and on the global level, it's a bit more complex, but one idea I have, for instance, is choosing not to make more than "X" amount of money so that I don't have to pay taxes which go toward Apache helicopters for shooting palestinian civilians (for instance). Although that's a bit disingenuous of me, since I haven't really had the opportunity to make that choice yet. So it's easy to say.

So how do *you* deal with the part you play in fucking up the state of the world?

Victor and Rachel J-L said...

Hi again. Yes, I like that. The making amends bit is most what I was thinking of.
I think my original question was connected to the fact that I think the state the world is in is largely because of individuals, like you and me, who are mostly doing their best, but in the process are doing lots of bad stuff too. There are a few really evil people, but even their actions can be better understood by better understanding their heritage, I believe.
Where am I going...
in answer to your question: I would do what you do (repent and seek to make amends) but a huge, significant addition for me is that I would say "I need a saviour" and also "the world needs a saviour". The more i live and see the more i am convinced that our own efforts (to repent, make amends, do good, etc) are desperately feeble. I am driven again and again to my need for a saviour. And the Christian faith seems to me to be the only answer.
I think many people disregard Christianity not because they don't like the answer, but because they've forgotten the question.
Let me just say, I'm not suggesting you have disregarded Christianity, because I know you gave a large portion of your life to it. My thoughts on MY response just took me to that comment.
And back to where I was. I think the question is something about this: how do we deal with the mess we make of our own lives, the lives of those we love, the lives of those on the other side of the world, the environment, etc, etc. How can we ever deal with it?
THe answer that makes sense to me is that we need a saviour. and I accept Jesus as He presents Himself as Saviour. Which was to choose the remarkable way, rather than just wiping the whole 'mistake' out. So the world still looks a big mess, and many lives still look a big mess, but there is salvation.

I would much rather have this conversation face to face. But that might have to wait...well, probably a few years, hey?
In the meantime, much love to you and all your dear family,