Thursday, January 20, 2005

The origin issue

I am in what religious types would call "discernment." In other words, I'm trying to figure out my calling, what's next, where should I position myself on the court. A little background: This time last year, I was the entertainment editor and Sunday columnist at my city's only daily paper. The job was soul-sucking, but I made decent money, and my very best friends in the world also worked with me, so we made it through most days together by scratching in Morse code on the walls of our cubicles. My son was a freshman in high school and my husband and I were a year deep into the wait for the phone call that would tell us our new daughter's name and when we could travel to China to adopt her. Then late in the afternoon on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 24, I was sitting in a doctor's office as he (let's call him Dr. Prick -- and not just because he was a urologist) looked at results from a routine CT scan he had ordered "just to be sure." He had wanted to see my kidneys, but what he was looking at was a report that revealed a navel-orange-sized mass in my pelvis. I told my mother first. Then my husband. Then my friends. I also made an appointment with another doctor for the following day. After a month of doctor's visits, an outpatient exploratory surgery, many needle sticks, several scary conversations and a barium enema (all the kids are doing it), I went into surgery knowing that, when I woke up, I would learn one of the following options: a.) I had metastatic cancer that had begun in one area and had spread into several other areas and I needed to get all my paperwork in order, OR b.) That I had plain, old fashioned ovarian cancer, which would be a pain, but I would survive it, OR c.) that I just had an ovarian cyst and everything was fine, lalala, go on home now. On the morning of Monday, March 29, I waited to go into surgery, along with my husband, my mother and my priest, Mother T+. We tried to crack jokes, even though I felt like death already, because of dehydtration from vomiting all the previous night. When I woke up, and over the next few days, I learned that I had ovarian cancer, and possibly another, very rare bladder cancer, but that tissue would have to be reviewed many times over by a team of pathologists. If it was cancer, mine would be only the eighth diagnosed case in the country. Sweet! Doctors would clamor to write papers about it. The top oncologist in the region agreed to take me as a patient. You can bet I was feeling pretty darned special. (Post-script: In the end it turned out to be nothing but boring old, stage 1 ovarian cancer, for which I had to receive 3 months of chemotherapy - but that's ANOTHER HILARIOUS story.) I left the hospital the following Sunday - Palm Sunday. Foremost in my mind was the thought that I hoped I might be able to get around sufficiently well enough to attend Easter Service at my church. I've never been a very churchy person, but after spending Lent in deep, incessant contemplation of your own mortality, saying goodbye to your family in your mind a thousand times over, wondering how we all get through the day with this crushing awareness of our own frailty, well, you might want to celebrate come Easter. Unfortunately, I didn't get the chance. Late that Wednesday evening, my mother -- who had been spending every moment with us since the night before my surgery -- had some chest pains, went to the ER with what she, as a nurse, assumed was a little arhythmia caused by, oh I dunno, a little stress maybe. My husband took her, and called my best friend to come stay with me, seeing as how I could scarcely walk to the bathroom by myself. At about 11 or so, I sent my friend home after word from my mother and husband that things weren't all that serious and they were going to admit my mother just to watch her. I fell asleep on the sofa watching TV. At 3 a.m., the phone rang. It was my husband telling me that I needed to get dressed and come to the hospital, and that his mother was on her way to get me. I got up. Woke Xerxes. Put on the dress my mom had bought me the day before to wear to my doctor's appointment that day (Thursday). Even as we were driving to the hospital, it didn't occur to me that my mom's death was already a foregone conclusion. I was half asleep and still loopy from anesthesia and painkillers. I didn't stop to think that the ONLY reason my husband would bring me out of my recovery position on the sofa was to say goodbye. When we got there, she was basically gone. My husband warned me that she looked bad before I went into the curtained area where she was. But I didn't think she looked all that bad. She looked like a woman with a tube down her throat and a machine pumping air into her. I guess that does look bad. But she also looked like my mom. I held her hand, which was amazingly soft, like a little girl's. My mom had been a nurse for 20 years, working most of that time with geriatric patients. She had seen a lot of people die. She knew how she wanted to go, because she had seen all the different ways people can go in a hospital. She had seen families keeping vigil at patients' bedsides, and the dying patient holding on for hours or days, not wanting to leave their loved ones, and then, as soon as the weary wife takes a coffee break or the daughter goes to the cafeteria for a sandwich, the patient slipped away, as though waiting to be alone. I told my mom that it was OK -- that she could go. That I was there and Xerxes and my mother-in-law. That we all loved her so much. I told her not to worry about anything, that my brother Thor and I would take care of all of it. (huge lie -- I had no idea how to take care of anything.) I told her I loved her again. I thanked her for being so wonderful. My mother-in-law called my priest. The nurse asked if I would like the hospital priest to come and pronounce last rites. I knew my grandmother would want that, so I said yes. My own priest came and also anointed my mother with the same oil from her key-ring vial she had used to anoint my head before surgery just a little over a week earlier. Mother Teresa looked at me and said, "There is nothing right about this," and I was so grateful that she didn't try to tell me that, ultimately, I would come to see the goodness of God in this moment. She said that, as soon as I was able, she and I could go into a field and throw shit at God and his lousy timing. They turned off the machines, and she went. I held her hand. I cried. My husband said, "I hope they have credit cards in heaven." "I'm sure they do. And QVC." Mom died at 5 a.m. April 8. At 10 a.m., I had a doctor's appointment to have some stitches removed. My friends brought me to the doctor, and afterward I asked them to please just stay at the house with us. They did. We were on the phone all day. Talking to my brother, my aunt, the organ donation people, Mother Teresa, the hospital. At 3 in the afternoon the phone rang, my husband picked it up and looked at me in shock. "We have our daughter." I screamed. I literally wailed, and would not take the phone. I made him get all the specifics -- her name, her weight and length at last exam, the province where she was and the name of her orphanage. They would email a photo, they told us. What the fuck, God? We wait a year and a half for this joyous moment, imagining it countless times, and it comes just hours after my mother -- our biggest adoption cheerleader and grandma extraordinaire -- has DIED???? Give me something to throw. Now, don't give me any crap about God giving and God taking away. I don't see God as a micromanager. God didn't TAKE my mother. God didn't spare me. God didn't deliver my daughter -- or for that matter take her away from her birth mother in order that she might be given to me the day my mother died. What kind of sick simpleton would that make God? I guess that idea of God moves some people, but it does not move me. What did move me was the amazing outpouring of love we received the moment we were in trouble. People came from everywhere. Neighbors we barely knew sent food. Women from our church -- women whose names I could not have told you -- brought covered dishes labeled with things like, "Corn casserole - vegetarian - not spicy." Mother T+ came by the house and called several times a day. Our best friends, the Dickersons, opened champagne and celebrated our daughter's life and my mother's life. Our friend Z, knowing that my health would prevent me from going to China, offered to go herself. "I've already talked to my boss and gotten clearance, and I start my vaccinations next week," she said. "Let me know when the plane is leaving." The past year has dragged us thorugh the dessert, and also shown us incredible grace. Now, a year later, I have left my well-paying editing job to be Buttercup and Xerxes' full-time mother. A couple days a week I am the volunteer church secretary (a sister in the Holy Order of St. Carol -- a collective of irreverent Episcopal Church secretaries, of which I have met several), and I am, as I said in the beginning of this, in the process of discerning my next move. One day, I may want a paying job again, and I know I don't want one like the last one I had. Until then, I try to do the cliche thing of being thankful for every day I have with my family and our AMAZING new daughter. I try to be a better person, and when I'm not, I try to forgive myself more readily.


Blogger PPB said...

Oh my goodness. I'm cryiing. This is an amazing, amazing story, and I'm so blessed to read it.

8:03 AM  
Blogger Contemplative Chaplain said...

If you even read later posts...I type anyway...

What a tremendous story.
Thank you for sharing...


4:39 PM  
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10:17 PM  

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