I have the miseries today. That’s what my mom would say when she was feeling bad physically or emotionally. For three years, she suffered from the effects of her cancer and from side effects of the study drug she took to prolong her life. She endured a life-threatening pulmonary embolism, near-kidney failure, inflammation of the lining of her lungs, discomfort from ascites (fluid accumulation in the peritoneal cavity), and blisters on her mouth and tongue from the study drug. And those are just a few of the major effects of the cancer and the cancer treatment. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have made it as long as she did.
I saw her suffering more than anyone else. If she didn’t feel well and didn’t feel like going out, I usually went to her house and shored her up – with food (lemon chicken and sherbet) and companionship. When she did go out, she looked fantastic; many people commented that she didn’t look sick at all. But when she had to cancel her plans, it was up to me to keep her going. I spent a lot of Sunday afternoons and evenings at her house, taking care of Coco, watching our shows together (Drop Dead Diva and Army Wives over the summer), and providing moral support. She depended on me for care and comfort, and I was glad to offer it – most of the time.
I am proud of her for pressing on in spite of her suffering; when I say she’s the most resilient person I know, it’s not an exaggeration. My job was to keep her spirits up as much as anything else, and it required a lot of one-on-one time with her. I admit I was not always a cheerful caregiver. Sometimes I resented the role, the way I let it supplant my personal life. Instead of balancing my time with her and the things I wanted to do, I let caregiving bleed into the corners of my free time, eliminating basic care, like healthy eating, exercising, and housekeeping. It was easy to sit next to her on her bed – it gave me an excuse not to take responsibility for caring for myself.
And so…it’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m at home with Coco. I’m doing housekeeping things – laundry, bill-paying, and general tidying up – and Stella & Dot things – placing orders, reorganizing my jewelry, and and getting ready for upcoming trunk shows. I’m going to dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house, and I’ve got my DVR set to record my mom’s and my favorite shows (Revenge and The Good Wife, and my new favorite, Homeland, which she would have loved.) I’m looking forward to a week filled with personal and work commitments that won’t be interrupted by caregiving.
I’m grateful for my free time, but I can’t help thinking about her and our Sunday afternoons. I did a lot for her, but I wish I had done more. There are so many little things I could have done to make her happy; I didn’t focus enough energy on doing the things that mattered. I know feeling guilty about my past actions or inaction is counter-productive, and I won’t wallow in remorse, but the misery of missing her is intertwined with feelings of shame. Why couldn’t I pull myself together while she was alive? Why didn’t I do everything I could to make life easier and more fun for her?
My new-found freedom comes with a price. I have time to pursue a better, more fulfilling life for myself, but my biggest supporter and encourager isn’t here anymore. The only thing I can do is press on, like she would have done, and focus on the good days and all the things she was able to do despite having terminal cancer. My personal sacrifice is nothing compared to what she did to survive for three years. If she were here, she would tell me not to fret about the past but to look forward a shimmering future filled with exciting possibilities. She would insist I forget about mundane tasks and do something fun for myself. She would tell me she loved me and that she was okay.
My Sunday miseries will fade, replaced by the laughter and love of family. I will wake up tomorrow, go about my day, and do what I can to make myself happy. And that, truly, is enough.