“Every time your dad looks at you or your kids, or every time he goes to bed, he thinks about cancer. He thinks about what he may or may not miss. You cannot even begin to imagine how that feels.”
I read that today over at LCSC (Lung Cancer Support Community) and it resonated with me. It was spoken to a member whose Dad is battling lung cancer. I wasn’t the one with cancer. My Mom was. But six months into my pregnancy with Little Miss her birth and life was suddenly about my Mom and her cancer. It always seemed like a huge burden for a little girl to carry. It was hard not to think, “Come on out little one–Gramma needs to see you in case…..” It was joy-sucking to look down at my round belly, to think about her birth, and instead of being giddy with joy, to cry because I didn’t know if my Mom would see her, and if she did see her, I didn’t know how long she would have with her. We agonized and agonized about when I should go back to be with my folks. Before the baby came? After? My husband’s impending deployment made it that much more difficult. HE needed time with her too. Military members carry with them their own inherent “what ifs.”
We moved to be with Mom when Little Miss was 8 weeks old. She and Mom had two wonderful months together. It was excruciating to see how sad it made Mom to not be able to hold her granddaughter from her weakness, but her presence seemed to buoy Mom nonetheless. In some of Mom’s last days she would still light up when we brought Little Miss to see her and Mom fell into her normal, “Hi, Sugar Plum!” My daughter’s identity and being was still tied up with cancer. With impending loss.
And then Mom died. At times grief and missing–of Mom and Husband–were all I could see. Little Miss was now about cancer, grief, and missing. She was my “light.” She gave me joy. She gave me a reason to keep going. She made me see past myself and my pain. She gave me these incredible gifts… But again, what a lot of burden to put on a little baby.
It wasn’t just me who put this burden and signifcance on Little Miss. Person, after person, as an ‘answer’ to my grief would tell me, “You just hug that little girl.” “Just hold that baby close. She will bring you through this.” No one wanted to think of the dimensions of grief that came BECAUSE Little Miss was now missing out on the incredible person that her Gramma was. No one remembered that when I looked at Little Miss often what I saw was the void in all the events of all the rest of her life that my Mom would never see or know about. I could look at her, hold her and take comfort from her warm little body, and at the same time be thinking, “When she starts to walk, Mom won’t know. When she starts Kindergarten, I won’t call Mom and tell her what she wore, or how excited she was.” She was assigned to be the antidote to my pain, and at the same time, I grieved for her loss, and the dimensions of my own that involved her even as I took comfort from her.
Recently I’ve had moments–beautiful, shining moments, where I sit with Little Miss and it’s just about HER. We play and we giggle, and I’m with HER and not also in the land of loss and missing. It is a hallmark in the acclimation to “New Normal.” I hesitate to say that, because I fear when many read it they will think, “Aha! Things are back to normal with Val. She’s done with this crazy grief stuff that she has drug out for so long.” Fact is, I’m not, but I am able to coexist with it. I know that the truth is, I will never be done with it. But finally, the fog of living in the difficulty of this year is lifting enough so that I can see my beautiful daughter, and let her be just who she is. I can love her, and hold her, and enjoy snuggling with her without needing to take comfort from that because it is the one thing in my life that is joyful.
In some ways, believe it or not, that makes me sad. The lifting of the pain, feels like distance from my Mom. Any sort of distance–physical, chronological, emotional is just one more loss.
But mostly I am grateful that my daughter can be my daughter again, and I now finally have brief glimpses of what it feels like to simply be her Mom.