Pain and stoicism; loneliness and longing. This is how I describe you. Within these walls of “comfort” you built was ever there an eye to see and know you, a heart to understand all you felt and feared? The deepest parts of you threaten to burrow into the healed crevices of me and I ache for your emptiness.
Wrapping into self so tightly is a false cocoon of safety. The walls you mathematically built around your fears don’t protect what you think they do. I know; I lived in your space once and thought I was safe inside my concrete fortress, but it was a shell of an existence.
What happened, so long ago, that was fierce enough to shut out your light; make you feel as though you had to bite and tear and lash out at every part of a graceful life? Was there once a brightness and lightness in you that made you feel happy? Did you ever smile a genuine smile or laugh for the sheer joy of laughing? How did I become me despite being raised by you?
I’ve wanted to ask you these questions for the longest time. Recently, my curiosity piqued because I thought I had finally figured out some of the pieces of the puzzle that comprised you. And then, before I had mustered up the courage to try and learn you; to try and know you somehow; you had less than a month left to live, and I found myself flying across the country to care for you in your final weeks and days.
We had not spoken in nearly two years; still, you were more concerned with proving yourself to me than allowing yourself to be vulnerable or accept love of the purest kind. It was never easy or natural or normal – the relationship between you and me. It just kind of wasn’t… at all. How, then, do you say goodbye? How do you survive days and weeks of caring for someone you don’t particularly like while maintaining your sanity?
I don’t know how to feel about my feelings. Mostly I don’t feel at all when it comes to you. And then I feel bad about my indifference. That foundation of openness and trust; of mother/daughter specialness, was something you never wanted until I was an adult. But you cannot build upon something you have not yet erected. And I had no foundation with you; no desire for you; nothing upon which to build and grow and learn and love. So you and I remained stagnant in our false relationship while I raised children of my own and learned what it meant to be a mom.
The first twenty-four hours are sort of not completely awful and somewhat tolerable. You are determined to love this human being, flaws and all, as best you can through her remaining days. You kind of thought she was on the same page, but she can’t love you back; she simply does not know how. So you set your brain to survival mode; to the most primal of human needs. You work with the calendar that is uncertain with stage four cancer and live what is; you pack up your shit and fly across the country and live out of plastic bags for weeks because you care as a human, even though you do not know her at all as a daughter. Maybe you silently hope for something more from her; an epiphany to come with the knowledge that these are her final days on earth. You grasp at any glimmer of a real human beneath the facade.
The glimmer never materializes despite your best efforts to elicit. Instead, you get 24/7 servings of everything you hated about your life with her; the existence you ran from the moment you were able to make it on your own. You become convinced that you cannot make it through this. You have self-diagnosed panic attacks, difficulty breathing, and cannot sleep because nothing about your current life resembles normal, and you don’t even know in which bed or house you will seek respite on any given eve.
She is dying and paranoid and taking it out on you. You’re told by the professionals that these are the behaviors commensurate with someone knowing they are dying; unfortunately, though, they are also her core personality traits and you have a hard time discerning which is what. You hate them all regardless of their affiliation because they all just fucking hurt. You figure out how to function solely on autopilot so you don’t completely lose your shit amid the shit storm that is your present existence, and you realize you are losing a piece of your soul with each dagger she slings. But you smile and press on, somehow, garnering the strength of the real-life angels in your presence.
You end up needing to completely detach self from yourself because you no longer exist. You become dubbed a member of the micro-managing care team who has “great ideas” but they are not valid ideas, because “there are too many cooks in the kitchen” and she is the head chef. You sit for hours while she counts out each of her medicines for a twenty-four-hour period and laboriously places each one in a capsule that becomes increasingly harder for her to maneuver. You have learned by day four, though, to shut your mouth unless you want the process to continue for an additional hour because she felt she lost control and needed to reassert it. You become a shell of a human being, just like her.
You cry, occasionally, but the tears are displaced, and you don’t know whether they are for her, or you, or the relationship that never was.
And finally, it ends, after you have endured more hurt than you thought you were capable of enduring. You have no idea who you, as an individual, are any longer. And then you realize that you’ll never have to feel her projected disdain again.
And you breathe a sigh of relief.
It is finally fucking over.
And you are still standing. You are still standing. You are going to be ok.