I'm exhausted after a long day, but I'm sitting in my mom's room, pug curled in my lap sleeping, and the news is on. Something about a flood in China and dramatic footage of a rescue involving a bulldozer. The report is mainly background filler as I chat with my mom, who is in an amazingly grumpy mood. Grumpier than normal, which is actually unusual because we have a house full of people. 14 (?) relatives stopped by for Father's Day; three of mom's sisters, their spouses, and children. I'd figured the increased company would have been a mood booster for her, but instead, every sentence out of her mouth is filled with disdain and frustration.
Finally, I've had enough.
"What is going ON with you today?" I ask, shaking my head. "You're just grumpier than sin."
She turns her head to look at me, and I can see her thinking through her words.
"Yes." She sighs dramatically. "It's all these people."
"All these people?" I ask. "But I thought you'd like to see all your relatives? I know they wanted to see you, that's why they're here."
"But I didn't think it would be ALL these people!" She has the tone where I know that all these people means something different to her. I bite my lip, trying to figure out how to get to the heart of the matter.
"Too many, huh? Just too busy in the house? Are you getting tired?"
"Well..." she looks up at me. "I don't like this. All these people."
"But they're here to see you and say hello. And I know it's been awhile since you've gotten to see some of them." I take a breath and try a different tact. "Why else would they be here? Why do you think they're here?"
"Oh, they're here for a variety of reasons." A warning flag raises in my head.
"And what reasons do you think they might have?" I tentatively press further.
"Because I'm dying."
Her words hang in the air for a minute and my brain sputters, then stops completely. Frantically I grasp at thoughts, trying to find one that's appropriate to fill the silence, something to offer comfort, something compassionate. Goddamn it, why isn't there a book of things to say?! I can't do this on my own!
It's in those moments of silence that the clarity comes, and I know why she's been so cranky for two days. She knows.
My dad and I have talked about it for months; how people are suddenly coming out of the woodwork to call, come over, Skype. There's a good chance that she doesn't have a lot of time left, and everyone's doing their "duty". Stop by, spend time with the sick person, try to make up for all the time that you've missed in an effort to make yourself feel better. I've watched people doing this for months, but I'd hoped it would escape her notice.
Suddenly, our conversation has taken a turn into the morbid. We talk about other reasons that people could have come to see her, but in the end it comes back to the same one. She's dying. She feels like an obligation. People didn't come to visit her because they love her, they came to say goodbye.
Anyone who's worked with critically ill or terminally ill patients knows the power a positive attitude can have on their recovery. For the most part, my mom has been optimistic about her treatment. She's made strides that hospice didn't think she was going to be able to, even though the doctors continue to say that she has "unrealistic expectations" for her recovery. Now...I don't know. This could be a setback for her. I hope against hope that it's not, but...
I already know that someone in my family is going to read this blog and spread the word. That's how it works. A few family members know where I post. I'm sure that defenses are going to raise, and accusations and rebuttals will be forthcoming of "oh, I never!... I didn't mean!... I just came to say hello! To be nice!"
But the truth is, it doesn't matter. Intentions may have been entirely innocent and honorable. The impression my mother got, however, was something else.
If I could say one thing to everyone dealing with losing a loved one, it's the one lesson that I'm struggling, STRUGGLING, to learn for myself.
It's not ABOUT you and how YOU feel about losing them.
It's about THEM.