Sunday, April 27, 2008

Imagine Durga's Tiger

Dear Ma ...

Here we are, the Faber Girls, holding on tightly during another wild ride on the back of Durga’s tiger. It’s been a very intense week, to say the least, and while I feel the desire to write, at the same time there are a few hundred things I have to do before nightfall. I can’t concentrate unless I get this stuff off my chest.

Let’s start with my California friend, Jen, who is going into the hospital tomorrow morning for intense chemotherapy to treat non-hodgekins lymphoma. This is the second round for Jen, as her cancer has come back roaring after being in remission for three years. It’s more aggressive and has manifested in twice the number of tumors, including lesions on her spleen. The presence of cancerous cells in Jen’s spinal fluid concern the doctors. There is no doubt it has spread, but they worry about neurological impact. Jen, also one of Your daughters, has had a very unique physiological history, not the least of which is a metal plate in her neck, diabetes, and a major carotid artery that is hiding somewhere under her collar bone. When Jen was born, each time she cried, that artery would cut off her oxygen supply because it was wrapped around her trachea. Her grandmother figured out what was happening, so it was she who saved Jen’s life in the very beginning of Jen’s ride on Durga’s tiger. The last time Jen had chemotherapy, it almost did her in, so at her doctor’s insistence, she will be admitted at CPMC in San Francisco for four days, once per month, for four extremely intense treatments. This cancer she has is smart cancer, and so can adapt to the chemo. Do you believe that? The doctors are prepared to switch chemicals if and when needed in the middle of her treatment. Jen says she really likes her new oncologist. The doctor’s sense of humor is intact, which is important to Jen because her sense of humor (that, and her love for You, Ma) are her two greatest weapons in this war she is waging. They worry about Jen’s weight, though. Once she was a square block, 4x4, and topped the scales at over 200 pounds at less than five feet high. Now, after a vertical gastric bypass for weight loss a little over a year ago, she is at 140 pounds. She is expected to loose 70 pounds with her treatments. That worries the doctor’s, too.

Last, but not least, after four months of intense chemotherapy, Jen will go into the hospital for stem cell regeneration. In isolation for one month, the doctor’s will repress her immune system to the point of non-existence, and then reboot it using cells taken from her neck. The reboot takes another separate month, also in isolation.

In spite of all this, Jen’s doesn’t waste one moment feeling sorry for herself. She doesn’t complain, laughs whenever she can, and is more concerned about her son and her parents, her family, than she is about herself. Right now, she is determined to be on the planet through August, which is when her son is marrying his high school sweetheart. She knows she may not live through the treatment, but she has accepted what is happening, and so doesn’t rail against it. I am truly humbled by her courage.

Jen 2006

Shining Jen

As I’m thinking about Jen, Leslie processes this information which makes her very uncomfortable because her mother died with lung cancer. She feels almost too terrible for Jen, and so must keep her distance. Instead, she focuses on getting the house on the market, so we can get the ball rolling to return to San Francisco. In this way, last Sunday, one week from today, she was taking Elizabeth and Lindsay to get a pair of sandals (we had Lindsay overnight, and yes, her mother paid us for the shoes). They are the cutest sandals you’ve ever seen, with a rhinestone skull and cross bones on the top, perfectly demonstrating our daughter’s love of the macabre. Just a little of goth fashion, without the grossness, and just enough bling to suit her sensibilities. After dropping the girls off at the house, Leslie happened upon an open house she had her eye on. She went inside and there found the real estate agent that would represent our property. That’s how it works for Leslie. She needs something, in all sincerity, and then follows the invisible string through her daily life until she runs right into it. This agent’s name is Stacy, and she lived in California for a very long time herself. Our house will be on the market by the end of the day today, and we have our open house next weekend, hence the hysterical rush to get a million things done. I mean, really, this place has amped up from 10 miles an hour to over 90 in less than a day. Our home looks fabulous, and it’s all because of Leslie’s excellent taste and design sense … and that magic string she follows. The one You are holding the end of.

Concurrently, my grandmother went into the doctor’s office last Wednesday for an out patient procedure. After light anesthesia, she got extremely sick, couldn’t stop vomiting, and then spiked a sudden temperature. The rest home sent her to the hospital, where she still is today.

My grandmother is dying.

Her kidneys are functioning at only 20 percent, her heart is failing, and now she has pneumonia. My Aunt Edwina is leading the pack on this charge, staying abreast of my grandmother's condition, making sure her treatment is consistent, weathering the apathy of some doctor's, and the gentle inevitability of what is happening. She reminds me a lot of my grandmother at this time, as I see her steel interior, and finally understand that the other side of stubborness is durability. She's just buried her mother-in-law, and is dealing with serious issues in her own life, yet each day she gets up and faces the day. Faces the future. Every single day, when I'm sure it would be easier to stay in bed. Just stay in bed. My Aunt Edwina is also struggling with the need to let her mother go, which must happen to facilitate Thelma's peaceful passing. My mother (the estranged one) drove in from Massachusetts yesterday, and … get this … my Aunt in Georgia, the oldest one, just happened to have scheduled a trip up here for this Wednesday.

A coincidence or synchronistic happenstance?

I don’t believe in coincidence.

Last week, on Friday, I think, I did a tarot card reading. It was a single card draw, and I asked if my grandmother is going to die. What card came up? The High Priestess card, which in my esoteric history, is the card that represents You, my spiritual mother, Amma. You are, no doubt, telling me You has the situation well in hand.

Edwina, Jo Carol, and Barbara Jean

Edwina, Jo Carol, and Barbara Jean

Thelma is exhausted, and this time around she isn’t frantic in her delirium. But the need to make peace with her three daughters is most urgent. I can feel it in my bones, and so I keep my distance as much as I can, so they can have privacy, balancing that against capturing whatever precious moments I can with her when she is still here. My mother and Aunt Barbara, who I am no longer close with, don’t need me there hogging up all the space as they try, in their way, to make peace with their mother, even though they’ve gone out of their way to blame their life’s mistakes on her. Ah, it’s a long story, and not pertinent to this blog. So, my prediction is that Thelma will hang on, suffering, until she can see her oldest daughter once more.

I’ve talked to Thelma’s younger sister, Lorraine, through this, and she isn’t doing so well herself. She lives in Utica, New York. She’s 80, sounds like she’s a youngster, and has a bad heart, too. She cried over the phone, laughed over the phone, remembered so much about her sister that she loved and also didn’t like. I felt privileged to hear it, all love, from this octogenarian’s mouth. She is my Aunt Tootsie, a fiery Leo herself, who has three children, all wholly devoted to her in this life.

This morning, Margaret’s mother (our daughter’s girlfriend, Margaret), got me on the phone to ask about my grandmother, and we were launched into a 45 minute conversation about the Blessed Mother. Val tells me that she can tell Leslie and I are closer to the Blessed Mother than anyone she knows, and coming from Val, who has a close personal relationship with Mary, this was something to hear. She is also a firm believer in Padre Pio, and the church she goes to has a beautiful statue of him out in the front. We dropped Elizabeth off there yesterday so she could hang out with them during a craft fair, and Elizabeth asked me who he was. I told her he was a holy man, like You, Amma, are a holy woman. Elizabeth and Margeret are determined to spend as much time together as possible before we leave the state, insofar as Margaret has refused a family vacation in June. Val, whose youngest daughter is autistic, gave over the child's health to Padre Pio two years ago. This was just before running into the language therapist who helped transform her from a non-verbal urchin, who at 7 was prone to throwing herself against walls, into the highly verbal, social, and almost main streamed delight that she is now. There are miracles in Val’s life all the time.

This last week was so incredibly intense. It is like being lifted out of the usual space time continuum and dropped into another, faster, more intense and synchronistic one ... one that is full of dualities (which reminds me I have an article to write on dualities before the end of the month). I am excited and sad, dizzy and focussed, and invigorated yet physically tired. You assure me, Amma, that you are at the helm by manifesting in the unlikeliest of places.

This is how it happens for us. One minute things are quiet, and I’m bored, and the next minute they are fast, and I have way too much to do.

It’s going fast, and I’ve got a fistful of that Tiger’s hair.

I'm holding on, Ma ... holding on.

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