Friday, January 16, 2009

Stuck in the Middle With . . . Worry and Guilt!

We spotted this charmingly cheery graffiti near some guerrilla gardening along the railroad tracks not far from Vancouver's Granville Island back in November, the day before Nola was born actually. Cheery seems just the ticket today when it's dense grey fog outside AGAIN with more foggy days forecast. As well, my mother's having major surgery today as a first step in dealing with endometrial cancer (a kind that constitutes only 5%, apparently, of endometrial cancer cases) that has already spread to the omentum as well as some lymph nodes. After the surgery, once they clearly know what stage the cancer is at, we'll find out what will be the next step, chemo or radiation, and go from there. The doctors my sister and mom consulted with seem fairly hopeful, especially since my mom is very fit, although tiny, tiny!, at 77. Pater and I had a good visit with her Saturday afternoon, and I just got off the phone from wishing her well -- her voice sounds, quite naturally, tight with anxiety, but she sounded genuinely pleased with anticipation when I said we'd take her to the opera once she recovered from the surgery.

The sister who took her for the diagnostic visit to the Cancer Clinic earlier this month lined up tasks for the rest of us to do while mom was waiting for her surgery. This sister has a good sense of humour and writes well -- her e-mail described the biggest difficulty of that long day of tests: getting mom out of her underwear. At barely 100 pounds, apparently mom still wants her tummy controlled, and those garments are not so easy to wriggle out of, as we all know. So on my sis's list was taking mom shopping for some undies more suitable to the situation. I couldn't help but think of Karen, who once helped her MIL shop for a better bra.

But since Karen was a bit too far away to recruit, my daughter stepped in. She volunteered without prompting (I didn't even realize she was doing it), and I was so proud of her -- she works long, hard days as a sous-chef and days off are precious. She and Granny went for lunch together and then headed to Winner's to find hospital-worthy underwear. I wish I'd been there, and with a camera, 'cause I'm sure there would have been some very cute moments.

Much is said about the sandwich generation, those women, primarily, caught between the needs of the children, and those of their ageing parents. I never experienced this, really, since I was born when my parents were 22 and 26, and I had my youngest when I was 32. There were the years through my dad's cancer ride (he died 8 years ago of prostate cancer), but he and my mom managed much of that on their own until the last year or so. And luckily, I have so many siblings that we were able to share the care. This is still the case, and my sisters who live near mom provide most of the support.

Now though, I do feel torn, finally experiencing that sandwich, except that it's stretched another generation. When I'm over in Vancouver, I'm wanting to help out with Nola, give her parents a break and get to know her. At the same time, I'm trying to spend some "quality time" with Pater, who I don't get to see during the week and have only one full day with the weekends I can get over. Getting to mom's is a significant commute, so I'm often feeling guilty about not getting out there either to visit her or to take her on an outing. Not to mention that she's far, far from an easy conversationalist, being very introverted. No easy answers, I'm afraid, especially since guilt has been my middle name since forever (a Catholic upbringing, being the oldest sibling in a large family, and years of mothering will do that for you!). But I'm trying: last week's visit, stepped-up phoning schedule, and, some time in the not-too-distant future, I hope, a night at the opera. Meanwhile, I'll be waiting to hear how the surgery's gone and hoping for more years of being stuck in the middle . . .


  1. It isn't easy, is it? I'll hold a good thought for your mom, and for you too. It's so nice that your daughter stepped in to help. Hopefully you'll be making that opera date soon.

    My mother's been living in Ohio for the last 18 years, and was diagnosed with lung cancer last year (she's still doing remarkably well, sometimes there's an upside to her intractable stubbornness). Our relationship has been rocky over the decades (she's an alcoholic) but we squeezed in a visit last year and probably will again sometime this summer. And then my dad has been in declining health too, though he lives closer and has my slightly younger and healthier step-mom to care for him. Because I still have a young and disabled child to care for, the expectations from family to step in and care for my parents haven't been too overwhelming...yet.

  2. i, too, have a family member with cancer .. my eldest sister .. i'm the "baby" and have no children .. she's just begun a process of months of chemo .. i've been here before with my parents, although their illnesses were different.. they are both gone now .. the experience with my sister is so different than what i had with my dad, and then again, with mom .. her husband is her main shoulder ..

  3. Materfamilias, I'm sorry you're going throught this stressful time. I have no words of wisdom, just commisseration. I'll send some good wishes out to the universe for your mother's swift recovery, and some good energy for you too. My thoughts are with you.

  4. Pseu: It's not easy at all! I wish I found it easier to spend time with my mom and I'm so glad that so far my daughters seem easier with me. Your situation is more like the typical sandwich and I imagine it gets very challenging at times.
    Jane: I'm so sorry to hear about your sister. While I have lost a sibling, I haven't yet had to watch one go through serious illness. May you find strength and comfort (and how great that your sister does have a strong shoulder to lean on).
    Miss R: thanks so much. Good energy is very welcome.

  5. My thoughts will be with you all and wising your mum a speedy recovery!

  6. I too wish your mother well. And I hope that you manage to find a comfortable spot somewhere in the middle.

  7. Isn't it funny how you can be 55 and still feel pulled in all directions? You would think by now, there'd be peace, equanimity. You would think, "I've raised my kids, I'm done!" But we're never going to be "done" caring for people who need us. I think God gives us guilt to tell us we need to keep serving those who need us, even when we're tired, or far away.

    I hope your mom is feeling alright and I hope your DD helped her find some undies she feels good in. I guess when I'm 77 I would still care about my figure too...

  8. I cannot presume to advise you, materfamilias, because each family has its myths,history, personalities. And yet... the time is limited, no matter what her health is, or will be. Or yours, for that matter. So many decisions I made were on the basis of "How will I feel about this, looking back?" You will always love her but the immediate opportunity to express it is finite. Proceed from that premise.

    (I was reared with a triple dose of Catholic guilt. I did some things from that place, but it felt heavy, phony. Once I realized my mother could drive me crazy, but I loved her, I could decide what was given from the heart and what was obligation. I believe she felt the difference too.)

    All wishes and intentions for her successful recovery.

  9. Thanks Jillian, Leslie.
    Karen, it's true, I expect there'll be continuing challenges to rise to and responsibilities to meet until we're completely done -- and there'll be guilt to keep making sure we rise and meet. . . And really, I suppose that ensures there's still a place in the world for us, so it's all good, right?
    Duchesse: You're right, there's a lifetime of history and patterns, but I do know we're on borrowed time now and I do love her and want her to know that.


I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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