I didn’t want to go.
I had other plans; I meant to run a few errands before the upcoming festivities of my daughter’s Baptism this weekend, and the logistics of rushing to meet anyone anywhere seemed impossible. But I wanted to see my friend and when she suggested spending some time walking around K-Mart and letting the kids loose (this K-Mart doesn’t pull in a lot of foot traffic), I agreed.
It’s not easy, rounding two kids up to go places.
I’d known that before I had the second one, but it’s really not easy when one of the kids is being potty trained and we have to sit him on the potty before we go anywhere. Because it’s not really ever an easy sit. There’s the bribery, the whining, the carrying, the tears, the biting, scratching and pinching, and even if he successfully goes on the potty, there’s the inevitable fight over the pulling up of the undies. All of this while the baby is crying to be held in the other room. Trying to get anywhere on time is a nightmare; and we were a few minutes late when we pulled into the parking lot.
I was frazzled. I have been, lately. My mom’s not well. We found out in April, and the little time I had to really think about it before the baby arrived was stuffed with hysterical crying and the thought that it would just be too hard. It is hard, but I can do hard things. With the baby here in all of her newness, it’s easy to push the thoughts of my mom’s inevitable passing aside, but up they bubble, here and there.
My friend asked how my mom was doing as we cruised the store, walking past the too-early aisles of Halloween candy set up facing the on-clearance rows of poolside plastic lawnchairs. I told her how she’d had her PET scan to determine if she’d continue treatment, about how short her breath was getting, about how she slept all the time and barely could eat. By the time we’d gotten to the toy aisles, the stomachache I’ve acquired when thinking about my mom for extended periods of time had set in, but we kept talking about her. I wanted to talk about her.
“She wants to be cremated, I know that,” I said. “Wants the ashes buried in the park near where she grew up. In Manhattan.”
“You going to do it?”
I shook my head. “My brother will, probably. I don’t think it’s legal. It’s human remains.”
“Why doesn’t he Shawshank it?” my friend asked. I was confused. Like, did she mean dig a tunnel, or…
And she mimicked Tim Robbins’ character walking through the prison yard, hands in his opened pockets, letting out the pieces of concrete wall he’d hammer-rocked through onto the ground. “You know,” she said, “Putting the ashes in your pockets. Shawshanking it.”
It was what I needed to hear. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time, and my eyes brimmed with the kind of tears I was pretty sure from the laughing and not just the intensity of what was going to come sooner rather than later.
Knowing someone with terminal cancer – especially a family member – propels you into a vortex of grief early. You get familiar with the idea of “first times” after the person passes (the first Christmas after, the first Thanksgiving after), but you also get pushed into an awareness of the “last times” you will have.
I don’t know how long she has left. My birthday was two days ago; was it the last birthday I’ll have with my mother still alive?
It helps that my faith dictates that there’s a Heaven and a time we’ll see each other again, but statements of faith like that have to be made for real. Do I really believe this? Do I really believe in God and Heaven and Jesus dying for us on the Cross?
It’s strange that I have to ask myself that – it surprises me that I do, but it’s so near now. These were just ideas before, and the reality is that I have to decide whether or not I think it’s true.
And yet I do believe it. I do believe in all those things; I believe that it’s true. And in those moments I have in between shoving my son towards the bathroom or strapping my screaming daughter in the car seat, I find myself believing and being comforted, even if it’s just for now.