My Dear Dear Mother In law:
When your eldest son got the news your cancer may have returned, we were driving down a country road, listening to a Garth Brooks CD. I was told to “Hush” by my husband and he became quiet as he heard you inform him, matter of fact, that the biopsy from your inner thigh may be cancerous. He responded with a “yes” and a “no”. He asked some questions, disguised where I couldn’t detect what he was talking about and he hung up. He was silent as he turned the CD back up and I asked, “Is Mom okay?”
“She’s fine. Finish your song, Anne,” and I returned to my off key Trish Yearwood duet with Garth. He later told me he didn’t want to upset me about a possible return of the cancer…that he wanted to wait until he knew for sure. I resented him for keeping that information to himself. Why? Because I’m his wife and his partner and his helpmate. But most of all, dear Geneva, you are my friend.
Friends worry together. Friends pray together. Friends love one another. And my husband made a decision and internalized worry within his spirit where I should have been a comfort to him. It’s okay: you can hit him with a cooking pot later.
I’m no Trish Yearwood, by the way, when I sing – you should know that: you heard me in your kitchen as you stand guard in fear I’ll pour grease down your sink. You hold your cooking pot in your hand ready to hit that ignorant, but over-educated Kentucky hillbilly your husband brought home when he was forty-four and said, “This is my Squeeze. She’s marrying me,” and you and your family didn’t know whether to blink or to laugh.
You later asked me that day, “Why do you love my son?” And I knew it was a trick question – because I’m the mother of sons too and someday I will ask the same question. But having your forty four year old engineer lifelong bachelor bring home a divorced Roman Catholic with a Jewish last name and a child would take any Mississippi mother aback.
“Have you seen the way he smiles?”
Your face, so like his face, beamed, “Yes! I have!”
“Why it’s like sunshine! It will be like a sad, rainy day and something will tickle his fancy and the sunshine comes out! But only fleetingly! And it’s back to a face you just want to kiss and make happy!”
“You get him,” you commented and gave me your blessing. And you welcomed my child as your grandson; that was a special gift, ma’am. You didn’t have to do that. But it made my heart sing.
A year later, after I married your son, you became very sick. It was cancer. They cut open your tiny chest and also, did some type of scary laser procedure on your head. You lost your beautiful hair. You underwent chemotherapy. And never once, at one single time, even when you were twice at death’s door, did you whine, complain, or ask God why. You took cancer like a trooper, like a soldier of another in-law I had another lifetime and another marriage ago: my late father in law, who died of Agent Orange.
You’d liked him. Like him, you went into battle and wore the protection and armor of God. You had faith that moved mountains. You knew that you would win and be victorious against the enemy of cancer and come out on the other side, playing that internal Rocky theme of being a winner. I lost Dad to cancer after three years; I don’t intend to lose you.
Two weeks ago, the biopsy came back. You have cancer. Remission has ended – and you begin chemotherapy in the morning, on February 3, 2015.
Tonight, your eldest son couldn’t sleep. He’s your gifted, brilliant and eldest child who internalizes everything and has few words. You love both your handsome and tall sons equally. One has a gift of brilliance and a fiery temperament that is so like you; the other, the younger, has the gift of wit, makes friends so easily, and loyalty that is so like you. You also have a daughter of your heart who is your best friend, that you helped rear, and she is your daughter in law. She loves you so very much and worships the ground you walk on. All three have characteristics of a great family I wished I had joined decades ago, but due to choices, location, and another life, I was unable too. You also have the love of a man who worships you, now your groom for over fifty years.
When you were coming out of your anesthesia in 2012, the family took a break and I sat by you for a while and told you how your boys, your husband, and beautiful daughter in law had fallen asleep in exhausted slumber in the bed-like chairs at the Memphis hospital and I had watched all four sleep, like the mother I was, worried about them and how they would be as you were healing and beginning your cancer treatment. I prayed over each one – Samuel, Gene, David, and Misty – and knew that they were the loves of your heart and caregivers to make sure you and Dad would be safe and well. I would be gone, away to my home, to teach in my school and rear my own child. I felt horrid I couldn’t stay, but I could stay by your bed, as you were coming to and talk to you.
I talked to you about your children. I bragged on how much Gene worried about you. I told you how much they loved you. And I thanked you for being so good to me and mine.
A year later, while cooking dinner and you held your cooking pot to hit me with as I cleaned the dishes (because I will forever be tainted with the Indian name “SHE WHO POURS GREASE DOWN GENEVA’S SINK”), you said, “Anne, when I was coming to and you were holding my hand and prattling all that crap about everything – I sure did appreciate it, sugar, but my word, you just wouldn’t shut the heck up!”
With that barking bite of humor – which your eldest son, my husband, shares, I wish you, dear Geneva, a successful first day of chemotherapy to beat this damn cancer and as God as my witness, I will see you very soon so I can be hit on the head with a pot in your kitchen.
P.S. Here’s that Rocky theme I keep playing you hate so much. May it be as inspiring to you as it is to me, or give you yet another reason to hit me over the head with a cooking pot!