It’s Saturday, and my sister calls. Mom’s been throwing up, she’s going to the hospital in an hour or so. I tell her I’ll come home. Mom started hospice a few days ago. We didn’t expect things to progress this fast. I make arrangements for the kiddo to stay with his dad, check the food and water for the cats and throw a fifty in my bathroom drawer so they can hit the pet store in case I’m not back before the cats drain the feeder. I realize I still haven’t done laundry. That was supposed to be today. I throw my laptop and iPad in my messenger bag along with a pair of sweats and a tshirt. This will be the second time in a week I’ve stopped at Target to grab shirts, socks and underwear before making the five hour drive back home.
It’s a long drive, with nothing really to look at. Music will just make me doze off, so I listen to eleven episodes of Mystery Detectives on Sirius. It seems weird listening to a TV show on the radio, but I’m not really listening. I call Mom as I roll into town around 6:30. She says my sister wants me to pick her up on the way to the hospital. I park the car in front of Susan’s house and the dog rolls over onto her back as I approach the steps. I rub her belly and she whines for more as Susan and I head to the car.
We walk down the long hospital corridor and I’m sort of surprised that I haven’t been here since my nephew was born sixteen years ago. I’ve never seen this new wing. It’s pretty nice, as far as hospitals go. We walk in and Mom’s happy to see us. They say she’s got a blockage, so they’re trying to clean her out. They give her a bottle of stuff to drink. She’s making the same face that Dad makes when we make him eat his yogurt. Despite the yuck face, she’s surprisingly cheery. Optimistic, even. She’s talking about staying off hospice, about trying chemo again, maybe even surgery. We stay until visiting hours are over, and then head back to Susan’s for a bit before crashing in the spare room at Mom and Dad’s.
Sunday morning. We eat breakfast at the cafe and then go see Mom. She’s been up all night, but the stuff they made her drink last night did it’s job, and she’s feeling better. We chat for a bit, and then she and Dad are both ready for a nap. I ask Dad what he wants for dinner. He says pancakes would be ok, but I feel like I need to make him something better than that. I head to the small town grocery store where I worked in high school. It seems so much smaller now. There’s not much in the way of produce, but I grab what looks good. I know Dad likes lemon, so I roast some chicken, potatoes, asparagus and lemons. Susan brings over homemade spice cake. Dad likes the roasted lemons. He even eats the peel. Susan and I ewww but he says that’s the best part. We don’t believe him.
We head back to the hospital for a bit. They want to run some scans to see if there’s any blockage left. Susan and I head back to her place. My brother-in-law is determined to make us watch a scary movie he says made him too scared to stay in the garage last night. It’s some ghost-stuck-in-the-electricity-of-the-house thing. We watch it and Susan and I laugh at all the stupid mistakes people in scary movies always make.
It’s Monday. Mom was up all night in pain again, but she says that now that they’re giving her the morphine again, she can cross her final item off her bucket list: become a drug addict. We all giggle. We have to find humor in the little things. It makes the reality easier to swallow. There are two new masses that are blocking off her insides. The local doctor says there might be a couple surgical options, and there’s one more chemo drug that might shrink them. The oncologist will come down from the city, they can decide more then.
I drive over to the small down drugstore/gift shop. I used to walk these aisles looking for something to spend my allowance on. I grab some lip balm for Mom and look for something to combat her dry mouth. I find it on the shelf above the spray deodorant, which is on the shelf above the RAID bug spray, which cracks me up wondering if anyone’s ever grabbed the wrong can. I notice a little battery powered tealight shaped like a birthday cake and add it to my pile of stuff at the register.
When I get back to the hospital, Mom and I celebrate her extra birthday with the tealight cake. She’s developed a mathematical formula where every month of chemo is worth three months. That means after four years of several rounds of chemo, this week is her 77th birthday. She’s ready for a nap again, so I leave her to it.
Dad’s napping too, and Susan’s at work for a few more hours, so I drive around town for a bit. It looks brighter than it did last year. Several houses have new roofs and siding in sherbet colors. Butter lemon, light green, seafoam blue. No homeowners’ associations here to force the color of oatmeal onto every home. It makes me smile. There’s the park where I used to play, but the playground equipment is all new. It’s the plastic kind with all kinds of features to prevent kids from falling off. We used to use the high bar of the swingset to do gymnastics. I guess that’s too dangerous now.
I drive by the school where I went to first grade, and wonder how far my daily walk to school was. I reset the trip odometer and find out. It’s .5 miles back to the spot where our house used to be. The house is gone now, along with most of the other houses on that block. Another .2 miles to the building where Mom used to work. I think about the heart attack suburban parents would have if their seven year old walked that distance on their own. Wussies. Down the street, the swimming pool I used to practically live at in the summer has been renamed the Aquatic Center. It’s still just a pool. With a slide.
I drive by the apartment where Mom and I used to live. Across the street, my high school English teacher is mowing the lawn. I step out of the car. He stops the mower and gives me a hug. He was my favorite teacher. He says the artwork I gave him in high school still hangs in his living room. He’s been retired for years, but he still subbed 95 days out of 180 this year. I think the kids are lucky to have him.
Mom told me to call her before I came back to the hospital in case she wanted some ice cream. She doesn’t. She feels overfull again. I pick up an Orange Julius to tempt her with anyway. She doesn’t want any. I bring her the peppermint oil for her tummy. She throws up the two bowls of soup she ate today. She looks tired, and I leave so she can get some sleep.
Tuesday. Mom’s supposed to see all the doctors today, and then she can go home. She won’t see them until five or so, and she knows I’ve got a five hour drive so she doesn’t want me to stick around that long. I promise I’ll be back on Saturday, sooner if she wants me, and start the drive home. The more I make this drive, the easier it gets. Just when the dead bugs on the windshield get to be too many, a rain shower washes them off.
Back home, the kid and I go for pizza, but I’m too wiped out to sit in the restaurant so we grab it to go. I talk to Mom on the phone. It doesn’t sound like the surgery or another round of chemo are viable options, so she’s going to go back on hospice. I’ve made peace with that. It’s easier to do because she already has. I’m thankful that we’ve had four years since her diagnosis. I tell myself she’s just graduating from this earthly life, that this body that is shutting down is not her, that she will always be with me until someday I graduate too. I cry for a few minutes, and then I go wash my face because that’s what she’d tell me to do. And then I plan the No More Chemo party we’ll have next Saturday. She can have morphine, and I’ll bring the champagne.