Life: It’s such a strange thing. Whether trying to create a new one, fight for an existing one, celebrate milestones, contemplate past chronicles, or prepare for future occasions…
Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan.
In October of last year, I went to the doctor for an issue that I had been struggling with for quite some time. I will start by saying that I am fine, but during preliminary appointments I received some news that I didn’t want to hear.
My husband and I have been happily married for almost two years now. Since our wedding day, we have worked really hard to perfect our day to day. We’ve made our jobs a priority to move up our respective ladders. I’ve traveled, he’s worked late. He’s traveled, I’ve worked late.
We’ve saved, we’ve spent. There have been lavish vacations, there was a home remodel during the winter of 2016. We now walk through the door at the end of each day and sink into our wonderful LayZBoy or Temperpedic bed. We are surrounded by furnishings and personalizations that we adore.
We eat meals at the table on some nights, in front of the television on others. On weekends, we explore our neighborhood and hang out with friends. “When are you going to start a family?” they ask us.
“We’re busy,” we answer. “We’re traveling.” “We’re saving.” “We’re making memories, just the two of us.”
“We will,” we conclude.
It’s amazing though, what happens to your point of view when the world shifts in a way that you did not expect. I thought that Mike and I would get pregnant when the time was “right.” When work died down a bit. When we were a little more settled. When things were just… different.
Yet when I went to my doctor in October and there were conversations about not being able to conceive, every dream I ever had shrunk down, surrendered to pictures swirling around my head… singing lullabies. Holding handlebars. Laughing at train noises or braiding hair.
I was meant to be a mother.
And I was willing to do whatever it took to make sure that I was okay.
This past Thanksgiving, Mike and I agreed to drive up to Connecticut to spend the holiday with my family. Traveling on a holiday weekend is a process- The drive is about six hours long, without traffic and bathroom breaks: We have to time our departure strategically. We pack two suitcases, plus two dog beds, crates, and other necessities. (Our dogs are sensitive rescues and cannot be boarded.) Our pups must be on leashes when we stay in Connecticut, unless our location boasts of a fenced in yard. We cannot be in a house with cats because they are aggressive toward them: There are only a few places, then, that we can stay.
Which means that once we drop our bags, we drive some more, around the state to see the folks we need to. And this past Thanksgiving, we simply weren’t able to fully complete our rounds.
My mother called me while at my cousin’s house- we had missed breakfast with her that morning because my husband and I were just too tired from being on a constant move. I was laying down, staring at a ceiling fan in motion, when her words froze the room.
“I understand that we couldn’t get together this morning, and it’s fine,” she started before her voice broke. “But I was hoping that I was going to get to see you, to tell you something important. My cancer is back,” she breathed.
I was only fifty or so miles away from her as she recounted findings from her last few doctor visits, but I felt lightyears away. I dragged my husband home, all around the state all weekend, but failed to be beside my mother in her time of need. Everything around me felt out of reach, suddenly, like I had come so close, yet still was so far from where I needed to be. The feeling was overwhelming. All I could do, was hang up the phone and drift off into a deep sleep.
The next morning I woke up and decided that I was done skimming the surface of mass terrain. I needed to be more purposeful with my time, actually put 100% effort into people and things that mattered most. I needed to stop spreading myself too thin in effort to see everybody, do everything, be “it all” to everyone. It was time to give some people, some undivided attention.
So at 5AM I kissed my sleeping husband goodbye, got into my car and drove those fifty miles to my childhood home. I called my mom when I was down the street and asked if she needed anything. “What?” she asked. “I’m on my way,” I answered.
My mom paused, sounding confused. “Brit, you don’t need to do that,” she argued, which, I knew she would: She never wants to inconvenience me. I felt victorious in my response. “I’m already here.”
I was only able to stay for the day but I would’ve traveled one hundred more miles to witness the happiness that my family exuded. Mom and I went to the bank and reviewed wills. We went through family heirloom jewelry- Mom told stories associated with each piece and my sister and I took some items that we could wear now, to keep her close. We talked through her prognosis in more detail, came up with a gameplan.
And we made a pact to do what was needed, to ensure that she was going to be okay.
This weekend I was on the phone with my husband’s mother when I got a text from my sister.
“I heard Aunt J. tried to call you… bad news. I’m sure you can assume, but call later.”
My heart sunk as soon as I read it, I hung up and tried to gather my thoughts before reaching out to my family.
I have such wholesome memories of my Memere: She was a genuinely good soul. She was a petite woman of about 4’8 or 4’9, and wore even shorter pants with keds or black and white oxfords. She always donned an apron when working around the house, cooking her famous chicken and dumpling stew or spraying vegetables from Pepere’s garden with pesticide spray. No matter how much dirt got under her fingernails, though, no matter how wet her knees got from scrubbing floors, she always had her silver hair just perfect and a beautiful shade of lipstick applied. She was smart too, always reading at the kitchen table or playing Solitaire with a worn deck of cards. She was infused with the purest faith, committed to her church and to everyday spiritual application. My sister and I would attend mass with her and my Pepere- I remember being in awe of her devotion.
Pepere. He and Memere were a funny couple: I don’t remember any monumental acts of love exchanged, but I was young then, unaware of anything other than the way they played house. Memere consumed vitamins from a pill box, Pepere had a cabinet filled with cookies and M&M’s that he’d sneak to us when she wasn’t looking. (When she was in the kitchen, we got grapes.) She made the most delicious french toast, and Pepere would make it taste even better by dousing it with butter and syrup before he cut it up for us. Memere shopped at the health food store, and Pepere loved when we came over so that he could take us to Hometown Buffet for a treat after mass.
I wasn’t privy to any form of adoration until I was about twenty-four, came home from Stamford to celebrate Memere’s birthday with the family. She was suffering from Alzheimer’s, and getting worse- The two had moved out of their home and into an assisted living center. They slept in adjacent rooms, separated by a living room, and I remember bringing Pepere back to his apartment at the end of the party. Memere was elsewhere, and I found myself wandering around.
Her room was plain- clean and tidy with a few religious statues sprinkled throughout. I crossed the divide into Pepere’s room and stopped short when I peered inside.
There were so many photos. Family photos, snapshots of him and Memere… smiling… happy.
It was like I was visualizing my own version of “The Notebook.” My heart hurt for the bond that was weakening because of such tragic circumstances. Because of something unavoidable that not even the healthiest person could prevent.
Memere looked beautiful at her birthday party, silver hair still perfectly framed around her face.
That was the last time I saw her.
Yvette was a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a friend, a devout Catholic, a kindred spirit, and so many more things to so many people. Everyone has their own memories, and sadly, she left with very few.
But Pepere got to say goodbye to her. And this week, she passed on peacefully, to a place that she longed for. She lived a long, meaningful life– 90 whole years- and yesterday, she entered a new form of paradise.
And we all find peace, knowing that she is no longer suffering. That after all these years, she is finally okay.
Comical. Can I use that word to describe the unpredictable, absurd idiosyncrasies of life? Why am I laughing tonight as I type this, through tears?
I’m not sure. But as I scroll up and down the page, I realize that one thing is for certain: Life goes on. Whatever plan is destined for each of us, whatever worn deck of cards we are given, we opt in, we play. We strategize, based on our hand. And we endure, we push through, with the notion that in the end, whatever our outcome…
We are all okay.