Today was not the day I expected to have. Today was a chemo day and so, like normal, I packed E up into his car seat, stocked up on snacks and coffee, and headed out the door armed with a few seeds in case I needed something to distract the kids while my sister-in-law and mom were at the oncologist’s office.
When I got to her house, mom was disturbingly yellow and she could not bend down to tie her shoe because her stomach was so distended with fluid in front of her. Crista and I stared each other over her head before they left for her appointment. This wasn’t good.
After they had left, there it was again, that overwhelming urge to plant something. I ushered the kids outside into the bizarrely warm yard and began digging in my mom’s planting side for little pots in which we could put some seeds, looking for soil, wondering where the little sand shovel was. “All right, Ella,” I said, “we are going to plant some seeds today.” My niece was filled with a 4-year-old’s glee at the thought.
The phone rang. It was Crista. Mom was going to the ER. She was too sick for chemo. Crista would call back when she knew more. I called my dad. I called my older brother’s wife Michele. I called the church. I began to reach out, spending inordinate amounts of time on the phone while the kids, tasting the freedom that can only be had with an utterly distracted adult supervising them can provide, ran rampant around my ankles throwing Lego blocks, plotting the overthrow of Cuba, chasing the cat, and possibly stealing all the pocket change out of my purse.
Ella is old enough now to know when something is about to drop. She’s too old not to perceive that something is wrong when her aunt spends literal hours on end on the phone saying strange words like “E.R.” and “billyrubin” and “platelet count” over and over again in reference to her grandma. The more concerned she was the more manic the kids got. My son, almost two, was simply drunk on the tense pulse in the air.
Finally, when both boys went down for naps I set down my phone purposefully and Ella and I went outside. We spread out pots and got out my envelopes of seeds (all of which I’m half convinced will never grow as I randomly scavenged them from tomatoes and peppers I bought at Trader Joe’s). My sense of seed doom notwithstanding, we dug into some lovely soil I found in an abandoned pot and began to fill in the smaller pots, talking about the worms we found, discussing whether or not ants were good or bad insects, and admiring the blackness of the grit beneath our nails. While Elle carefully poked three holes into the soil in each pot for seeds, she leaned against me the way she does when she needs to be close and isn’t quite sure what it is that’s going on around her. She’d done this during the filling of the pots, too.
“Love, do you want to talk about what’s happening with Grandma?” A silent nod against my shoulder. “You know that Grandma’s been pretty sick for a while now, right? And that’s why she has to get her chemotherapy?”
“Well she isn’t feeling so good today and her doctor decided that she needs to see some other special doctors so that they can work on making her feel better faster. Those doctors are at the hospital and that’s where Grandma had to go. Okay?”
“Do you want to ask me anything?”
“No.” A pause while more holes were poked. “Aunt Mary?”
“I really like planting seeds. It just makes me feel so….so….” She took a deep breath and smoothed her hands out in front of her. “I just don’t know how to say it.”
“It makes me feel peaceful and good. Is that how it makes you feel?”
“Yeah. Yeah peaceful and good and it makes my legs feel warm.”
I laughed. We planted our seeds, talking about nothing. We made tags for each kind and fixed them to sticks we found in the yard.
Today we found out that my mother’s liver is nearly non-functional and is being demolished by the cancer. The cancer has moved to her spine. Today my mother was relieved to have a doctor suggest that she and my father consider how much longer she wanted to keep fighting this. She was glad to hear that sometimes it’s time to just stop and be.
We gathered at my parents’ house tonight, my brothers and their wives and all of our kids. I sat next to Ryan after we’d gotten back from seeing my mom and had put E down to bed together. We talked and when I was quiet, seven little pots of seeds warming in the afternoon sun shone in my head and I pondered them feeling peaceful and good and enjoying the warm weight of my husband’s hand on my leg.