Saturday, December 31, 2022

Letting Go (Life and Death and Life, Pt. 2)

(Meandering long post below. Either settle in or come back to it. - jrr)

 It's New Year's Eve, 2022. We're fast approaching 2023, which means that a noticeable segment of many media channels will be filled with self-proclaimed pundits bemoaning the past year based on their politics, aesthetics, social life, financial situation, or what have you. But I'm okay with giving 2022 all the time it needs.

My mother died this year. 

This was an unexpected turn. My mother's side of the family has been blessed with longevity for generations, particularly its women. I fully expected that Mom would live long enough to see her potential great-grandchildren. At least another ten years, with fifteen seeming utter reasonable.

Then she started having a pain in her side. It's important to note that my mother had quite an extensive medical history, and hearing about various maladies was just part of the territory. I don't want that to sound cold or insensitive (although maybe it is; I'm still working through that), but merely that a doctor's visit wasn't a particularly big deal on its face. And then suddenly it was...kind of.

Her examination revealed a mass by her liver as the source of her pain. Even then, I still wasn't particularly worried as they scheduled a biopsy. This would be another in a history of problems that weren't as big as they could have been. Life would continue.

The diagnosis said otherwise. It was bile duct cancer, stage four. Google it. It's not good.

How bad? The best case scenario at her age was chemo and radiation, with a fifty per cent chance she would be around an extra six months. But six months from when. Her oncologist said it would be a coin flip on whether she would see Christmas.

We received this news in July. She didn't see Halloween.

I wrote a post in September about the act of burial. Obviously, my mother's remaining time was weighing heavily on my mind, and I wrote that piece with a plan to follow it up here. QED.

Today is my mother's memorial service. I will eulogize my mother, as I did my father. I may or may not bury my mother. She donated her body to science, and my sister and I haven't fully decided yet whether to intern or scatter her remains when they're returned to us. So I can't really extend the burial discussion I opened in my September post, at least not yet.

I have a bias toward profundity. Words mean things. They have always meant things even before they were a meme or a slogan or t-shirt or coffee mug. I grew up with an acute understanding of this concept. My father reinforced this concept throughout my childhood. That's probably another post worth of material at least. I say this to emphasize the effort and precision with which I choose my words, and to underscore the personal importance I place on communicating in a very deliberate manner. Particulary when I perceive the stakes as high. Like now.

The remembrance I wrote for my mother has to serve a number of purposes. It's intended to honor her, and celebrate her as a person. But there's more going on. It's meant to comfort, and explain, and contextualize, and clarify, and synopsize. And then get delivered both in written and oral form. For audiences who both knew her and never met her. It's meant to be sufficiently respectful, considerate, honest, and reverent. It should hold the interest of the audience, but shouldn't be self-serving.

People use words for lots of reasons. They use them for attention, for release, for reward. They use them to encourage, to harm, to incite, to calm, to explain, to obfuscate. They use them to record, to entertain, to agitate, to heal.

I wrote my mother's eulogy to say goodbye. And I failed. Because there was no way I could succeed.

Time marches on, whether we participate or not. I can't keep 2022 around anymore than I could accomplish any other feat of futility. And I can't have my mother alive anymore than I can have my father or the other friends and family I've lost back.

But I can say the things I'm saying for all the reasons I've stated. And as a testament to a point in time.

I want to have just a little more time in 2022. A little more time with Mom. A little more time before goodbye. 

But goodbyes are inevitable, just like time. And I'd rather say goodbye than miss the opportunity to do so.

I was lucky to actually say goodbye to my mother. Some people don't get that chance. If you're one of those people, my heart goes out to you. That's a wound that's hard to close. I know. But as time continues apace, we need to close those wounds. We need to apply balms and ointments and bandages, and heal. We have to prepare ourselves to bring joy and happiness and love and mercy to the other people who are still here, who need us, who deserve smiles and hugs and laughter. And that has to start somewhere. 

And what better time than New Year's Eve?

May your day be full of celebration and reflection. May you lay down old hurts, and reach out for new joys. May you be filled with gratitude, and released from regret. I'll join you in the effort. Tomorrow. 

For today, I still have to let go.