I have found myself struggling with an emotion that has come to collect its due.
I lost my mother to a rare form of pancreatic cancer just about two years ago. In the time that she fell sick, fought the disease, and died from it, I made a very conscious commitment to myself that I would not allow myself to be consumed by anger. I decided that, to turn myself over to the energy that anger requires, would be to rob myself of the energy I really needed to channel toward keeping myself afloat in spite of the reckless destruction that cancer left in its wake. To be angry would leave me without the capacity to find joy in the few remaining days I had with my mom. To be angry would do me absolutely no good, but instead would render me helpless in navigating life through and after her death.
I had to decide every single day—sometimes, every single hour—to give my anger the stiff-arm. In the end, though, the strategy worked for me. So, when Madeline was diagnosed with T1, I made the same conscious choice again. Anger was not welcome. I needed my energy for other, more important endeavors.
Now, I am neither dull nor naïve. I knew that anger would be lurking around, and that some day, it would descend upon me with such force that I would have no other choice but to face it and work through it.
Well, my lay-away plan has expired. The anger has arrived with two-fold potency.
Although I was not my mother’s primary caretaker, I was close enough to bear witness to the astonishingly complicated and emotionally draining process that was required to keep her living as long as possible, and then, to help her die in peace. The constant vigilance. The hours of research looking for resources and remedies that could help her. The endless measuring and administrating of medication, followed by the hawkish monitoring of her responses. The effort, in helping her live out her final months, weeks and days, to disallow cancer’s ability to consume every thought and action. The deepest fear of finding her without life anymore, and of bearing life without her.
It occurred to me a few days ago, that the realities experienced by my mother’s fiancé in caretaking her through cancer are remarkably similar to those of my experience in caretaking Madeline through diabetes. Yes, the details differ, dramatically at some points, but still, it is at its essential level the same wrenching experience. This is what life is like, taking care of someone with a life-threatening medical condition. This is what it is like, trying to keep someone alive, and more importantly, to keep her living.
I feel anger about cancer eroding and then stealing away my mother for the exact same reasons that I feel anger for Madeline having diabetes. I’m angry because disease holds us captive. We live in spite of it—making it nothing less than top priority to keep our lives intact, our hopes refreshed and our dreams on course. We proceed each day, coping and carrying on; there is no other option we would choose. But, it is always there. It will never, ever go away, and the risks it carries are undeniably terrifying. I’m angry because Madeline cannot simply do anything without some consideration to how diabetes will play a role. She is not free, and because I am her mother and her primary caretaker, I am not free. She can’t just sign up to play a sport. She can’t just go over to a friend’s house for a playdate or a sleepover. She can’t just eat with abandon, or just run around at will, or just swim all afternoon. I cannot just leave her to enjoy herself at a neighborhood barbeque. Can she do any of these things? Of course. But she cannot just do them, simply and freely. Because, if she were to do anything simply and freely, with the kind of abandon to which most of us grow accustomed, she would likely pay the price with her life.
So I am finding a way to accommodate my anger now. Not to let it consume me, not to let it cloud my judgment or perceptions. But, to feel it for what it represents: unbearable loss. To feel it, and then—hopefully, someday—to let it go.