It was February 2012. I was about to launch the serialization of my book, The Oat Project. I got a call from family saying my mom was in the hospital. She had beaten cancer twice since 2008 but had struggled in the year before with “maintenance” chemo. She was having intestinal difficulties from the chemo. When I got there, she was her usual cheerful self, though wan and exhausted. My stepdad was in the room, too, and after chatting for a while about how the chemo was affecting her tummy and how it’s normal but difficult, the doctor came in.
He held a clipboard and looked up once or twice while speaking to my mother, though my memory is fallible on this. His words fell into me like ink in water. We can’t do anything about this. The cancer has wrapped itself around and throughout your intestines. We can’t operate. The chemo might help but probably not. We must release you from our care. We can’t do anything for you. As I write these words, I am back in that room as a wave of cold hit me from head to toe, and then a wave of hot, and then the ringing in my ears so I couldn’t hear for longer than fifteen minutes. I did not hear what Mom said, though it seemed like she had heard the doctor differently. She was so chipper.
That day began the battle lost on December 4, 2012.
That day, my ability to write waned with my mother.
That day, I ceased feeling hunger.
The day she died, ten months later, I ceased remembering my dreams.
After my sister-in-law died a week after mom and my brother almost died, in a wreck on the way home from burying Mom, my body’s energy, its fire, the ability and need to vigorously move, to do my customary sprints, weights, and yoga, felt buried in the dirt as well.
So from the end of 2012, I moved only enough to maintain the bare minimum of everyday life, with my house and even kids; I did not dream; I had to force the writing; I was not hungry.
I have tried several times to “move through” it, to “jump-start” myself, to “hunker down” and “make an effort.” But it never worked. I was just broken, for good.
Last August, at almost exactly the moment I was asked to run The Bookman, my energy began to return. I have needed every bit of it to learn how to manage the store, but scrabbling it together has also created energy. Being at the store has been a gift of purpose, a chance to meet others’ needs instead of being truly needy myself, and simply fun. Soon, the writing impetus was back, with the certainty of finishing the entire, whole book instead of going back to serialization. So I started in earnest, in wholeness, on it (still going).
And then, about six weeks ago, I felt an odd sensation in my midsection. I truly didn’t recognize it. I was hungry. I have been managing my body’s sustenance for these three years with logic. But knowing “I need to eat” is very different from hunger. Real, healthy, normal, non-grief-stricken hunger is back.
And then about four weeks ago, I began to wake recalling my dreams. They have always been vivid, and I have always remembered them. Whole stories, in color, my whole life. But since December 4, 2012, sleep has been like a dive into darkness…or death. Muffled, black, no texture or life, not bad or evil, but not good either; nothingness. But one morning, I woke remembering a very usual-for-me dream, a nice one, even. And it’s continued since that day.
And then last week, I ran stair sprints for the first time in two years. Mind you, my head hurt all day, but even that was normal upon a return to it.
It is as though my body has reasserted itself, remembered or decided it is alive. Healing is still happening, and it’s still taking everything I’ve got to be a mom, run the store, and finish the book. But there’s an ease in the energy; it feels renewable. Finally. I have no words to express how profoundly thankful I am for all of those who have walked this path of grief with me. No words. It would look like weeping salaams with hugging and wailing dancing spinning gratitude. Family, children, friends, in small ways and large, you have helped me come back to life, to resist the grinding pain of grief and mortality, to choose messy, inconvenient, exhausting, lovely Life. I hope in some small way to help in ways as profound. Thank you, again and forever. And now, for pie.