All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

May 5, 2011

I should know by now that when my sister posts on my Facebook wall, it’s a bad sign, because my sister – bless her – believes that Facebook is the best way to reach me when there’s something urgent to communicate. That she could also reach me by phone or email – I’ll grant that I do not always answer my phone, but I do check my email regularly, and in fact only get Facebook messages through email, because I ALMOST NEVER GO ON FACEBOOK – is a detail of modern telecommunications that she has chosen to ignore. She alerted me through Facebook that I needed to call her when my grandfather died, and then again when my dad died, and – here we get to the thing that I really want to talk about – again last night when I needed to be informed that our mom has an aneurysm that is growing at an alarming rate and needs to be surgically removed at the earliest opportunity but, oh god, the doctors aren’t sure her heart can handle it and all of this was signaled to me by a public Facebook posting of CATHY YOU NEED TO CALL ME OR MOM. And then: LIKE, TONIGHT.

So, yeah. This is why I don’t like getting Facebook messages from my sister, who I otherwise adore. When those messages landed in my inbox, my heart dropped, and it dropped hard.

I called my mom immediately. I knew that the news had something to do with her – if the news pertained to Tanner, Chrissie would have just said CALL ME – and because I knew that she’d had a CT scan late last week, I knew that it had to do with the aneurysm, which we had all been hoping was not growing and not going to pose any threat to her life. So I knew that if my sister was freaking out on Facebook about me needing to call Mom, it was because the aneurysm was now posing a threat to her life. As I said, my heart dropped.


“Sweetie! I was just thinking about you! And I was just opening my computer right this minute!” Presumably to log on to Facebook. Or post her prognosis to Twitter, or to her blog. God, my family.

My mother is probably one of the funnest people on the planet. Even when life takes its grimmest turns, my mother can always find some point of humor. Even when she’s angry, she makes jokes, and cracks herself up, and it was one of the banes of my teenage existence that every time I was mad about something, she would make faces at me until I laughed and forgot what I was mad about, which usually made me madder. It was complicated. She’s complicated. I adore her

“Mom, if I’d gotten an email from you that said oh, hey sweetie, things have taken a turn for the worse and I’m facing life-threatening surgery, but don’t worry! I’d have had to never speak to you again. These are things you call about. Like, immediately.”

“Oh, Catherine Ann.” My mother is able to communicate the rolling of her eyes over the telephone. She did so.

“Oh, Mother.”

My mom and I have gotten to a stage in our relationship wherein our roles are more often than not reversed. I nag her and pester her and give her unsolicited advice. I complain that she doesn’t tell me anything. I complain that she doesn’t call. I say things like, you know I worry. I said it last night. I said it, like, five or six times. You know I worry so you need to promise me that you’ll call when you get news like this. You know I worry so you need to let me know the minute you hear from the doctor again. You know I worry so you need to promise me that you’ll take it easy.

You know I worry so you need to promise me that you’ll be okay.

You need to be okay.

You know I worry.

I do worry. I worry relentlessly about my mother, and have done since my dad died. When my dad died, it was the realization of my worst fear, the fear that I knew would be realized someday but had nonetheless managed to stay in denial about because, god, it is just easier on the heart and soul to believe that your parents are immortal. It doesn’t matter if death is already your shadowy companion, a persistence presence in your life, because even when you know, you know, that death is inevitable, you can still deny it, and you do, because death is just not conceivable until it happens. So it is that we all of us in our family live with Tanner’s prognosis in a manner that is best described as ‘mindful denial;’ we know that his death is inevitable and proximate, but we live with him in the spirit of death’s impossibility. The Tanner-less future is inconceivable. Or, rather, has been inconceivable. It is more and more difficult to deny that future. That’s a crushing thing, and it’s because it is a crushing thing that we’ve compartmentalized it for so long.

My dad’s death made all these things more complicated, because his death, as I said, was the realization of my fear of his death, and the confirmation that, yes, death happens, which is to say, it made death conceivable in a way that it just never before had been for me, not even with the death of my grandparents or my beloved cat Sam or that one baby bird that I saw get run over by a car that one time. It made death real. It showed me what the world looked like without my dad, a world that had heretofore been unimaginable to me. And it made it possible for me to imagine a world without other people that I love. It made it possible for me to imagine a world without my mom.

My mom and me, in our world, back when it was still black and white.

I am terrified of that world. Terrified. I don’t even have words for that terror. It’s a terror that makes me feel small, that takes me back to being six or seven years old and slipping into my parents’ room in the middle of the night, blanket in hand, to sleep on their floor so that I could make sure that nothing happened to them, that they didn’t just somehow disappear.

But I know that the day will come when I will have to live in that world. I know that because I am already living in a world without my dad. I know that it’s inevitable, unless something happens to me first, which, god, is a whole other bag of soul-rattling anxiety related to fears concerning my children and my own role as a parent. So I have to live with that knowledge, that fear. I have to live with it, but not let it get in the way of living and loving, and living with and loving my mom. I have to not let it get in the way of celebrating my mom. I have to let it be a reason – to be more reason – to always celebrate my mom, to exult in the wonderfulness of my life with her.

Because she is awesome, and I am lucky to have her, and that’s all that matters.

I just need to keep her off Facebook.

(I had intended to write a post today about how my mom was and is my mentor momshe’s the original bad mother – but I’ve been so rattled by the news from last night and all I can think about when I think about my mom is all the hand-wringy stuff that I rambled on about above, which is entirely against the spirit of the last few lines of that post, but this is a process, people, okay?

Anyway. I made a dedication to her here, at the mothers2mothers Tree Of Hope. You can make a dedication to your own mentor mom. Celebrating moms is a good thing. Celebration is a good thing, full stop. I need some of that spirit today.)

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    Kathleen May 5, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    My gosh, I’m so relived I’m not the only one going through this!
    My Mom has been ill for over a year with lung cancer. She’s needed me and my sister to do a lot for her but cannot stand it when she and I give her advice and try to watch out for her. Seriously, when a person can’t figure out what day it is you, tend to start wondering. You know?
    She calls me a bully and other things to hurt me so I’ll back off. It’s hard, but I’ve had to just take her stubbornness in stride.

    Rusti May 5, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    This post brought tears to my eyes, a fist clenching around my heart, and reminded me that I too fear the losses that are inevitable, but that I try not to think about… *deep breath in, deep breath out* Being a cop’s wife the fear of loss, of telling my daughter of our loss, paralyzes me, terrifies me, but the scenario has played out so many times in my nightmares, and in my thoughts to prepare for “what if”… but the thought of losing my parents… my sister… brings such a rush of grief that I’m not prepared for, it brings me to my knees.

    and now I’m going to quit typing, and thinking about it, because crying at my desk while at work is so very unprofessional… mostly though, just awkward & embarrassing.

    thank you for sharing. sending huge *HUGS* your way. I’ll be thinking good thoughts for your mom and will be praying for all of you as well…


    Issa May 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    That realization that something can happen to our parents is just terrifying. I haven’t lived through the reality…just the questions about my dad’s health recently. I’m not ready. I don’t know how anyone ever gets ready. I too was the girl who checked on my parents (siblings too) at night to make sure that they were okay. Anxiety at six? Most likely yes.

    I will send as many good thoughts as I can spare to your mom. Hugs Catherine.

    Karianna May 5, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    Ugh. My chest tightened up just now because the scary feeling is too familiar. I was so very lucky with my dad’s emergency (heart) surgery last fall, and I hope your mom’s aneurysm surgery is similarly a fabulous success!

    Clueless But Hopeful Mama May 5, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    My deepest fear: life without my mother. As a child, I would watch her walk the dog at night from my bedroom window, unable to sleep until she was back home with me. Safe.

    I love how you celebrate her in this post, your love for her and the fear of losing her sitting alongside one another in your heart. How brave this post is. And how beautiful.

    Sending hope and wishes for an easy, successful surgery.

    Tarasview May 5, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    that is all.

    Minka May 5, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I have been bracing myself for a parent’s death for over 20 years, ever since my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer that had spread. She did NOT handle it with humor. Nor grace. Rather, she was mean and angry and took it out on everyone around her. But… she survived, and has been cancer free for many years now. My father recently had both cancer, and a quadruple bypass (within the same year!) and as you can imagine… I was pretty much expecting to be at a funeral any second and spent time pondering what life would be like without a father I fought with for the first half of my life and whom I later came to be unexpectedly close with in the years since I moved out of the house.
    But while my dad was sick (yes, he survived both the cancer and the heart surgery!), he was all doom, gloom, pessimism and leaking tears of regret wherever he went.

    His depression was such that it was toxic and contagious. But it was yet another kick in the ass to try and enjoy what time we have, because clearly, my father did not. And I’m happy to report that all this illness ultimately did leave him with an ability to let go of the small, petty stuff and to try and find what bliss he can with what time he has left. I know that’s what’s supposed to happen, but as I’ve seen time and time again with people who conquer an illness, it rarely does and they go back to getting caught up in the ultimately unimportant bullshit that weighs us down.

    Your mother sounds amazing. And you are so lucky to have her in your life, as I’m sure she feels about you.

    Yes, we all die, eventually. But we can’t focus on that, right? We have to think about quality of years vs. quantity, and it sounds like you and your mom have already had so much quality. And it is extremely possible that you will also end up with quantity. Your mom’s ability to laugh is also probably a source of tremendous strength. They say the people who live longest often laughed and smiled the most.

    Just reading about your mom made me smile, too. And I will send both of you all the positive energy that I can muster, which is saying a lot since I’m usually such a moody bitch by default.

    You will get through this.

    Jaelithe May 5, 2011 at 4:48 pm

    I am so sorry to hear this, Catherine. Please give your mom, and yourself, a virtual hug for me, and tell her that the whole internet wishes her well and agrees that she should call you more often.

    My mother can roll her eyes over the phone, too. I should call her and let her roll her eyes at me today.

    Passy May 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm

    Congrats on making the list of top mommy bloggers:

    Backpacking Dad May 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    A couple of years ago my mom was diagnosed with three ugly-looking aneurysms. THREE. She had to do three separate surgeries, over the course of five months.

    She’s fine. Don’t worry. Don’t.


    Her Bad Mother May 6, 2011 at 4:25 pm

    @Backpacking Dad, it’s not the aneurysm that’s worrying – although it is worrying – it’s the weak heart that might not be able to withstand the surgery.

    But am trying to not worry. Am trying.

    Lauren May 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm

    Hugs to you and your family.

    HerBadGrandma May 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm

    My darling Daughter, you are my heart and as I said last night now that you are a big shot I want to live long enough to enjoy you supporting me in a lifestyle to which I will become accustomed!
    p.s. it was a rabbit, not a bird

    Her Bad Mother May 6, 2011 at 4:26 pm

    @HerBadGrandma, you’re adorable. also, look at you go! you managed to both LOAD MY WEBSITE and LEAVE A COMMENT.

    wait, is this really you?

    get going girly May 6, 2011 at 9:12 am

    I lost my Mom 6 months before we married and my dad when I was 8 months pregnant with my daughter – years have passed since those terrible days yet I still occasionally find myself reaching for the phone or thinking, “wait until I tell…” No matter how old we are or what our relationship is with them, parents anchor us. My parent’s were on the twisted side and found great joy in tormenting their children, for good or for bad, I have found that I share this trait, my children would probably say it is for the bad. I loved this post and I love your mother.

    Redneck Mommy May 6, 2011 at 9:46 am

    I love your mother. She’s going to power through this and so will you. BECAUSE I SAID SO DAMMIT.

    Jessi May 6, 2011 at 9:53 am

    I’d say don’t worry but yeah right. I had to face my mom’s morality once when I was 17 and she had a seizure. I didn’t like that and I still worry about her sometimes. So I won’t tell you not to worry. But you’ll be in our thoughts and prayers. And your mom’s a trip.

    Her Bad Mother May 6, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    @Jessi, ‘trip’ is exactly the right word for her, yes.

    Renee May 6, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I lost my dad to cancer when I was 10 years old. So, yah, mortality sucks! For YEARS, I had recurring nightmares about something happening to my mom. Then, when I got married, my husband joined the nightmare fray, and now it includes my 3 kids as well…Happy, happy, joy, joy. During the day, I’m usually happy and try to find a lot of joy in life. At night, the fears come out. I think the fine balance we have to find in life is knowing that things can always, always end badly, but believing that they will not. That way, you can appreciate what you have without being crushed with worry. I’ll be thinking good thoughts for you and your mom. Try not to have nightmares!

    RookieMom Heather May 6, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    I’m so sorry Catherine. My own mom worries about every little detail about me but tells me none of her own worrying little details. I should probably check on Facebook though, she’s just beginning to use it…

    Nadine Lumley May 6, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Your mom and sister are playing you.

    Her Bad Mother May 6, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    @Nadine Lumley, wait, what? WHAT? Do you think so?

    I must not know them as well as I thought. Thank god you do, and that you warned me.

    Chrissie Bawn May 6, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    So Cath, I love you. But I have tried to reach you by email, by phone, by text. I know, because of Grandpa and Dad, that if I really need your atention, I get it through facebook. I am sorry. I cant take this one on alone, I needed help, for Mom, for me, for you. There has been too much for me

    Her Bad Mother May 7, 2011 at 9:49 am

    @Chrissie Bawn, oh, Chris, you know that I know that. I was just gently teasing. You know that however you choose to get in touch with me is FINE.

    But? If you just text or email URGENT, I’ll reply right away. (Because, as I said, I never actually go IN to Facebook. I get those messages by email. It’s when you say URGENT that I reply right away, not because it’s Facebook. You really could just eliminate the middleman there ;) )

    Love you, girl.

    Julie Lauletta May 9, 2011 at 8:04 pm

    I’ve been following your blog for awhile. My father was diagnosed with glioblastoma in September and I have no other choice but to anticipate the hole he’ll leave in our lives when he goes.

    Last night my son and his soon to be fiance hit a deer on the interstate. It’s a miracle they weren’t injured, and today I’m so consumed with worry that this blog entry almost made me shout in recognition.

    Afghan Hound Pictures May 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Ingenius, interesting post. I love stuff similar to this.

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