Erin Go Bragh

>Tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day. It will be my first without my mom and I’m not really sure how to handle it. She absolutely loved St. Patrick’s Day and all things Irish. She had been to Ireland twice in the 70s — once on an organized group tour, where she met a lovely woman named Mary, and the second time she and Mary went on their own. They’ve kept in touch for the past 30-something years, continuing to send cards and make phone calls right up until the week my mother went into the hospital. In fact, Mary’s last card to my mom arrived while she was in the ICU so I brought it and my dad read it to her. She wasn’t conscious at the time, but I believe she heard every word of it.

Anyway, my mom loved Ireland. She even had a little shamrock tattoo on her hip. Her mother’s family is from County Cork and so St. Patrick’s Day was always a big deal in our house. Every year we would have corned beef, potatoes, carrots, and homemade soda bread. Truth be told, I never cared for the food that much, and I would eat my own stuff (especially once I stopped eating meat), but it was tradition and I loved it. We would eat in the dining room and listen to traditional Irish music while we ate. Before my mom got so sick, the house would have been decked out in shamrocks and leprechauns. After I got married and moved out, I could always expect a green envelope in the mail covered in shamrock stickers. The absence of that card this year is heartbreaking.

I don’t know what to do with myself tomorrow. My dad hasn’t mentioned anything, so I assume we’re ignoring the holiday this year. I plan on wearing my Durty Nelly’s t-shirt that I got in Ireland in my mom’s honor. She has talked about that place my entire life and I was finally able to go there in December when I was in Ireland for work. To be honest, when the trip first came up and my mom asked me if i’d be going there, I hadn’t planned on it. I had read reviews online and it didn’t seem that great. Once she passed away, I couldn’t get there fast enough. I thought it might be hard to be there at a place that she loved so much, knowing I would never be able to come home and tell her about it and compare stories, but it was oddly comforting to sit in this old pub where my mother made such good memories. I felt like I established a new connection with her that day. I still wish she was here so I could talk to her about it and show her pictures, but I’m at least glad I got to walk in her footsteps and see the country she loved so much and talked about my entire life.

As my co-worker and I were paying at, we noticed that people had written messages on dollar bills and other foreign currency that were then taped up to the ceiling over the bar (behind me). We grabbed a dollar and wrote my mom’s name on it so that part of her would always be there.

This is my mom (on the right) and my nana (on the left) at the airport right after my mom got home from Ireland. I haven’t been able to find any pictures of her when she was actually there; she didn’t really like taking pictures and preferred to buy postcards. 

Anger Issues

>I’ve never been an overly happy, bubbly kind of person. I’m quiet, reserved and hide my emotions. Obnoxiously happy people tend to annoy me, especially lately, ever since my mom passed.

I have a co-worker, we’ll call her Nancy, who is young and naive and seems blissfully ignorant that not everyone is as happy as she is all the time. Today she turned around and asked me if I was excited about the clocks changing this weekend because “now we’ll get a whole extra hour of sunlight after work!!!!” I used all my willpower to stop from telling her, “No, dumbass, I’m NOT excited about the time change at all. Not even a little bit. And do you know why? BECAUSE MY MOTHER IS DEAD.” I’m sorry if that sounds harsh or self-absorbed or whatever, but it’s true. I could really not care any less about these trivial things that she gets excited about and it drives me absolutely insane that she thinks this should be the focus of my world. I wanted to get up on my desk and scream at her and then throw my stapler at her head. But I didn’t. I wish, more than just about anything, that I was back in that place where an extra hour of sunlight everyday was enough to make me happy, was something to get excited about. Now? It’s just another reminder that time continues marching forward, whether I want it to or not.

I have very, very little patience lately. I try to be nice because I realize that I’m the one grieving, not everyone else. I guess it just annoys me that almost no one asks how I’m doing anymore, as if I should be done and over it by now. I should be back to “normal.” I know I need to be more understanding and remember what it felt like on the other side of this horrific line, the side where your world is still right-side-up and you’re able to get through the day without crying hysterically because your mom is gone forever. It’s very hard for me to remember what it was like over there.

I joined an online support group, thanks to my very best friend. She made a donation to an organization called Cancer Care in my mom’s name, and I went to check out what it was since I had never heard of it before. They offer all kinds of support services to patients, family members, caregivers, etc. There are one-on-one counseling sessions, phone counseling, online support groups, in-person support groups, etc. And it’s all free, thanks to some wonderful oncology social workers donating their time! There are about 10 of us in my group, and every member has lost someone to cancer within the last 2 years, although it seems like the majority of posters lost someone to lung cancer recently, so I feel like at least I have somewhere to go and talk to people who know what I’m going through.

What If?

>What if her cancer had been found earlier?

What if I would have said something more about her awful cough at the beginning of last year?

What if she wouldn’t have lost so much weight before starting treatment?

What if there was a different chemotherapy drug she could have tried?

What if we would have taken her to a different cancer center?

What if there was some clinical trial she could have participated in?

What if she would have tried drinking the Ensure even though she didn’t like it?

What if we wouldn’t have pushed her to continue treatments?

What if she had quit smoking sooner?

What if she had quit when my dad did?

What if she had never started?

What if I had been more encouraging and supportive?

What if I would have asked her more how she was really feeling and dealing with everything?

What if I had come to see her more or called her more?

What if there was a better oncologist we could have taken her to?

What if the ER nurse had been more competent and known how to work the vent?

What if there was a better ER, better doctors who could have saved her?

I wonder if any of it matters. If things had gone differently, would she still be here? Or was it predetermined that she was supposed to die that day? Even if she had never smoked and never got lung cancer, would she have had some different kind of cancer? A stroke? A heart attack?

I wonder if it would have been better for her not to do treatment at all. It didn’t work, so she went through five months of agony and literal torture for absolutely nothing. It didn’t even shrink the tumor. It made her lose weight, lose her hair, become depressed, become unable to eat or drink without excruciating pain, and ultimately it seems like it killed her. If she hadn’t done treatment, maybe her last moments — whether it was five months or five weeks or five days — would have been less painful and more dignified. Maybe she would have been able to die in her own bed instead of in the ICU surrounded by strangers and machines.