I've been telling the girls every day to be on the lookout for the first robin. I don't know what's wrong with our city, but since we are looking for robins I haven't seen a single bird--robin or otherwise. No sparrows even. Apparently we live in a bird-free zone.
On Friday I drove over to spend the morning with my mom. She had a test scheduled at the hospital that afternoon, but she had the morning free. This week has not brought us good news. The doctors still can't figure out what kind of cancer she has so they haven't come up with any way to treat it. And they discovered that, instead of a spot on her lung, she has a lemon-sized tumor. In addition, nothing is confirmed, but they think it has spread to her liver as well.
As I pulled into their driveway on that beautiful sunny morning though, I saw a small bird hopping along in the yard. Sure enough--a robin. I ran into the living room where Mom was sitting by the window with her eyes closed. "A robin is out in your yard," I announced. "Have you seen him already and just not told me so that you don't have to be the one to make the treats?" She laughed, and I said, "C'mon, you have to look out and see the first robin!"
She rose ever so slowly and oh so painfully to see the first real sign that spring is coming back, then sat back down. We couldn't share our usual cup of tea together because she wasn't allowed to have anything before her test. But we sat and chatted and laughed about all our usual things. I asked her advice on some subjects, and she gave me her usual wise perspective. We talked about her life as it is now. She told me about her lung doctor. "I want to put my arm around him and say, 'I understand. You're socially maladjusted. You're doing the best you can.'"
She told me about all their friends and neighbors who have been caring for them, people who have called, and everyone who is lavishing affection on them. She said tiredly but with her usual humor, "I do love everyone. But some people...they want me to do things. Like join support groups. I'm so exhausted. I just want to be around someone more like myself, you know, laid-back. Someone who doesn't have any goals and objectives."
"Someone like ME!" I exclaimed, and we burst into laughter. "Yes," she said. "I just want my dearest daughter." Then she said to me as the pain crossed her face, "I have such peace. Last time I had cancer, I wasn't ready to die. But now...my children are both married and have stable homes. Both of my children are stable in the faith. I've gotten to see my little girls," she smiled, "I am ready to go." And as I sat with her in the sun, as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death together, the peace enfolded us both.
When I went home, I stopped by the grocery store to get the ingredients to make the robin treats. The girls would be so excited, and our whole family was getting together the next day so we could have the robin party together. But for some reason, though they are the simplest things in the world to make and I've made them countless times, they just didn't work. The chocolate would not melt on the stove. I stirred and stirred, and it was just a grainy mass that got harder and harder. I tried to microwave it and thin it with milk, nothing worked. And behind me the girls shrieked and talked and laughed until I thought my head would explode.
Finally I sat down in the rocking chair and cried over the stupid robin treats. Everything ought to work the same way and chocolate should melt right every time and this tradition should happen every year and I don't want this to be the last time I ever make a robin treat for my mom. Then Lucy said, "Mom, Manga always says, 'If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.'" So I got up, went back to the grocery store, bought more ingredients, and finally succeeded in making the (most expensive ever) robin treats.
We had a good day on Saturday with all my family together. My dad ordered in lunch for all of us, and we talked about happy things around the table, and my brother and his wife told us all about their recent trip to the Philippines. But though we didn't speak of it, cancer was always there with us, the uninvited guest.
Sunday brought the time change. Why is it so early this year? Elaine woke up in a mood. She was grumpy about everything and everyone and mad at the world. When she gets like this, you really can't do anything with her, and she will finally climb to my lap, sobbing, "I just need my Mama Time!"
On the way to church, I heard the hymn 'Tis So Sweet, the hymn that reminds me so of my mom, that she used to sing around the house, that we all sang on her 75th birthday, and the grief has come crashing back in wave after wave. When we got to church, I saw with relief that I was scheduled to work in the infant nursery--that's all I wanted, to just sit in a quiet room with only a baby for company. My good friend Sarah was scheduled too, and we got the one baby who was there today quieted down and napping. We sat in the rocking chairs with the lights off and chatted. She asked about my mom, and as I started to talk, to my horror I began to cry again.
Sarah, who knows the pain of losing your mother, did the best thing a friend could do. She came over, put her arms around me, and knelt by my side in the dark, crying along with me, and whispered, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry."
One of the hardest things about this time is to continue on, to be a mom and take care of the girls. My mom gave me some of the best advice ever when Lucy was born, "Your children are not emotionally equipped to handle your adult problems." That doesn't mean to shield them from everything, but they cannot bear the burden of a mother who is so sorrowful that she doesn't even want to get out of bed. But their constant chatter and their needs and their bickering about whose turn it is to get out of the tub first and whose turn it is to pick the story tonight and crying about not being able to get their tights on...it is so hard to pick up and carry on.
They were watching episode after episode of The Muppet Show this afternoon, and if you're wondering if hearing Animal bang on the drums is some sort of antidote for emotional pain, I am here to tell you that it is definitely not. I feel best when I'm there with my mom; seeing her, talking to her, listening to her. It's when I go away and can't see her anymore that all the fear and the pain and the stress surround me. I just want my Mama Time.
But as always, God brings something to me when I am most desperate. I went in to the kitchen tonight to fix the girls' supper and flipped on the CD player, just letting play whatever was in there.
Here is what He gave me at just the right moment. I hope you can hear it too.
So, even in the pain tonight, I am still standing with my shoes off.
He is just as good as ever.