Sunday, November 15, 2009


More than a week ago, before the current edema-related troubles started, I saw Mom in the bathroom, standing at the sink-cum-vanity counter in front of the wall-size bathroom mirror. She was gingerly feeling the edges of the depression in her head, the area that's been missing a large piece of bone since May. Sometimes she itches there; I've seen her gently scratching that part of her head, especially as hair has been growing back on her scalp. On that particular day, though, she seemed to have some other purpose in mind as she palpated the area.

So I asked her what was wrong. She turned slowly toward me, indicated the crater, and whispered, "Sunken."

It was a heartbreaking moment. It showed that Mom knew enough about her own condition to be saddened by it. I've wondered, both before and after that moment, whether (and how often) Mom has dwelt on her worsening condition. It's often hard, these days, to get an accurate picture of what life looks like from her perspective, and because she's largely nonverbal, she offers us few clues as to her internal state. This utterance-- "Sunken"-- told me a lot. It told me that Mom still had her pride, and didn't want to appear before her family, friends, and relatives looking the way she does. It told me that she was self-aware enough to be able to contrast her present condition with how she used to be.

I suppose I should be happy that the cancer and the surgeries have taken away her ability to feel anything too deeply. Were she afflicted with end-stage pancreatic cancer instead of brain cancer, she'd be aware enough to suffer mightily through the experience.

But Mom can still compare her present with her past, which is something the rest of us can also do. I, for one, still catch myself thinking back to recent months, before April 16, when Mom was amusing me with her English-language quirks, such as her inability to remember and pronounce the name of that home furnishings store, Bed, Bath, and Beyond. That used to make me laugh. I remember that we celebrated the parents' 42nd anniversary at a pizzeria called Faccia Luna, and that Mom enjoyed herself there. I remember how recently it was that Mom was master of our kitchen, not me. Images of so many things, so many recent things, arise unbidden; perhaps this is true for Mom as well. And perhaps when she remembers those things, she feels the same pang I do every time I stray from focusing on the exigencies of the present moment.


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