I’ve been rather haunted lately by this story about a Mom who made videos of herself for her son before she died of cancer. Knowing she would die before her son had too many natural memories of her, she video-taped them making cookies and doing other daily household-type things. The videos have been treasured by her family since her death. A few weeks ago, her family’s home was broken into and the tapes were stolen. The theft has made national news, and rightfully so. We always say that things are just things, but memories are ours and cannot be stolen. Yet, in a way, this little boy’s memories of his mother have been stolen. It seems a uniquely cruel insult to injury.
I found this story particularly jarring since I had just had a conversation with some dear friends about this very topic. I think often of Zoe’s natural memories of me and wonder if I should be doing something to document myself–my mannerisms, the way that I can’t stop kissing the back of her neck–so that she knows what I’m really like, should this cancer claim my life.
First, I thought perhaps I should set up a video camera in some unused corner of the basement and secretly tape some sort of reality television-esque video diary. Something for Zoe and Mark to discover after my death, whenever that should be. Dismissing this as too sinister and high drama, I moved on to another plan…
Fly on the wall. I would set up a camera on a tripod and move it around the house periodically. Theoretically, we would become used to it and eventually not notice when the red light showed that it was taping. And, eventually, we would have documentation of life as it really is and was.
This is the plan that I’ve sort of settled on. And yet, I can’t bring myself to implement it. Do I really want documentation of me as I really am? Of the times that I put Zoe off because I’m e-mailing or cleaning up the kitchen or (gasp!) reading a trashy magazine? Do I want to hear the voice that I use when I’m trying to get Zoe out of the house or when Mark is taking more time on a task than I deem necessary?
Do I really want Zoe to remember me as I really am? Or, can I lean on the things that I’ve written, the copious videos of her that are narrarated by my amused voice, the pictures of us and the sheer volume of pictures of her? Will these things somehow tell her that I want to set up camp in the back of her neck? That when I’m overcome by PTSD or general anxiety a firm whiff of her kid-head can calm me like nothing else? Will she catch some mannerisms in herself as an adult and quickly recognize me? Will you tell her stories about me that give her memories that over time will become intertwined with her own?
Is my very wonderment about these things assuming a larger-than-life role in my daughter’s memory? Is she meant to simply experience me and when I’m gone be comforted by whatever she has naturally gleaned from our relationship?
I wonder about these things. The friends with whom I originally discussed this topic wondered with me too. We have been brought together by many things, but one them is that we all have experienced some major loss in our lives. A child. A mother. A sibling. And, to a person, these dear friends said that the documentation they have of the people who have predeceased them is precious. Sacred. Priceless.
And yet, I can’t get myself to do it.
Perhaps if all of us did it. If all of us ackowledged that life is delicate and can be taken away at any time. If all of us made a point to videotape ourselves the way we videotape our children–not as a fly on the wall per se, but in real settings doing real things. Then, maybe, I could do it. Then I wouldn’t be staring my mortality in the face by myself. Wouldn’t be looking at my daughter as one whose days with her mother are morbidly numbered. Would simply have videos of me baking cookies with her. Playing at the park with her. Throwing her in the air and laughing with her. Smiling and laughing with her Pop. And you’d have those videos too. With your spouse. With your sister. With your kids.
And if I do make it fifty years as my oncologist says? Then, when we’re eighty, we can pop these videos in and see how we’ve changed. We can marvel at the fashions we pursued, the hair we colored, and the ways we decorated our homes. Just as we’ll marvel at the changes in our kids’ voices, the ways their mannerisms have or haven’t changed over time, the obvious predeliction of one child for the law, another for education. And we’ll cherish our old selves the same ways we cherish our children’s younger years–giving each of our years the weight we so often attribute only to childhood. Getting out from behind the video camera and giving our own experiences some screen time.
What do you think?
Last year, my sister and I reinstated Christmas presents. We love getting things for eachother and missed it once the grandkids overwhelmed the Meyer Christmas. It’s majorly fun to shop for Becki and this year I went about it in my usual way. Seeking out the funky and the hip. Hoping I’ll get her design eye just right. And, if I can get her to laugh, well, that’s high satisfaction for a little sister.
A few days after Christmas we had our sister gift exchange. Becki came over with a mysterious cardboard folder and I handed over my silly bargain gifts–including the piece d’resistance: a sign from Salvation Army written on a tree cutting and heavily laquered that said, “Ve grow too soon olte and too late shmarte.” And (yay!) it did make her laugh.
Then, Becki handed me her slim package. And it brought from me something altogether different. Tears. The good kind. The kind that come when a gift hits your heart dead-on. Aimed with nothing but love. She had commissioned a wood cut from Rick Beerhorst, an artist we both greatly admire. It was inked onto a vintage piece of sheet music. And it says, simply, “Put your hope in God Psalm 42”
Had I known that Becki’s gift to me would be so intensely meaningful, I would have struggled to match it somehow. Gone shopping for meaning and found myself wanting. I would have spoiled the purity of its intention. It was good to be surprised by it. Good to be struck by such an uncalculating arrow. Good to be able to let it hit me. And to cry. And to have my sister right there to clutch.
I’m counting on these compelling brown eyes to convince me of my need for a walk in the morning. Now that there is actual snow on the ground, a few good whines are going to be needed too. We’ll see if the old girl can muster it.
postscript: she managed
If our house could breathe a palpable sigh of relief, today would be the day. Mark and I returned from the oncologist with rather comical grins on our faces. We feel back slappin’ good. The whole house feels happy.
Two nodules (out of multiple) have disappeared completely. The largest lung nodule remains stable. Again, we’re going for slow and steady. This is definitely steady–and definitely in the right direction.
My next appointment is right after spring break–by which time I will have lived with metastatic disease for a year. I feel stuck between incredulity and elation. Not a bad combination.
Mark and I took an impromptu anniversary trip to Chicago this weekend. After a phone call to Mark’s parents to take Zoe (which they accepted gleefully) and to my parents to check in on Daisy (also, terribly willingly–especially considering that Daisy likes to jump up and kiss my mom on the mouth), we headed off to the mod/posh W Lakeshore Hotel secured for a bargain on Hotwire. Mark and I were treated to in-room massages shortly after our arrival (a gift from the insanely generous Lake Drive ladies), and the tension of waiting for our Monday appointment seemed to melt away. The swanky digs, a weekend of adult conversation, a little H&M shopping, a Mamet play, all did wonders to ease our anxiety. The hotel spa’s moniker was “bliss.” Written on the soap, etched onto goody bags, it kept reminding me of the ignorance of our weekend, waiting for the next report.
On Sundays before our Monday appointments, I’ve grown accustomed to picking up my x-rays at Blodgett and digging eagerly into the envelope for the accompanying radiology report. Today we were dismayed to learn that the doctors have put the kibosh on this practice. Too much information for the patients before the doctor can talk to them about it. Horrors! Patients knowing what’s going on in their own bodies? Say it ain’t so!!
But, oh well. Mark and I have another night of ignorance before our 8:30 appointment in the morning. Of course, I’ve already held the x-rays up to the light and speculated as to what each shadow means. I really can’t be trusted with these things. You know how I did in med school.
So, another night to wait. But, man, did we have a nice weekend. Mark and I at our grown up spa and Zoe at her own personal grandparent spa.
Today is Mark and my 9 year wedding anniversary. Some days we can’t believe it’s been nine years. Other days we can’t believe it’s been only nine years. Didn’t that chemo year count for more than one?
I have a polaroid of Mark and me at our reception that was taken by Mark’s dear friend, Bob. On it Bob wrote, “May your marriage be like the onion… Peel away the layers and occasionally you’ll cry.” The polaroid is not terribly flattering as far as wedding pictures go, and yet it’s the only wedding photo that is on display in our house. I think it’s because the sentiment, cheesy as it might seem, has been eerily true.
We’ve peeled away layers we never thought could exist, and under them I keep finding a man I am amazed and honored to call my husband.
And nine years look mighty good on him, too.
then in heaven.” This is how my Grandma Slenk would end her conversations with people with whom she did not have the chance to visit very often. Cousins in the Netherlands, people she ran into from a bygone era of her life, folks who came to visit her in assisted living. She said it rather cheerily, as she said most things, and found it not at all morbid.
My grandma was the type of woman who threw her head back and laughed. A lot. If you know my mother, you’ll see that this is a delightfully inherited trait. Grandma didn’t understand why people who shared her age would ever wish to die. She relished every minute on earth. And yet, this strange phrase was her standard farewell.
Yesterday I used my grandma’s farewell for the first time. It was to an old elementary school and high school classmate whom I rarely see, but whose shared disease has brought us back into one another’s lives. She died yesterday, and I’m not sure anyone even read my farewell to her before she took her last breath, but in writing it I finally understood how my grandma, who loved life so much, could say it.
Living with one foot in glory is OK. In fact, living with one foot in glory may make us much more able to throw our heads back and laugh when the laughing time comes again.
But for today I’m remembering my friend from a bygone era. Who entered glory far too early.