25 July 2010

Mi Familia, One Last Time

Lazarus, Dad, Mom, and Maggie, 5 July 2010, Albuquerque, NM

For the last few weeks of their stay here in New Mexico my mom was at the UNM Hospital trying to get her pain and nausea under control and to get strong enough for another course of chemotherapy. I took the kids up to visit her and, wanting to make the day special, she dressed up and met us away from her hospital room so we could have a fairly normal, comfortable visit.

Two days after I took this impromptu family portrait, Mom and Dad flew back to Philadelphia by medical transport, and Mom spent another two weeks at the Penn Hospital hoping they could do something, figure out a way to fix this awful thing that was taking her away from us far too quickly, far too soon.

The plan was, the kids and I would say "Goodbye for now" that sunny Monday in Albuquerque, then go to Philly and visit her in a few weeks once she was settled and feeling better.

That made it bearable for all of us. I firmly told myself this was just a temporary goodbye for Mom and the kids, that she wasn't saying Goodbye to her beloved grandchildren forever but just for a few weeks.

Dad, Mom, Maggie, and Laz, June 2009, ABQ
But part of me knew better, and I made sure to get some pictures because, well, everyone looked great and happy to be together and we hadn't had a family photo opportunity in some time. The picture at right, taken  last summer at the ABQ Botanical Garden, is less than optimal because Laz kept looking at a bug on the ground, and my beloved Konica-Minolta had just gotten its fatal lens scratch the week before. Mom didn't want to be in the picture because she felt very self-conscious in her head scarf (her first round of chemo had, as predicted, caused her to lose her hair) but I insisted because, you know, family pictures are essential. The last family pictures I had were from the year before; the one below was taken in May 2008 during a picnic at my parents' property just north of town.

Dad, Mom, Laz, and Maggie, May 2008, near Magdalena, NM

(Yes, I know I'm never in the family pictures. But I'm the Great and Powerful Oz, always behind the lens, so I'm in the pictures in spirit. Or something like that.)

So it was time for a new family picture. Not the last, I told myself. But it was, as I knew deep in my heart it would be, because I will be going to Philadelphia by myself later this week. It hit me last night that in order to be with my mom during her last days, I have to leave my children behind; she doesn't want them to see her like this, and neither does my ex-husband. I guess I agree but, God, what a choice. Should young children be allowed to remember their beloved Granna as vital and engaged, or to see the reality of life and, ultimately, of death? Since I don't really know the answer to this question, and other people involved are insisting on the former, I will with hesitation and sorrow leave them behind as I make this journey.

It is raining today. Steadily, as it has for several days now, soaking the earth and bringing the clouds in close and tight around us. The garden I planted for Mom on Mothers Day this year is thriving, the range is greening up, and the ditches and dirt tanks are filling up with water and spadefoot frogs who sing at night to celebrate their two or so months of life above ground.
Celebrate what you have. Celebrate it now. Celebrate it often.

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