I read a news article once about a mom in some tropical locale who woke up to find a deadly snake in the bedroom, beside her sleeping baby. So she punched it in the face. Repeatedly.
I wasn’t a mom yet at the time, and I remember thinking: “Wow. I wonder if I could ever do something as brave as that?” The story came back to me during a midnight nursing session in one of those first weeks of parenthood, when I couldn’t tell if I was awake or asleep half the time. The mere idea of a snake threatening my baby was enough to jolt me awake, adrenaline pumping, and that’s when I knew: I would fight ANYTHING for this lovely little creature. I would do whatever it takes to keep her from being hurt.
Which is why it’s not the dying I’m afraid of; it’s the leaving.
I know it will be unavoidably painful for my daughter, and that makes me crazy with grief and fury and fear. I feel terrible when I think about leaving my dear husband behind too, but I know he can ultimately weather the storm. He’s a strong man with a strong faith and a solid support network, and he’s had time to brace himself. Our daughter, on the other hand, is too young to understand in any way that would allow her to prepare. I am the sun in her world, the ground beneath her feet, a basic fact of life. It is utterly incomprehensible to her that I (or anyone) could suddenly cease being.”You’re the best person in the world, Mommy,” she likes to tell me, laying her little head in my lap and sighing in contentment.
If I leave, she will first be purely confused, then angry at me for leaving…and then, much later, angry at herself for being angry, and for forgetting so much of me. She will ache every time the school day ends and I’m not waiting at the door. She will call out for me in the night and I will not be able to answer. She is too young.
I need more time.
Being a parent is the hardest part of having cancer, but it’s also what makes it bearable, in some ways. It’s a relief to purposefully avoid using the word in her presence. Her trusting, blissfully naive face makes me pull myself together on days when I’d really rather just curl up in a ball and cry. It makes me impulsive, because I want to imprint as many positive emotional memories on that little brain as possible: last-minute vacations, impromptu walks in the woods, backyard picnics, silly imaginary games, anything. Even her three-year-old tantrums are a welcome dose of normal.
To quote a dear new friend of mine who is in the same leaky boat: Just give me 15 years. Just let me get this kid launched, please. Please.