Let’s face it, being a mother is full of ups and downs. We come home from the hospital with these frail human beings, completely dependent on us for everything. Somewhere between sleep deprivation and total understanding that we no longer get to do what we want anymore, we slip into that amazing role of mother. It takes a while, but eventually we find the information we need to change diapers, make them food, take their temperatures, and entertain them through their terrible twos, threes and all the other ages. We also learn what makes them happy, sad, scared, lonely, giggly, and all the other emotions that are part of childhood.
When I learned I had cancer, I went into a dark place and was afraid for my children. I didn’t let my husband in, but I do remember telling close family and friends that I was making an inventory of all the important family keepsakes and heirlooms that I had in my possession. In the dark vastness of my unbridled fear, I thought I would die. I realized that my family history might stop at this generation, and that scared me. I decided to put down on paper all the things I felt people needed to know. I thought I was writing a “Care and Keeping of my Family History” book, so I listed everything I thought was historical and noteworthy, just so they could look back on it some day.
I started with my most prized family heirloom from my dad’s side; a rocking chair that had been passed down the generation’s, with me being the fifth one to receive it. My grandmother gave it to me as a young adult, telling me that her mother used to pull it up to the stove in the wintertime so she could sew and stay warm. That seemed pretty cool to me, but which one of my three girls would be the sixth generation to pass it to? I certainly couldn’t let my husband decide, because he hated it, “It feels like I’m sitting on a stack of sticks!” He would surely burn it! And then there were the fancy green depression glass plates, the weird little spoons that nobody knew what the heck they were for, and a broken spinning wheel from my mother’s side of the family. Who was going to get those? Did any of them know what a spinning wheel was, much less know how to repair a broken one? And what about my engagement and wedding set? Through blubbery tears, I thought it best to give them to my son. I even entertained the idea of writing down the whole “engagement” story for him (it was a cute story!) before they went off and got married…20 years down the road!
And while we are speaking of 20 years down the road, I have been the keeper of our extended family photos that goes back a century! There are a dozen photo albums of people, places and houses I will never know about, but I know they are important. My husband, you may have surmised by now, is not a saver, so he would find that unmarked box tucked under the staircase and throw it out. There are no identifying marks on it, because “I” knew what was in there. All he will find is a box with an ugly plastic tablecloth in it, because I thought it would protect photos in the event that water got in the basement. And who was going to know where I hid my special German candy cane ornaments that were wrapped in Kleenex (because that was all I could find last year)? I stuck them in a shoe box labeled “red candles,” and then stuck it up on the I-beam when I was cleaning the basement. I haven’t gotten around to bringing them down and putting them with the rest of the ornaments yet, because I thought I had forever!. And then there were all the other things: the special lace and button collections; arrowheads; jewelry that my grandmother gave me; the engraved wooden box that my grandma’s boyfriend made her before she met my grandfather; the military-style locket with pictures of people I’ll never know. Yadda, yadda, yadda…the list went on forever!
I locked myself away from my family, busily writing in my 3-ring binder and crying silent tears so they couldn’t hear. Long story, short, I think I did that for three days before I realized, “What the hell are you doing, Carrie?” I suddenly realized that I was pretty much giving into the notion that I was going to die. I all but told the Universe, “Yes, I am leaving…but don’t you worry…I am going to make sure that all these “treasures” that I value more than myself were going to be cared for!” Stupid, stupid, stupid!
Maybe it was day four or five of learning that I had cancer…I don’t remember; all I knew was that I suddenly realized I was doing this all wrong! I let go of the power that these “treasures” had over me and reclaimed the rightful treasure, which is me. “I” am the rich treasure that the family needs! If I am gone, no rocking chair will be comfortable enough, no Christmas ornament will ever shine quite as bright, and no wedding ring will capture the unconditional love that I have had since the second I first saw each of them.
Cancer is scary, but we have to see ourselves on the other side of it. See yourself happy, healthy and whole. See the Christmas memories that you will still make. Get the image in your head about how you will be there to help with your own child’s new baby. Laugh now about the fact that your husband may burn up something that is not very comfortable to his backside, but it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I catch myself wondering if I threw that spiral notebook in the trash. Perhaps I will find it tucked in a file somewhere in my bedroom, or in a box labeled “Easter Eggs!”