Words come harder some days than others. But (at least for today) I don’t mind. The labour makes sense to me: words have always been my lifeline—and well, life comes harder some days than others, too, doesn’t it?

My dad has just been diagnosed with cancer (Multiple Myeloma) and while (again, at least for today) I’m feeling cautiously optimistic, it’s hard to not have just the word “cancer” turn my stomach to lead. Maybe for anyone. Maybe more so if you’ve already lost a parent to it. I don’t know.

I’ve been spending long hours with him at the hospital, helping him, trying to make sense (and a record) of the foreign language of cancer treatment plans and drugs, visiting him and talking/reading with him when he’s up to it—and when he’s not, just listening to the weirdly reassuring hiss and sighs of his oxygen, IV, and the massage cuffs we have on his calves. In a strange heart-twisting way, the time we’re spending together is lovely.

When my mom was dying I was hit constantly by the horrible irony of how vivid contemplating death made life. She was sickest over summer when the whole natural world around me was at its most brilliant, its most poignant, its most alive. I had an almost three-year-old, precocious and fascinated by everything: language, stories, trees, sticks, dirt, puddles, rocks, chocolate (“Candy is good for me, Mom—it tastes good, so it’s good for me!”); I had my little son growing in my belly, turning me as round as the harvest moon that came too soon, reminding me that fall was coming and that all of life is a constant cycle of change.

My mom died in October to the darkest rainy day I think that ever was. I obliterated the day on my calendar for years in black felt pen. I don’t know when I stopped.

And now my dad—a strong man who has never been sick a day in life, a man who always prided himself on hard, hard labour—needs help just to sit up, just to put on a gown. And meanwhile spring is shooting its little tendrils of green, bringing the grey, slate-cold earth back to life. My daughter is seventeen, ambitious and eager for her “real” life to begin. I am still round like the moon, but my little son is starting to look like a man—and I am again forced to remember, as if I could ever forget, that all of life is change.

I am shocked and horrified that it’s all happening again (though I cling so hard to the hope that it’s not like my mom, it’s not like my mom, it’s not like my mom, that I feel like my insides bleed), so I take comfort in—or find escape in—the details.

Huge drops of rain that somehow pelt but simultaneously move in slow motion against the huge window that overlooks an ugly parking lot but shows a gorgeous mountain in the distance. Each fat droplet slides down the glass leaving just a glimmer of itself behind, but manages to stay intact until it rests quivering at the bottom of the frame. Some stay beaded; more burst as if surviving the downward journey was a miracle and now they just can’t hold it together.

I trace each line of the daffodils in my mind and decide I like their scent, though really, it’s like pee.

My dad snores a rumbling, grumble, and his cough has stopped; I revel in the noise and the lack of noise.

I notice that the blank page at the beginning of an old, old book (Poems Worth Remembering) has tiny markings from some long ago hand that must have written a note on top of the soft paper and the indents transferred through. I make a mental note to use a soft pencil and gently shade the page until I can see what secret has long lain there.

And today we received good news. My dad is a good candidate for bone marrow transplants, which gives him wonderful odds at living for a long while with good quality of life. I know there are tough times ahead with the treatment, but it’s so good to know that there’s well-founded reason for optimism that’s trying to wriggle through my weathered heart.

I also came across one perfect purple crocus in my front yard. And I have never planted crocuses.

Even the most difficult, disjointed words are worth it—maybe especially so. I wish always felt that way about the harder aspects of life. I hope one day I’ll see that the labour makes sense.

13 thoughts on “Vigil

  1. No, thank you very much for commenting, Jennifer. I appreciate the wishes for strength–much needed. I hesitated before posting, then thought, no, it’s where I’m at . . .


  2. Ev, your beautiful post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing such powerful and personal thoughts, at such a difficult time. I’m thinking of you and your dad, hoping all turns out OK.


  3. Thank you for sharing at such a difficult time. Your words made me cry when they so poignantly reminded me of that disconnect between being with someone in the hospital and the wonderful natural world outside. The drops on the window say it so well, thank you for sharing. I am glad there is hope and I, too, wish you all the strength you will need to get through. My thoughts are with you.


  4. I have been thinking about you Ev. Beautiful words from a beautiful human being. Sending love to you and your family, Noreen


  5. Dear Rachel,

    Thank you very much for coming by and for sending such kind words. It looks like specialists are optimistic about being able to put him into remission and the type of Multiple Myeloma he has is an incredibly rare strain which is (bizarrely) wonderful news, because he’s interesting to experts on a global level (might have a paper written about him). It means he’ll get really, really good care.


  6. Dear Barb,

    Thank you so much for your understanding and encouragement (though I’m sorry you’ve had to go through it too). As re: the hope, yes, it is nice to have solid reasons for it (and as I wrote to Rachel, those reasons have gotten even more concrete).


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