I spent the 5th with Mom, her birthday. We didn't really do anything special at all, I just went on her shopping errands with her. Mom's always been a shopper, poking around looking at things is a fun day for her. I find it generally fatiguing, although we agree on thrift store shopping and both enjoy it.
I was feeling very anxious and down about things having only spoken with her for a few minutes when she told me about the cancer. Actually talking with her in person helped a lot to alleviate some of those uncomfortable feelings. I think seeing that she felt resolved and at peace with things, at least she did on Friday, was reassuring in a lot of ways.
Chemotherapy might be an option, as might surgery. Radiation isn't really an option since she's had it so much. What Mom really wants is to receive palliative care, just medication for pain and anxiety rather than trying to 'cure' the cancer. She also is interested in alternative medicine. She really doesn't want to go through any treatments to cure cancer again.
It is so sad. I do feel anger at this one last failure of my Mom's health. She corrected my belief on when she first had cancer, it was 1973 and I was four years old (I'd thought I was closer to 9 the first time). For 36 years I've watched my Mom fight cancer, have some time of health, fight heart disease, diabetes, and increasingly debilitating arthritis. It has been exhausting for both of us in its own way.
I don't blame her, not at all. Having watched what those cures have done to her over the years I think she's making a wise decision. Her health isn't that great to begin with, her heart is very weak, and she wants to really be able to enjoy what she can of the time she has remaining to her. I honestly think she's making the best decision.
We're taking her to the coast for a few days later this month. I'm really grateful I've got more time available to do things with her and have been trying to check in by phone with her more often.
We have some squirrel-gifted daffodils blooming in the front yard, but I'm loathe to pick them as they make the yard look so cheerful. Instead I bought some flowers - stock and daffodils. Purple and vivid yellow adorning the mantle. Today's poem is a quick haiku inspired by them.
Spring flashes a wide smile from
Bright yellow faces.
It didn't seem to fit right adding the haiku I wound up writing last night onto the bottom of my post about marriage rights. There was a suggestion from Shinju that we write adopting the style of another poet. I've been incorporating Basho's haiku into my artwork, so I created a little haiku dedicated to him.
Tonight I'm reflecting upon the day. The quiet in my mind as I attend to the chores of the house. At first there's some resistance - my mind is sure it wants to read or write one more thing, attend to an art project, read a novel. Then I just get up and start to tackle some chore. At the end my mind feels more clear, rested, and I really appreciate how I actually feel better. It is also gratifying to see the house in more order. It also makes me smile to hear CK sing the praises of the "Laundry Fairy" and know that it makes her days so much easier.
There is a rare
Stillness of mind
When the hands
Are set to
Of everyday life.
The hands need
No reminders or
From the mind.
They just attend
To the task
As I navigated the best decision around my date to leave work CK and I looked carefully into the question of health insurance. Ideally it would have been great to stay at work until May, I'd have had time to wrap up some projects neatly. If I left at the end of February I'd be part of a federal subsidy to pay %65 of my COBRA costs.
What stopped us was not only the expense of covering me under CK's work-sponsored health insurance plan, but the hard fact that if we opted to choose that plan the employer-paid part would be considered taxable income for her federal taxes. So many people seem to be unaware of this tax burden. When I tell them about this they are surprised and point out that I'm her partner.
Partner. Not spouse. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) makes it painfully clear that a domestic partner is not a spouse. Since I can't be a spouse I'm not entitled to a long list of spousal privileges that come with recognized marriage. Not being taxed for an employers portion of health insurance is on that list.
In Oregon we have the option of registering as domestic partners which affords us some privileges within our home state. Thanks to DOMA none of the privileges afforded to us in Oregon are required to be recognized by any other state. Thanks to Oregon's very own voters, including many in Multnomah county were we live, the State constitution was amended to declare marriage as being restricted to a single man and a single woman. Constitutionally making it clear that while we may be partners, we're not allowed to be married.
Many of my loving, wonderful friends remind me that it doesn't mean we can't get married. We can have the most beautiful ceremony possible. It will be filled with friends, family, delicious vegan food, and wonderful music. It can be just as good, no matter the legality of it.
Unfortunately I'm really very painfully stuck on the legality of it. I find myself struggling with the conflicting information that while this very body may well be the body of a Buddha and this land the Pure Lotus Land, a majority of the citizens of this world believe that I am not entitled to the same rights and privileges as anyone else. I'm welcome to what mostly unaffected heterosexuals have decided, at times very grudgingly, is "just as good" as civil marriage.
Why does "just as good" smack of the old "separate but equal" party-line?
Domestic partnership is not the same as civil marriage. It isn't. Yes, we can exchange vows in front of our friends and family. We can make a public commitment of our intention to practice and share together a wholehearted life. We can have a gorgeous reception filled with joy and dancing. It will be wonderful when it happens. I will most assuredly cry.
But at the end of the day we will not sign a marriage certificate. We will not have the same rights as the married, heterosexual couples who wish us well. It will not be fully equal.
I'm feeling better after having spoken with Mom on Friday. It was good to hear her talk about her feelings around not wanting to seek major treatment (chemo, radiation, surgery), but rather to focus on keeping present and enjoying what time she is able to. Any of the traditional treatments would really lessen her ability to experience happiness and may not be successful either. She seemed lighter about the decision, more so than I've seen her about most anything.
Despite it having some reassurance this still is very hard and it felt like I was in a funk part of today. While making dinner I was particularly mindful and present. Letting the act of creating our meal be a mediation, letting my attention focus on the simple tasks, so rich in sound and scent, settle my mind. I was gratified that applying myself to cooking this way once more helped me feel grounded.
By 7pm I admitted that my tension headache had been with me since rising from the bed and the pinch on the right side of my neck & shoulder hadn't loosened up at all. Both were resistant to ibuprofen and revisiting how I felt about the stuff with Mom at at session with GM didn't help much at all.
I decided to stay home from the women's Dharma group but was mindful to sit at the same time I'd be sitting with them had I gone. Sitting wasn't quiet, my mind was all over the place in a familiar fashion. Zazen felt somewhat restful and I was able to be accepting toward the voices. I was eventually able to shift my focus from my breath to doing Metta practice for my Mom.
Rich with sound, scent.
Nothing more is
The sound of rain on the house, particularly the upstairs rooms that are built into the attic space, under the eaves, always makes me smile. Tonight's short haiku is inspired by it.
After a welcome
Sojourn with the sun’s warm glow
March rains come again.
We rested in the morning, CK felt like she was coming down with something. We decided that hanging out at a movie with friends, as we'd planned the night before, was still something we both felt up to doing. We met up downtown to see Terry Gilliam's new movie. Afterward we got lunch from the Bombay Chaat House cart, enjoying it in the new park downtown. The day wound up at Powell's, mostly just to have coffee, and a quick shopping trip. We both really enjoyed connecting with some new friends even though we felt pretty tired as we headed home.
For today's poem I played around with the 3 line format of a 5-7-5 (syllables) haiku. Stringing several of these sets together to evoke the experience of lunch.
The square was filled with
Sunlight streaming sideways and
The sound of water.
Loud & sharp, punctuated
By impatient words,
Offset by laughter
And with appreciation.
A hum of voices.
The scent of rich food
Hung in the air, enticing,
Spent the day with Mom. It was a good day, I felt better after actually talking with her. After a lot of running around with Mom I rushed off to Beer & Blog to meet up with CK. Dinner at the carts and more hanging out - made for a really late night. I was really too burned out to write much about anything at all.
I've decided to recycle a children's board book for ABCs into an artist journal for haiku. I'm not sure yet if I'll use all my own haiku or some of mine mixed in with work by other authors. Mindful of wanting to continue the 30 Poems in 30 Days challenge and the possibility of many haiku for the book, I wrote a short haiku inspired by the afternoon.
Grey sky, white mountain.
Late afternoon sun glowing
Against winter snow.
Spent some time with a dear friend who's recovering from major surgery today. I took over a lot of my art supplies in case she wanted to be creative, but since she was feeling somewhat low, energy-wise, we just chatted and I made lunch.
GK devotes her energy to the cultivation of Love and Joy. She helps keep a small group I occasionally help facilitate called Loved Based Living to provide a place for people to nurture the Love in their life and then extend forward into the world from a place of Love. It felt very good to reconnect with her after many months.
Later I'd mindfully reflect upon the joyful moments of my day. There were many, there always are many moments of joy in each day. During this time I am especially mindful of the need to be really aware of those moments that fill my day rather than feel caught up in the worry and fear.
Present to Joy
Present to joy,
Small and large,
That fills my
I awake in health
Far better than
Especially my Mother.
I arise in next to
My Beloved and
In our own home,
Roomy, filled with art.
I venture out unhindered,
Free to move about,
Pause in appreciation
Of the sun’s brilliant
Light breaking through
Clouds and illuminating
Fiercely bright blossoms.
Yesterday I awoke feeling anxious. Had a difficult time getting to sleep and then bugged by Puck once I got sleepy. I finally tossed him out of the bedroom and closed the door a little past 1AM. In the morning I awoke after another dream where I was trying to teach yoga to a large class and no one would pay attention to me.
I could feel the desire to just stay home. There was laundry to do, food to make, art projects to make for people. A softer side of my Inner Critic just wanting us to stay safe, warm, comforted. Instead I mindfully got ready and went to a yoga class. I felt better afterward, like I nearly always do.
Yesterday's poem reflected that pull of depression under the Inner Critic's sweeter enticements.
Stay home, she says.
It is safe here, warm,
There are so many
Things to do,
That need doing.
From inside me.
Wrapping up my
Encasing it in
We are afraid.
Security I touch
The energy of effort
And leave the house.
My Mom called today to tell me I was off the hook for taking her to a 5PM doctor's appointment. I was relieved, it would have me driving from Gresham to rather near my house and back to Gresham, during some of the worst traffic. I didn't begrudge taking her at all and was glad I could, but I certainly was relieved to hear her doctor was needed in surgery.
Then she told me that the doctor was an oncologist who has treated her in the past.
It would seem that the stomach cancer she bested oh so many years ago is back. Or just a new cancer in the stomach. Either way, it is Very Bad News.
She's known for a few weeks now, from back when she was in the hospital the last time. They told her there. It had show up in her T cell counts, they'd looked there with some of the blood work they were doing.
She said she couldn't face telling anyone. She's only told her husband last week. I felt some anger that her great idea for telling me in person, because she'd wanted to avoid telling me over the phone, was to do so while on the way to an appointment with the oncologist. I'm glad she told me over the phone. I'm just glad she finally told me.
I've lived well over half my life, perhaps closer to two-thirds of my life under the shadow of my Mother's possible death. As a child it felt like icy darkness, dread of being forced to live the rest of my childhood with my aunt or my grandmother. I spent long hours sitting in waiting rooms, reading while she would get chemotherapy.
Cervical. Skin. Stomach. Breast cancer, twice. Who knows, there may be another cancer in there I'm not recalling right now. Additional problems too, angina & other heart problems, gall bladder, infections, cellulitis, and the list could go on. In and out of doctor's offices, clinics, hospitals. Always accompanied with dread.
The news hurt. It always hurts to hear she is sick, possibly hospital bound again. She doesn't want to go through another major surgery. I don't blame her. She's had radiation so many times they cannot really fall back to that. I don't recall her mentioning chemo. She said they've prescribed a lot of pain medication.
I remembered the last time she was sick and I mentioned it to Hogen. He reminded me that I know how to face this. I've had an enormous amount of practice facing the grave health of my Mother. How to keep moving forward in the face of fear.
So I moved forward. Running a number of errands we normally would have to cram into a weekend. Tasks made easier since I wasn't at work any more. The fear subsided. In it's place remains an ache, anticipatory grief for the loss that may possibly come sooner than anyone would like. Grief for myself, for bearing the burden of her fear of death throughout so much of my life. Deep grief for all the loss she's experienced, a whole lifetime of loss and very little joy.
Unsurprisingly the news has deeply touched my offering in the Poetry Challenge.
The Loss That Comes
The fear of
My Mother’s Death
Most of my life.
I’ve grown older
Immersed within it.
I easily touch
Icy, dark fear of
Being left alone.
I feel the grasping after
What was lost.
What never was.
What will never be.
I become aware of myself
Endlessly spinning around
The same mythology of
There is a certainty we
Wish to avoid.
We are dying.
From moment to moment.
First breath to
One of us.
The news comes
And the shock is
Still as startling and
Painful as it always is.
It subsides more
Quickly than when
I was a child.
Left behind is a
Dull, hollow ache of
For the loss that comes.