So much has changed since you heard the word cancer through the phone last year in June. You knew nothing was going to be the same - at least in theory - but nobody ever really knows what to expect, do they?
You should have known, but how could you have known? It was an inconvenient fact at first, a technicality. It shrouded itself in chores, tasks, and the frenzy that comes with a move.
You all gather in San Diego shortly after hearing the news. You bring the family there from Oakland, Annie comes down from Pasadena. That day everyone goes out to take family photos. It’s a perfect June day, the pulsing heat from the sun radiating off the lawn. The family finds an open field nearby and the kids romp in the field. You set up your tripod and assemble everyone together.
At the moment people seem calm, poised. You hold Mom’s hand and she looks at you with tears in her eyes. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
You snap photos of the family, in different configurations. Your family, Esther’s family, Mom and Dad. Click, click. You bring out the bubble machine for the kids, who chase the bubbles and roll over laughing, screaming, chasing each other. Total chaos. Click, click.
You ask Mom to stand framed by the trees. The light is soft on her. You square up and turn the camera body, focus, and snap a series of photos. She smiles brightly. You step back and everybody’s eyes are wet.
The portrait is perfect. Mom’s in a patterned dress and a sheer cardigan, facing the camera straight on. Her eyes gaze at you warmly, but they also hide some sadness. You regret at once taking this photo, because it makes her seem so alone. She’s the only one of us who is to travel this road.
In your mind, you think - this is the photo that we’ll show at her funeral. Of course, not immediately. In many many long years, God willing.
You move in September, a whirlwind departure, and arrive in San Diego and live nearby your sister and also to your parents.
Your therapist at first doesn’t seem very helpful. Isn’t he supposed to help you process? Can we get any of this grieving stuff out of the way? Never mind the fact that at the outset, everyone is fine.
It bothers you a little. Everyone is smiling. People are praying. Mom and Dad are the ones who seem to have the most faith. Is it just you? But you’re also consumed with the grind of daily life - childcare and expecting your daughter, the stressors of COVID and remote work.
The glimmer of cancer and death at times feel blissfully far, far away. But it’s always there, approaching slowly.
The last months have been taxing on Mom’s body. Chemotherapy treatments and an endless stream of health complications have stolen her weight and her energy.
You remember that, though you believe you know the end, you aren’t there yet. This weekend was full of joy - of family from far away, coming to visit and eat together and celebrate, amidst the backdrop of sickness. Mom lies on a couch or in bed many days. You come up alongside her and just hold her hand and smile and give her a squeeze. She’s frail now - skin and bones. But she’s still there, mustering up the energy to keep recovering and staying strong. Keeping the faith.
You take a photo of the entire family - faces old and new fill the frame. Mom is seated, next to her sister and her mother. She’s smiling: visibly exhausted, deeply happy, far from alone.