I go to visit my grandmother after she gets out of rehab, following a nasty tumble down the stairs. I've talked to her, as usual, on our Friday night phone calls, but ... something seems off. She drifts, seems to forget she's talking to me, seems ready to hang up as soon as she answers the phone. I'm worried, but my uncle has assured me that it's just a medicine mix-up, and that it's all under control.
Shortly into our visit, I realize that nothing is under control. My uncle is somehow missing the fact that my grandmother is not acting lucidly, that she's easily confused, that her pain is not being managed well. As we talk, he seems to realize that things are worse than he recognized, and I can see that neither of them are sure what the hell comes next.
I have no idea what comes next, except now I am volunteering to stay on the couch, and help with meds and her PT almost before I knew I was thinking it. I was meant to stay for a few days, but - on the first free day that I went home, to shower and refill my pills and gather some supplies and whatnot - I don't make it as far as my house before I am filled with an overwhelming fear, only manage to make it to my room and close the door behind me before I am sobbing uncontrollably. The only thing I am sure of is that I need to be there, because they need me, even though I will be able to solve nothing, even though there is no possibility of fixing this.
And that was the last night I spent anywhere but my Grandmother's couch until three weeks after she passed away.
This time, my mother and I have planned to come down to my brother and sister-in-law's house every Thursday, and at least one other day during the week, to clean the house and distract & feed the children, and just... be supportive. The cancer is stage 4: we are hoping for miracles, but know how unlikely they are. We do not care. She does not care, and so treatment continues.
We are there two consecutive Thursdays, straightening things up and moving all their shit into neater piles, and helping the (not so) littles with their homework - basically doing the busywork of life that falls to the side when you're too sick to do anything but sleep and take your meds.
My brother slowly seems to understand that we are here to help and not to just mess with his shit, and starts confiding how scared he is, how desperately hard this is becoming, how he doesn't know if he's going to be able to do it. On Facebook, he cracks a 'joke' about Stage 4 Cancer and spousal weight loss, and I can see how tightly he is holding on to his edges, how close he is to his private apocalypse, and I ask how I can help.
He tells me he trusts me more than anyone else, and he needs someone he can trust. He needs someone. I know how to be someone, and I push aside the thoughts of how often I need a someone and can find no one, push aside all of the non-essential elements of my own brand of being sick, and transition into helper-mode. I make schedules and organize paperwork and calendars. I make sure someone else will always be here, even if that someone else usually winds up being me.
Not being able to drive, and Mom having a job now, and scarce/uneven coverage during the day, mean that it's much easier to just camp out in their comfy chair, to claim a corner of the living room as my own. Sleepover almost never-ending, for now. For today.
And here there is hope, and here there are treatments, and here there is still that irreversible diagnosis waiting for us at some end, but it isn't now.
For now, I try to coax my sister-in-law to eat more than three bites of noodles, of pizza, of absolutely anything, and lament that radiation makes everything taste like chalk. For now I keep med schedules and daily logs and ask otherwise inappropriate questions about bathroom habits, and hope that, somehow, she will forgive me. For doing her kids' homework with them and making decisions about whether they can go over their friend's houses; for camping out on her couch when she probably just wants to be alone; for following her into another room when she can't really tell that her feet are tangled in the oxygen cord.
For all the little things that piss me off the most when I'm sick, and I try so hard to avoid, but somehow, occasionally, still slip out. For poaching and nagging and making a sad face when I think she's not looking.
That's how it happens - how, piece by piece, I become a fixture in someone else's story, someone else's home, someone else's days. How I turn off my own life - just for this little while - in the hopes of helping. Just Helping. Sweet jesus, just Let Me Help.
In case you were wondering. -
And a lot of people seem to be, and aren't exactly nice when they inquire - "How can you take care of someone else, when you can barely take care of yourself?" they ask. You're right - taking care of me is a struggle. Every. Single. Day. But a lot of that struggle is sitting around, laying around, distracting myself from the pain. Turns out; it's not that much harder to do in somebody else's living room, watching over them while they rest. Waking them up every few hours to try and get them to eat. Reminding them to take their pills when your alarm goes off for you to take your own.
Not saying it isn't hard. Because it's draining as hell and I couldn't be sorer outside of a 5-alarm-flare, but ... it's worth it. To be able to make her smile when I poke fun at my brother. To make my brother be able to go to work without having a panic attack. To hug some kiddos and let them pretend during a game of War. To talk to her sister and let her know that she matters to us too, that Sister-in-law is a part of our family, and that means that her sister can cry on my shoulder any day. To learn more about her, filing away bits and pieces for tomorrows.
If it's something that winds up being too physically taxing - and it already is, it always is - then that's a thing I'll deal with. Because there are a lot of parts of my life I have had to shut down, turn away from, pretend don't matter, and this is one area I'm just not willing to do that with.
But in case you were wondering, that's how it happens.