I spoke too soon about my grandmother’s nose. While I was surprised it hadn’t been completely taken off as I was led to believe by my mom, her cancer has gotten worse. After the initial surgery to cut out the Merkel cancer, it returned and she had to have a second operation to go in and take out more. They took the tip of her nose. They already have another surgery scheduled. They are going to remove her nose completely. And her dementia is worsening. She doesn’t even know what’s going on. She thinks she’s getting a brand new nose. She’ll be lucky to get a prosthetic one.
My uncle, her primary caretaker, is also suffering from a touch of dementia as well. So, he can’t take care of her. Enter my mother, who has to do it all.
While my mother was gone to be with my grandmother for her second surgery earlier this month, my dad had a birthday. I gave him a card and he set me down and we had a conversation. Like, an actual conversation. Well, what could be equated to an actual conversation. He mostly talked to me and my responses mostly went ignored as he continued with his monologue. He was the one who told me the doctors were going to take off my grandmother’s nose. I was at work during her second surgery when Mom called Dad and told him and then he told me.
He also told me that he was getting a promotion at his job. Sounds like good news. But he doesn’t want to take it. He doesn’t want all the extra responsibility. In fact, he was planning on retiring in the next year or so. But due to insurance, he wants to keep his job. He’s worried about my mom’s job. Her hours have been cut at work the past couple of weeks. This isn’t an abnormal occurrence but it still worries them. I guess he’s worried about retiring and then Mom might lose her job and then they’ll be in trouble.
My hours have been cut at work as well. In half. Again, this isn’t abnormal. And they always get cut after Christmas. It’s a slow time. But things have been going downhill since the middle of last year. My hours have steadily decreased and I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t so temporary after all. So, I’m not really contributing to the family and I think everyone is aware of that. Since they don’t think I’m going to step up, my dad is, taking on a position he doesn’t want and picturing himself working about five years more than he had originally planned, just to help keep up afloat.
I asked him why he would take it if he didn’t want to and he repeated that he did it because of my mom. He’ll be making more money and having more responsibility but he is doing it to support her, both financially and I suppose as a gesture of love. My chest felt like ice cubes dipped in hot chocolate. I know my dad loves my mom and my sister and me. He just doesn’t say it. But he shows it, in those kind of ways, ways a man raised to be hard shows his love. It’s with money. It’s with hard work. It’s with doing the kind of things you don’t want to do in order for your family to be more comfortable. And that was great. And that was the hot chocolate feeling. But I didn’t want him to be unhappy with his new position. That’s where the ice cubes come into play. And I told him this. He shook his head in a dismissive manner. “I’ll just have to learn to like it,” he said.
He works with my uncle and so he’s seen the progression of his mental deterioration as well. He told me it’s getting worse. They often have to work out of town and he told me my uncle’s balance is so bad that he is constantly falling out of the work vehicles and often falls out of the small hotel showers. The past few times I saw my uncle, I did notice he was covered in small scratches.
This past Saturday, I came home and found my cat Moses beside my bed. He was lying on the ground in an unusual manner, his rump sticking out from underneath the bed. An odor of wet excrement wafted up from his location. This wasn’t new. He’d been having stomach issues for the past several months, a revolving door of constipation or diarrhea. And although it wasn’t my favorite job, I grabbed the pet wipes and tried to pick him up to wipe his rear end.
I picked him up and he whined. I put him down and looked at him. His sides expanded and contracted at a fast pace. A worrisome pace. I stood there for a while, took a deep breath, and picked him up again. He grabbed at my bed but I held him against my chest and took him to the den where there was more light so I could see.
Once I made it to the den, Moses meowed in pain and squirmed in my arms. I bent over to lay him down on the ground when he swiped his paw at my face and dug his nail into my nose. He ran from my arms and I went to the bathroom. I’m very anal about my face so I flipped on the bathroom light to see the damage. It felt like his whole nail had gone through my nose but once I inspected it, it was more of a deep scratch. I put some alcohol on it and then went back to Moses.
He was in the dining room and hiding underneath the dining room table, his breathing labored again. My stomach tingled now. I knew this wasn’t good.
I went to reach for Moses and he whined again. And then he looked like he was trying to throw up, his bony shoulders rising as he retched. I stood up and walked from the living room to the dining room, my stomach vibrating now, like a cell phone buzzing in my bowels.
Ohgodohgodohgod this is it.
I went back to Moses and he had drool hanging from his mouth. I’d never seen that before. My own breathing became labored. I didn’t know what to do.
I went into my parents bedroom and…and then I didn’t know what to do again.
“Mom, Dad…” I started. Mom woke up. “I…uh…Moses. It doesn’t look good.” And the buzzing in my stomach shot up into my throat. Out of nowhere, I started sobbing.
“I know,” she said. “He was really sick earlier today.” She got out of bed and I covered my face. The tears came in short, stabbing bursts. “We tried to call the vets we knew but they weren’t open,” she continued. “No one answered the emergency numbers we called.”
I stood to the side as Mom moved past me to check on Moses. I paced the den again and tried to collect myself. I thought I had prepared myself for this moment. He hadn’t looked good for a long time. There was always a piece of me that worried it was going to happen soon, that he didn’t have much longer. But I tried to shrug it off. He was old. He wasn’t as quick. He had some tummy troubles but he wasn’t in terrible shape. It was just old age at work. He was okay. He was okay.
But he wasn’t.
Nothing feels right…”
-Sufjan Stevens, That was the Worst Christmas Ever!
About three weeks ago, as I was getting ready to go to work, Mom started assembling the Christmas tree. It was our old artificial tree we’ve had for years. As much as I always wanted a real tree, artificial ones didn’t shed and didn’t cost any extra money each year. So, artificial it’s always been.
As she untangled the lights and checked for broken ornaments, the phone rang. It was my grandmother complaining about a pain in her arm. Mom stopped what she was doing and tried to get a doctor’s appointment. As I walked out of the door, I saw the frustration in my mom’s face. No one was available. I told Mom to text me with updates while I was at work, knowing she wouldn’t. She never did. But she said she would and I went to work.
I came home, having never gotten a text message, and found Mom finishing up the tree.
“Looks good,” I said.
“Eh, it’s leaning.”
I stepped back and saw that it did have a severe curvature going on. I’d noticed the leaning in previous years but it was always slight, maybe from a few too many ornaments on one side or from the sections not being properly secured in their notches. But this lean was looking legit, like it was an old man trying to grab the wall for support.
“Oh, well, it’ll have to do,” my mom said as she plugged in the tree lights. It burst into a warm glow and sprayed light onto the wall like a gold sneeze.
“How’s Grandmother?” I asked.
Mom sighed. “Well, I never could get a hold of anyone but I got dressed and went to see her and she was fine after she took some medication.”
“Well, that’s good,” I said. Mom had been chauffeuring my grandmother around to different doctors due to her skin cancer and other ailments and had looked forward to a quiet day of decorating at home. It always seemed like something came up any time Mom made plans to relax. I feared those quiet days at home were going to become less and less.
“We’re gonna have to get another tree,” Mom said as she cocked her head to the side, examining it. “Even the ornaments are starting to fray and wear.”
She wasn’t incorrect but I didn’t think it looked too bad. Although worn down, it was all much better than our old trees. Mom used to use the multi-colored lights and an assortment of mismatched ornaments that my sister and I had made in art class or that she’d been given by friends and family, hand-painted and pretty putrid. But after years of sentimental spruces, Mom chunked the old tree, boxed up the clay ornaments with my initials and the year on the bottom, and bought a brand new fake tree with a set of matching ornaments.
I always thought our newest tree had a bit more class with its gold and burgundy balls flecked with glitter, ornate crosses and silken ribbon tied in bows, cohesive gold lights, and glittered sticks pierced through small burgundy and gold orbs like kabobs placed atop the tree in a starburst pattern. But we’ve had that setup for several years now. The tree is showing signs of age, it’s spine leaning, the weight of years of Christmases finally taking its toll. Maybe next Christmas is time a fresh start.
My grandmother’s health has been declining over the past few years. It’s been in small stages. She’s fallen. She’s developed arthritis. She’s become forgetful. She can’t start sentences without stopping to correct herself. She’s become slovenly. She’s frequently light-headed and has intense, reoccurring bouts of shoulder pain. My mother takes her to the doctor to soothe the aches and check on the pains. These trips used to be infrequent but with each day, there seems to be a new ailment that needs to be mended and monitored, so now the ventures are commonplace.
And now my grandmother has skin cancer. Specifically, Merkel Cell Carcinoma, a particularly rare and aggressive form of cancer that is not playing around.
It started when my mother noticed a growth on my grandmother’s nose. They went to the doctor to get it checked out. There was a series of appointments and a biopsy. That’s when they got the cancer diagnosis. They were referred to another doctor. Between doctor visits, the growth grew in size and severity. Like I said, this cancer doesn’t joke. It spreads fast.
It was decided by her doctor that the cancer had to be cut out. There was a possibility it could even spread to her lymph nodes. I worried because her surgery was scheduled about two weeks after her latest appointment. What if the cancer got worse in the mean time?
Surgery day came and while I was at work, Mom texted me with updates. The cancer had not spread to her lymph nodes but the doctor did take a large chunk out of my grandmother’s nose.
Afterward, they spoke with a plastic surgeon who offered some not-so-great options for reconstructive surgery, including pulling her forehead skin down or pulling her cheek over and using the tissue to fill in the gap in her nose. These methods would mean multiple surgeries, all of which would require my grandmother to go under anesthesia again, and at her age, it doesn’t seem like a good idea.
It’s especially not a good idea because not only has my grandmother lost her nose but she’s essentially losing her mind as well. My mom told me she suspected my grandmother is suffering from mild dementia. I could have told her that. I’ve noticed it for years now. I don’t know if my mom has only started noticing it due to being around my grandmother so much due to the multiple doctor visits or if she’s just been in denial and can no longer refute the obvious.
I wasn’t going to mention this because I hate when people talk to me about dead or dying animals and I wanted to spare you all that uncomfortable reading experience. But something happened recently that I think is worthy of writing about. If you’re sensitive to such matters, you can skip this one.
Anne-Marie: Charlie, will I ever see you again?
Charlie: Sure you will, kid. You know goodbyes aren’t forever.
Anne-Marie: Then goodbye, Charlie. I love you.
Charlie: Yep… I love you too.
-All Dogs go to Heaven
Our family dog, Sam, passed away in October. He was 14-years-old. It was a sad time but he had advanced in age and I saw it coming. So when it happened, I was prepared. I was sad but I was also relieved that he was no longer hurting.
Our family dog, Sam, that we had for fourteen years passed away in October. My dad took him to the vet after we’d noticed he’d been acting strangely. The vet informed my dad Sam had suffered a stroke some time earlier. Sam was given medication but it didn’t help. A few days later, he passed away.
It was a sad time but because of his advanced age, concerning behavior, and grim vet visit, and I saw it coming and so when it did happen, I was prepared. I was upset but also relieved because I knew he wasn’t in pain any longer. For a few days after the vet, I lived in a fog of intense worry, scared each day would be the day he’d die because he was getting worse but also hoping it would go ahead and happen so he wouldn’t continue to suffer.
I thought my dad would take him back to the vet and have him put to sleep. And maybe that was his plan. But he didn’t have to. Sam knew it was time and walked to the pasture behind our back yard. He laid down under a tree and closed his eyes for the last time.