Day Dreams and Night Terrors
Helene, the proverbial middle child, is in the hospital tonight, sending us all into our versions of hell as we fret the night away wondering what the morning will bring. Fighting what? Pneumonia? A blood clot? Maybe, but really just cancer.
The cancer that has been lurking and loafing and lumbering around her body and our lives these past four years since Tony died and left us all bereft in the way that only losing a child to war can do.
It was Tony’s dying that today let’s us have Hélène living. After any service related death the wonderful men and women who watch us in the field also have our backs at home and insisted that those closest to Tony, the most viscerally affected, get complete checkups, something we had, as a family, not been able to convince Hélène her nagging cough had warranted.
It was there and then they found the lung cancer. Stage IV. Not good.
But Hélène, the soldier that she is, marched to a different band than the rest of us hysterics, one backed up by a chorus of faithful that sang louder and stronger than the “Sky Is Falling” back up bitches that we all became in various forms and at various times.
With as large a family as we roll in, you might expect and would not be surprised to get the gamut of practical and emotional and reactive responses that we have oh-so-typically demonstrated throughout the process.
And the process has been continual…..for four years now.
To our delight but not our surprise, Hélène dove into the deep end of the pool and learned to swim in the murky waters of Cancer Care with a clarity of vision and serenity of soul that led the rest of us through the dark woods of our wanderings and into a clearing, however temporary we did not know, where we could catch our breath, feel the sunlight, and follow her lead back down the path to the people and the family that we have always been.
Through “good” numbers (and there are such things even in the midst of these battles; we all cheer when the cancer markers are down and the emotional markers are up) and the “bad” ones, Hélène has had the steady hand of a sailor on the tiller of her ship, guided in no small part by her faith, a faith that I said from the very beginning of this adventure would carry her safely through to port, whatever harbor that was to be.
The rest of us have been and will continue to be varying degrees of Hot Messes.
This is our normal state as a family so why should a major illness, like any other bump in the road, make our reactionary riotism any more or less evident than normal; it simply gives us an external focus if you will and, for a time, a reason d’etre for dizzying dives into momentary madness.
But therein also lies the strength and the core of a wild, wide, and diverse family: we’ve got this.
When one sister is melting down and raising the white flag of surrender to the power of panic, there’s a brother, or a nephew, or a mother, or another cadre of sisters that step in and surround the scary with love and limit its lifespan to as few frightening moments or fitful nights as possible and, along with Hélène at the helm, we’re back on course, keel down instead of ass up.
I’ve had my sleepless nights, I’m having one now. Something told me when I awoke at 0 dark thirty to check my night-silenced phone. It was lit up like Bourbon St at Mardis Gras and when Corinne and Mimi lead the number and message lists, I snap to. This was not a sisterly 3am “Hey dude, how’s your holiday” string.
This is a hospital, group text, mass message, call to arms, bugle-me-awake sorta call.
And so I pause.
I try and breathe.
I try and not panic.
I try and not project. (How can I get plane fights out of Key West during Spring Break? And wait………didn’t I have this exact problem LAST year when my husband had a heart attack this very week 3,000 miles away? It’s now 4am, how early is too early to call/txt someone in the know? How many hours does it take to drive from Key West to D.C? What can I do when I get there?)
Tomorrow, in 2 hours to be precise, I’ll be on The Yankee Freedom III (what kind of name is that for a Caribbean Catamaran?) skimming across the Gulf of Mexico towards a TINY, tiny coral atoll so close that, to re-coin an iconic popular political gaff of recent memory; “I can see Cuba from my deck!”.
Hopefully I’ll have some cellular service and call Hélène directly, assess her voice and her demeanor myself, listen carefully to what she has to say, and then I will act accordingly. Calmly.
The rest of the sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces and extensions of the family core will all fall into line, behind Hélène, as we have done from the start of this ersatz family adventure; think Chevy Chase with a really, REALLY, bad sense of humor…….but one that still make you do spit-takes of laughter at the inappropriateness of life in general.
And what I have said form Day One will come to be.
Hélène, of all of us, will be fine. She has the Family Faith locked up in a vault in her heart that nothing is going to touch. It’s up to the rest of us to believe as much as she does and we will be fine too.