For about two months now, I’ve had some unexplained chronic intermittent pain. About three weeks ago, I figured it wasn’t going to resolve itself, and that it might be a bad thing, so I got myself to the doctor. Four chest films, two physical exams, one mammogram, and one round of blood tests later, there’s more left unknown than known.
I’m not one to relax in a “I’m sure it will all be fine” haze. I’ve Googled my symptoms and found terrifying possibilities, of course – Is it possible to Google symptoms and come away reassured?. Beyond the online search results, though, I’m worried because we’re ruling out the no-big-deal options. I have a referral to see a surgeon in about a week, for a fresh perspective. I’m trying to stay optimistic, but I’m worried. I come from a family that takes a strange sort of comfort in planning for the worst, so that’s what I’ve been doing when I can’t sleep at night. In the face of potential turns of fate and events beyond my control, I find solace in trying to look the most frightening possibility in the eye, crafting a list of next steps, a scary “if…then” road map that will guide me through days that I hope do not come.
The worst possible thing, the thing I’ve been trying to look right at, is the possibility of leaving my children alone, without a mother. Just typing that makes me cry.
In the midst of all of these tests and visits to the doctor, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre stopped me cold and broke my heart. It’s the other worst possible thing at the top of my list: Outliving my children.
My thoughts had been centered on what I might need to do to prepare my daughters for a life without me, if that’s what this pain ends up meaning. And then I was reminded that there are no guarantees, that we are all mortal, souls in very fragile bodies, each of us with a physical death approaching. I pray for health and long days for myself and my loved ones; for everyone, really. But prayers aren’t always answered. What I’ve been reminded of is that every moment matters, every chance we have to be present for each other and to love each other is what really matters, most especially if we aren’t lucky in the length of days department.
So when I’m trembling in fear of the unknown, I take a deep breath and find a way to show my children that I love them. Even the mundane, the loads of laundry and lunches packed, take on a love-soaked and precious hue when I think about how much I’d miss not being here to do these things.
All of this thinking about mortality and fate have made this a rather fraught holiday season for me. I’m grateful to be here now with my children, my family, and my friends. And I’m praying that we’ll have many years more together. At the same time, I’m soaking up the moments, aware that I don’t know how many more nights of dreidel spinning I’ll have with my girls, how many more pans of latkes I’ll fry up.
Not one of us knows what the future holds for us or our children. We find a way to put that knowledge into perspective and keep it from turning us desperate with anxiety each day. Then things like the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary or personal health issues stop us in our tracks and remind us to make the most, the very most, of every moment we have; to love each other, and to work for a better world, whether or not we’ll be here to enjoy it.
I’m hoping and praying that what I’ll take away from my pain, in my body and in my heart, is fresh energy to do just that.