Blessings of an empty bed

I knew it would be hard to walk back in the door. Not this hard, though. I am completely alone in Sally Jo’s apartment, having returned from dropping Ben off at Houston Intercontinental Airport. The door closed and locked, I sat down my bag and immediately surrendered to the inevitable, inescapable and predestined mourning period this moment so deserves. I’ve been weepy for days, chalking it up to the steroids and an emerging vulnerability that stems from the sudden impermanence and unpredictability of my present circumstances. I am unsettled and out of place despite my charming, consummate accommodations. Although I reach periodic states of equilibrium while temporarily harbored in my family’s various homes across the wider Houston area, I still feel alone. I’ve not revealed this to anyone, because it feels somehow discourteous and inappreciative of the mountains my loved ones move to carry and accompany me through my current misfortune.

So when I walked into the apartment late this afternoon and saw the empty bed on the floor, perhaps it was literal solitude that triggered my overdue emotional deluge?

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I haven’t grieved that hard since I was first diagnosed, and I genuinely needed the catharsis of a good cry. This is hard. And frightening. Cancer takes so much away; a feeling of loss is pervasive. I miss my husband. I miss my pets. I miss my bed. I miss my yoga practice, friends and neighbors. I miss my extended family. Fear, anxiety, discomfort, and separation create internal toxicity and I don’t need any more of that. No one does! Deeply crying helps to purge those impurities. Tonight, I feel as if an elephant has been lifted from my chest. Of course, there is some residual. But my emotions seem decidedly more manageable.

Cancer is such a personal and internal journey, I once read. That feels, to me, true and right. There is only so much my loved ones can do for me. They understand that, and still, unquestionably step up to do so very much..and even more. They are my angels incarnate. As a very young child, Ben once inquired why I was crying as we headed to the airport for our return flight to California. “Because it’s hard to leave my family,” I explained. As he looked at me intently, he asked, “Mommy, why DID you want to move away from your family?” Of course, it’s never advisable to give a child explanations beyond their developmental stage of understanding, so I just said, “It’s very hard to explain, honey.” But had Ben possessed his current maturity, I would have told him, “It’s not that I wanted to move away from my family, but rather that I wanted to find myself.”

So tonight, sans my earlier sorrow, I once again count my blessings. I am not homeless; I am simply unsettled. Some people do become homeless while seeking medical care. I am just emotionally between here and there. But, then again, I have been since I left my Texas home in the late 1980’s. I am torn between the home of my childhood and the home of my children. And I have, undoubtedly, been blessed by this rivalry. Here I am back home in Texas, revisiting my old stomping grounds, receiving cancer treatment in the world-renowned medical center made familiar to me by my father, a doctor, and my mother and sister, both nurses. Surrounded by loving family and reconnecting with friends I’ve known for some 40+ years, Texas nourishes and sustains me, once again providing the foundation for my eventual return home to California.

As I sit here looking at the empty bed on the floor, Jackson Browne’s song, “Here Comes Those Tears Again,” plays on the JBL…My heart feels heavy. I miss having Ben here. I miss his easy-going nature, sense of humor, and intent desire to simply be near me. But, as I’m determined to find the silver linings, I consider how cancer is bringing me even closer to my adult sons. The blessing of that empty bed, for me, is that the level to which I am missing my son is a direct reflection of the depth and breadth of love I have had the privilege to know.

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When our children grow up and leave home our time together is necessarily and naturally episodic. They make the occasional guest appearance, and if you’re lucky, they may even spend the night in their childhood bed and let you cook breakfast for them. Just like old times. Ben and I had the opportunity to spend 3 weeks together in a way we wouldn’t have, otherwise. What a blessing! He was scheduled to remain at USC the entire summer, first for an Organic Chemistry class, then for a research job at Keck. Our time together was therapeutic for us both. He attended 2 Infusion Thursdays with me, along with some appointments. Seeing where and how I’m being treated provided for him a great deal of reassurance. He returns home with confidence that I am in the best of hands, surrounded by family, and on my way to becoming cancer-free. As Patrick also added, “Ben returns to California as President of the Astros Fan Club, USC Chapter.” And, a Whataburger fan, as well.

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Jacqueline’s adorable son, Evan, kept us entertained on the trip to the airport with persistent and creative requests for a trip to Chuck E Cheese, distracting me from my feelings about Ben’s departure.

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As hard as it was to see him go, I wanted him to. I need for him to remain focused on his education. He’s worked so hard for his achievements, and I couldn’t bear being a source of disruption. I’m determined not to let cancer take anything more from my family than it already has.

With Ethan scheduled to visit August 9-13, I am counting the days until I have him here all to myself. Of course, I expect to continue riding these emotional waves, so I’ll be very sad again when he leaves. But, while he’s here I’m going to soak up every moment together and store them all in my memory file under “What a lucky mom!”

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