Part 4: ‘On Hope’
I could not go with my mother to the doctor’s that day. Something urgent had cropped up at work, and I could not excuse myself in time for her appointment.
The feeling of guilt was familiar, but I had gotten used to it over the years. I had begun to understand that, as a caretaker, as part of a support system for someone with a long-term illness, I had to determine the limits of my capabilities as well. A caretaker was useless if she needed caretaking herself.
And the years of hospital visits and doctors’ appointments had almost desensitized my mother. Almost, because one can never be completely nonchalant about ill-health. But she had gotten used to it, and she had gotten used to dealing with most of it alone.
She rang me in the middle of the day while I was busy with work.
She was silent on the phone for a long time.
“The oncologist has officially declared that I’m in remission.”
Joy is a strange thing.
It hits you unexpectedly, from all directions, overwhelming, all-encompassing, until it settles so deeply inside you that you feel it radiating, throbbing, filling you.
It also robs you of words. You become ill-equipped at expressing what you feel. Language–your trusted companion–fails you. You’re left grasping at words that are slipping through your fingers in a tidal wave of emotion.
I must have choked something out, maybe muttered congratulations, and ended the call. Then, I excused myself to the toilet, wrapped my arms around myself, and felt years and years of tension come undone. A slow uncoiling, a strange purging.
I didn’t realize I was crying till I had difficulty breathing.
Joy is a strange thing, but oh, what a relief it is when it finally arrives.
We settled into a routine of normalcy, but the happiness, the lightness of being, lay like sparkling gossamer over the air, on our skins, in the house.
Hope had been a constant companion in the journey – how else, then, would we have found the courage to wake up every morning and get through the day? Then, Hope had been the steel-spined friend, holding our hands, forcibly dragging us along, whispering heatedly into our ears, “Don’t give up, damn it, it isn’t over yet.”
Now, Hope morphed into her more carefree sister, all fairy dust and ambrosia, the one who sang and danced and trilled, “Start living, because you’ve been given a second chance, all of you!”
And we didn’t know what to do with this giddy happiness that followed us around, twirling, sending light and love in spinning circles. Some days, I would see my mother staring quizzically at herself in the mirror, wondering. I knew something of what was going through her mind because I found myself doing the same. When too much of your time has been spent worrying and surviving and living from day to day, the freedom that comes at the end of the ordeal can be overwhelming.
A little like Stockholm syndrome, if you will. Now that this big bad monster has been banished, what happens next?
You start making space for light. You start making space for life.
You clean up the cobwebs that have taken residence in parts of you long-abandoned, and you start learning to live again. You start appreciating things that you would never have thought twice about before, like a meal well-prepared, or a bus that arrives on time, or the startling colours of an equatorial sunset. You become more conscious of your fears, and you become more patient with yourself because you have a legitimate reason to fear needles and hospitals and sickening grey walls. You learn to slowly, slowly, let your fears and your frustrations go.
Ultimately, you allow yourself to start from scratch.
And you realize that you are truly more than what you thought you were yesterday. And that you will be more tomorrow than what you thought you were today.
I catch my mother giving herself a small smile now and then. The smile of a victor, who’s still surprised and a little confused, now that she’s made it. I recognize the smile because I have seen it on myself.
I pocket these little smiles to remember them as a testament that life, though hard, has been well-lived.