Living with chronic illness is very difficult psychologically on a person and her family. I’ll write about the many years of Mom’s illness later… it should be written. For now, just understand that she learned to live with what most people would consider truly unbearable pain for more than a decade. Oh, and she did it alone. Her husband left her a couple of years after her diagnosis. She got by with the help of medication, cigarettes, and alcohol, but also meditation, music, bio feedback and a lot of humor and imagination.
For all her fragility, she also had a toughness. She displayed it most prominently in her humor — dark, sarcastic, and mean — and in her opinions of my significant others. She held nothing back when it came to them. These qualities were heightened over the years of isolation and as the illness progressed.
She often joked about coming back to haunt me. We’d laugh at the idea of her hiding behind doors and jumping out and scaring me like she did when I was little. Boo!
But, I also knew that there were some things she might actually haunt me for, things she was unhappy about but didn’t want to be up front about with me in life. For example, she really did not approve of my boyfriend. I could just see her ghost settling in with us someday, a cold drafty presence moving furniture around and slamming doors.
When I was about 14, my grandmother, Mom’s mama, was in the hospital with cancer. Mom came home one night from the medical center to get me and take me back to see her. On the way to the hospital, we stopped at a Wendy’s for some food. I’ll never forget: Phil Collins’ “Against All Odds” was playing on the radio and Mom got a huge chill, like something had passed through her. She looked right at me and said, “Grandmother just died.” When we got to the hospital, it was true. Grandmother had died, and Mom had known it.
Since mom and I were so close, I always figured something like that would happen to me when she died. It didn’t, though. Maybe because I was physically and psychically present with her when she left. She just left. For weeks I expected her to visit me, but she never did.
E and I had broken up about a year before she died. Now we were getting back together, and I thought for SURE Mama would make her disapproval known. I waited for her every time we got together.
Four years later she still hasn’t come.
I think it’s because Benny loves him SO MUCH. This little dog has bitten every red head he’s ever met (another story for another time), and two vet techs. One had to go the hospital for stitches! He growls at just about every person that comes near me. But he LOVES Enrique. He wags his little tootsie roll tail so fast and gets on Enrique’s lap and smothers his face with his. Enrique says the word and Benny stops barking, takes a break from his job as alpha guy.
I can’t tell you what what joy this has brought me. I feel incredibly happy when I see Benny so excited to be near Enrique. Because of Benny, I feel like I finally have Mom’s approval. Or, maybe because of Benny, I get to imagine Mom being happy for me being happy and that makes up for the guilt I felt knowing she didn’t or wouldn’t have approved.
I’ve learned a lot thinking about all the ways I’ve related to Benny, and what I project onto him. It might all be in my head, but I’m grateful for it.