Rosemary’s cancer has recurred and is in her lymph nodes. We learned of the diagnosis on our second day of vacation in Maine. We returned immediately to the city for three weeks of doctor appointments, tests, and–even more stressful—waiting for test results. We cry, we laugh, we hold each other, we anguish at what lies ahead. She did everything right the first time; this is not fair. With each test result, we exult or sink into despair. With each doctor’s visit, we hope for a plan, a strategy as to how our lives will proceed for the next year. But the oncologist needs more data, more MRIs, ultrasounds, and biopsies. We wait. We wait.
In the midst of these medical appointments, we move into a new apartment—a move that we have been awaiting for months. We live in the new apartment in its final stages of being gut-renovated—no refrigerator, no running water in the bathroom vanity, no place to unpack our boxes until the insides of the closets are installed. We sit on the couch and try to keep out of the way of the six workmen who are tripping over each other in our little 750 square foot apartment.
Charlottesville happens. In June, we visited Charlottesville for the first time, and the images of now familiar streets make the action there seem closer to home. The follow-up, the disclaimers from the man who should be leading us, redouble the horror. North Korea threatens and is met by mad sword-rattling. The tremors in my personal world are magnified by a paradigm-shifting nation. Is there nowhere to look for stability and goodness?
I learn from a post on Facebook that my best friend from high school died. We were very close in high school, in the way that teen-age girls were then, sitting next to each other in history class, writing notes in study hall, listening to music with our little circle of friends, sharing secrets in our bedrooms, and then calling on the phone as soon as we returned home. In recent years, we have been in contact through Facebook and occasional emails, and have only seen each other once a year—summers, when we both returned to Maine. Still Janet’s death shakes me.
We learn the lessons of cancer, focus on better things and rediscover blessings—a strong friend network of generous people who water our garden, rescue our car from the Connecticut train station, house our food in their refrigerator, help us unpack, and accompany Rosemary to doctor appointments when I cannot make it. Our renovation contractor steps up the activity to finish our apartment faster. Rosemary finds a centering place through meditation sessions offered by the hospital. She buys the CD and we meditate together, one earbud each.
A steady stream of good wishes pour in. Each morning, a friend emails a picture of the ocean or nature, a photo she takes as she walks her dog. Another friend sends a funny poem that brings me to tears. A link to a Pema Chödrön meditation tape arrives in my inbox. Our daughter FaceTimes each day from Boston so Rosemary can spend time with her and our two-and-a-half year old grandson, who makes her smile–and sometimes cry. “I just want to see him grow up,” she explains. Our older daughter’s new partner flies in from the West Coast to meet us. We like him. He sends flowers to Rosemary on the day of her oncology appointment. We have a fun evening on the town with him and our daughter and our niece. My writing group surrounds me with love and good advice: stay present, they say.
We relearn the meaning of carpe diem, holding each precious moment in our hands and breathing it in. On a warm, sunny, Sunday afternoon, we take a boat ride around Manhattan, an architectural tour suggested by a friend. The classic teak and mahogany boat takes us around the Statue of Liberty, up the East River to a tree-lined, bucolic afternoon, and then down the narrow Harlem River where we then burst out onto the wide Hudson and pass under the George Washington Bridge.
We treat ourselves to a meal or three at our favorite restaurants; after all, without a refrigerator and with several men working in your apartment all day, it is not easy to cook. Each night, before sleeping, we rewatch an episode of Grace and Frankie, skipping the two episodes about the friend who dies of cancer. Our daughter from the West Coast arrives a second time to help us unpack. We plan a couple days away at my sister’s place on the Long Island sound.
Today we meet with the oncologist, hope once again for a plan that will, at least momentarily, provide structure to the unknown. We remember that this is life—embracing fleeting moments of love and wonder in a transient world or, as Rosemary would say, “We are making memories.”