Hasta la Vista, Tio Bobbo

Three years ago today, when I was exactly 37 weeks pregnant with my second daughter, I stood together with my cousins and my aunt, and we held my uncle’s hand as he slowly passed away.

Maybe one day I will be able to describe what it feels like to help someone you love dearly to leave this world when you are on the cusp of ushering another soul into it. It’s been three years since it happened to me, and I still can’t find the words I need. All I can say is that, before the moment of my uncle’s death, I had both seen life end and brought life forth and neither of those experiences touched me as profoundly, as radically, as that moment did.

It was cancer that killed my uncle. It seems like it’s always cancer in my family. Before it took my uncle, it had already taken my mother, my grandfather, and my other uncle. Cancer stalked and killed four-fifths of my mother’s family. That may sound melodramatic, but it feels true. Cancer took my husband’s mother too, and his uncle and a grandmother as well. It has been such a huge part of my life, that sometimes I forget I am not a survivor of the disease myself.

Or maybe I am? I am a survivor of those who have fought the battle and been overcome by a disease that seems never to pull its punches. Really, so is anyone who has lived through even one day of the fear and the pain; the chemo and the radiation; the treatments that are even worse than the disease, whether they won or lost that final battle. My whole family, then, both the living and the dead, are cancer survivors.

So this post is for them all, because I love them. But mostly it’s for my Uncle Bob, the best uncle a girl could hope for and one of the finest humans I have ever known.

Hasta La Vista, Tio Bobbo

Hasta La Vista, Tio Bobbo

 

Of Cabbages and Kings

Nearly six years ago my cousin and I became pregnant at virtually the same time with our first children. We had been best friends — sisters, almost — since I was adopted into our family when I was six weeks old and she was seven months old. By the time we were married, we had been together through life’s most important moments, from slumber parties in my basement, to those first awkward preteen dances, to the deaths of my mom and her dad of cancer. She was the maid of honor at my wedding, just like I was at hers. So embarking on motherhood together seemed only natural.

When we found out we were pregnant, we starting talking daily, by email and by phone, sharing every detail of that miraculous new experience just like we had shared everything else from the time we were babies.

Mostly we talked about digestion and bladder control. We talked a lot about our bellies, gleefully marking their progress as they inflated into cute little bumps, then observing with mutual dismay and trepidation as those bumps began to spread in all directions, taking over our bodies and, in many ways, our identities. When we weren’t focused on the gross underpinnings of pregnancy we touched on the deeper stuff, like the terrible, overwhelming responsibility we were taking on and our dreams for the beautiful, brilliant, powerful girls we hoped to raise.

Our daughters were born 15 hours apart. Mine came in the evening, and hers came the following morning. Our conversations continued, but we stopped talking about our bodies and started talking about our babies. The topic we discussed the most was still digestion, but not our own. We called each other on the phone every single morning between 9:00 and 9:15, and it was because of those phone calls that we made it through our first year of motherhood.

The things we talked about were things that women have talked about for as long as we could communicate with one another. We had no earth-shattering insights. Our pregnancy-era emails may have provided a few NSA agents with a little amusement — and probably some measure of disgust — but beyond that our conversations contributed little to the enlightenment of humanity. In a word, they were mundane.

Except that they weren’t. For us, those conversations were life-changing. They deepened old bonds, which had been created before we were even aware of ourselves as individuals, and formed new ones. Our conversations filled in spaces that we didn’t even know we had. They may not have elevated humanity, but they elevated us.

And as I became aware of those newly-filled spaces, a thought that had been lingering in the back of my mind for many years came to the forefront: when women come together, without fear or self doubt or competition getting in the way, we connect. We empower one another, not just to do amazing things, but to be more complete versions of ourselves. When we are listening to each other, we have the ability to cross vast divides to meet each other in fellow feeling. We are strengthened and improved through each other. And more importantly, we accomplish these things with no special effort, through our ordinary, every day conversations.

So every conversation we have with one another, whether it be about our greatest hopes and deepest fears or about the contents of our children’s diapers, we are supporting, affirming, changing each other.

Not so mundane after all, I suppose.

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”*

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There
*For my literary-minded readers — yes, I am taking liberties with this quote.