The past couple of days have been full of family events and unexpected surprises—from celebrating my parents 56th anniversary with our daughters to play dates and a surprise visit from my brother Ignacio.
Needless to say, writing time has been minimal to non-existent!
This morning I went with Papi to his doctor visit, and it reminded me of a crisis time years ago when writing time was simply not optional. It was a survival tool for me, an intimate and personal source for managing and processing all that was going on in my life.
From my book, The Journey: a Guide for the Modern Pilgrim, co-authored with my husband Michael:
When our family first learned about my mom’s colon cancer, I felt compelled to write down every nuance of that experience. Like a cleansing shower after a workout, I would come home from a visit to the hospital or a chemotherapy session and start writing.
On January 28 of that year I noted, “There is a nurse at the doctor’s office whose care and compassion for mom and for the other patients is deep and evident. When Tori comes to connect her to the IV, she brings her rollaway chair as close to Mom as she can and she touches Mom’s arms softly, tenderly, as if her skin was the softest material she’s ever felt. She is looking for a good vein, which at this point [in the chemotherapy] is hard to find.
The last two times she’s been “lucky,” she said, and she was able to find a vein on her first stick. When she doesn’t get it, she apologizes to Mom with such feeling, truly aware that every little pain only increases the big pains. It’s not that we feel less when things get bigger, it’s rather that we feel more. We feel everything, especially when it comes to pain. Every experience of pain makes us less willing, more fearful, which is why feeling and loving become a more deliberate choice.
“Tori’s gentle way,” I continued, “does not go unnoticed by Mom, who always takes note and tries to smile and appreciate her even as Tori is poking her! The past two sessions she has even collected a bag full of samples of “Boost” bars, puddings, cans––to help Mom keep up her strength even as she continues to loose her appetite more and more each day. The most noticeable change to me is in Mom’s eyes.”
During those long months, I wanted––and needed––to write down every detail that I noticed, about the doctor, about the room, about the new foreign language that the medical professionals used, expecting us to know what it all meant. I wanted to record my emotions, though I often had no clue how to label the tornado of feelings whirling inside me. I wanted to pray, on paper, what I couldn’t pray out loud. Sometimes to fight with God. But more often to simply write on paper what it felt like to mourn the fact that my mother was no longer the woman I remembered.
Even as I sat by her, hearing her breathing next to me, I was deeply aware that I was watching my mother dying, not today or tomorrow. But simply aware of and acknowledging her death. I couldn’t say those things out loud, so I wrote them. I didn’t want to just survive through that year and a half of surgery and chemotherapy, I wanted it to become a true pilgrimage of whatever it was that God was showing me, telling me, through my mom’s experience. And journaling became a fundamental tool in this process.