penny in a castle

A digital chapbook.


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Last weekend was Thanksgiving in our northern country.

I have many things to give thanks for.  I live in a peaceful country in a quiet neighbourhood, where war happens on TV and violence happens to somebody else.  I have a well paying job that, on balance, I find challenging and rewarding – one that I know many people would love to trade places with me for.  I have a roof over my head and I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. My husband, children and I are all in good health. We have access to a good medical system and a fantastic school down the street.  We have friends, neighbours and family who support us and who we know will catch us if we fall.

I am so grateful to be so lucky.

But this year, I have an extra special reason to be thankful. Last year at this time, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  After limited reading about it I realized that the statistics were against us from the beginning.  We had an early Thanksgiving, with my brother visiting from far away.  We had several difficult discussions, my brothers and I – I didn’t want to sugar coat things and yet, I wanted to believe in my siblings’ optimism – the five percent of hope dangling in front of us.

My mom went in for surgery – hoping they would be able to do the Whipple procedure. This is the Hail Mary Pass of all surgeries, where the surgeon skillfully takes out most of your middle organs, cuts bits off of them and rearranges them in ways they were never meant to be put back together. Even if it was successful, the outlook was grim as the recovery is brutal and chemotherapy still awaits even if there is success.

I didn’t know what to pray for.

I am a small soul in the relative scale of things and I rarely see the veil lifted on the overall plan of the working of this mysterious world.

So I prayed that God would do whatever they thought was best for mom. They could see the pattern better than I.

When they wheeled mom out of surgery eight hours later, we found out that the cancer had wrapped itself around an artery and could not be removed.  No Whipple for you.  My dad, when he asked the surgeon what that meant, the doctor was unsure, “I don’t know, a year maybe?”

How do you measure a year?

Soon after my mom left the hospital to continue her recuperation at home, I drove her to my aunt’s for a visit.  As I drove, I tried to drive the prettiest yet shortest route – I wasn’t sure if she could handle the drive, but I wanted her to see all the glory of the autumn leaves.  Fall lasts but a moment in time, yet who knew if she would ever see them again?

Since then, there have been many moments in the past year where I have stopped myself and thought – will mom ever experience this moment again?  What about this moment?  Snow. Christmas.  A play at the theatre.  Spring flowers. A birthday.  A trip to visit my brother far away. A visit from my tribe of kids. Going to the cottage. A good meal.  A cup of tea with a good friend. A phone conversation. The sun shining on her face. Another chemotherapy session.

And here we are, unexpectedly, again. Almost exactly a year later.  She has seen the leaves turn colour, and is watching them fall again. I watch as she becomes frailer and wonder anew – will she experience the next moment? And the next? How far will she go? She has beaten the statistics already and is headed into the mathematical unknown of survival.

I am so grateful for every minute she has lived that impossible moment.

I am thankful for every minute – as she and I receive it.

And I am glad that it has made me aware that really none of us are any different as we live each impossible moment that could end any time.



Written by pennyinacastle

October 19, 2013 at 3:19 am

Posted in Random thoughts

Tagged with , , ,

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