One of the earliest people that encouraged my blog was a fellow scientist mom Whymommy of Toddler Planet. We had chosen different paths in our efforts to balance motherhood and career and it was refereshing to compare notes. She is a scientist with NASA, and the mother of two young boys whose ages bracket my son’s.
About a year after we made acquaintance, her life, and the content of her blog, drastically changed. She was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), a particularly aggressive form of breast cancer with a very high recurrence rate. Her blog became of chronicle of her fight against the disease and her struggle to both promote public awareness and to raise her children with dignity in the face of a grim diagnosis.
I have watched her struggle, seen how surviving the disease has threatened to overcome her life, and how she has worked to forge meaning from it. Somehow, in the back of my mind, I thought that odds were made for other people, that nobody whose life touched mine would be on the downside of those odds, but recently her cancer has recurred and she is trying to iron her resolve against another possible surgery, another round of chemo, more radiation being poured into her already tired body. I fear for her. I ask God daily to grant her that much more time with her boys.
Her fight has tapped deep into the wellspring of my worst fears.
Mid-life is not for sissies. When you reach that point where the balance between the years behind you and the years before you start to tip into the negative, it’s natural to start more seriously contemplating your finite-ness. Mortality is serious business. I know from my conversations with Will, who watched both of his parents decline and pass in the last year, that my near-obsession is not a lonely one. But when you throw a small child into the mix, the ruminations take on a sense of urgency and stridency that can take your breath away.
My worst fear, the one that shakes my soul, if I am honest, is not death.
It is being taken away from my son.
The eventuality that I will not survive to see my son into the fullness of his manhood is the thought that I cannot follow. When I do, the fear grips my heart in an icy steel grip that stops my breath until by force of will I banish it from my mind. I have literally lain gasping in bed at night when the thought of leaving my son motherless has held my breath from me and the tears burned hot in my eyes.
But the flip side of that coin is even more unthinkable. That my son should precede me in death is beyond imagining. And there lies one of the fundamental conflicts of parenthood – the conflict between the rock hard belief that nobody, NOBODY can successfully raise your flesh and blood as well as you can, the possessiveness, the aching need to see them achieve their full potential, and…
…the absolute conviction that you would, despite all of that and without a moment’s hesitation, take the bullet of certain death to save them.
Parenthood is this constant battle of pushing and pulling. The selfish need to stay alive to see how the story of your child’s life plays out, and the necessity to sacrifice all of it to allow it to happen. Even in the absence of the heroic bullet scenario, you are in a constant state of letting go from the moment they draw their first breath. Your entire job is to become unnecessary in bits and pieces, from weaning, to the first steps, to the first day at school, to the first date.
In an ideal world, they will leave you behind. In an ideal world, you will be there to celebrate it.
Lord, please let me live to see the day of my own obsolescence.