How's Your Mother?

Now that I'm back in the office a few people have asked me how my mom is doing.  The people I work with are very genuine and caring, but its still not a comfortable topic.

I don't think anyone wants to hear bad news and I don't like giving it.  And let's face it, the fact that my mother is dying is not a happy topic.  So I try to stick to statements that are positive.  My mom is back at home and she's much happier.   

How are you? I'm fine. 

The Long Dark Drive

Highway_2 I left our company's sales kickoff meeting in Miami around 5:00 pm just in time to hit rush hour traffic on I95.  The meeting was good and my presentation earlier in the day went well.  But I must admit, I stalled before getting on the road.  I could have left earlier if I wanted to, but I put it off until all of the sessions were over.

My rental car was a suboptimal PT Cruiser, ironically lacking any cruise control.  I knew I wouldn't make it in time to see my mother at the hospital tonight, but I'd see my father and maybe my brother Shawn would still be up.   

It felt like I was leaving one world and going into another.  There was nothing between me and my destiny but  250 miles.  I killed time while I was driving.  I called friends, I called family, I called my wife.  I ended up not getting hold of anyone and leaving messages.  I listened to the one CD that I had, a punk rock disk of the Sex Pistols.  I listened to it over and over again as loud as possible.  I'd been listening to the Sex Pistols a lot lately.  I was driving as fast as I could but it felt like I was getting nowhere. 

An hour or so into the drive, I got hold of my brother Mike.  He had left my parents a couple of days ago after driving down from Toronto.  In his view, my parents were at peace with my mother's situation and they were taking care of all of the preparations for what would happen when she died.  He said mom was in palliative care at this point, meaning it was not about getting better, it was about providing for comfort and minimizing pain.  Mom had established a living will and requested not to be kept alive by artificial life support systems. Even before Christmas she'd decided on her pall-bearers. 

Jesus, I thought.  I was dumbfounded.  Why am I learning all this right now?  Maybe I'd heard it before but it just hadn't sunk in.  My mom is dying.  Who knows how long she has to live?  He said not to worry about the details or the logistics of the situation.  That was under control, he said.  I told Mike I'd call him tomorrow.  I turned up my music.  It was loud and angry and that suited me fine. 

An hour passed and my friend Glenn from Chicago called me back.  Glenn and I were close friends when I lived in Chicago fifteen years ago and we're usually in touch once or twice a year.  He had sent me an email a couple of days ago.  We talked a bit about work and he asked how I was doing.  I knew his father had died of cancer a few years back.  So we talked about my mom's situation. Maybe more than anyone else he understood what I was going through.  Eventually, it was too much though.  I just didn't want to talk any more. I didn't want to think.  I didn't want to speculate.  I didn't want to feel anything.  I just wanted to be alone in the darkness on my drive.  I went back to my CD to numb out all my thoughts.  Anything to take me out of where I was. 

By 9:00 pm, I was hungry and I got off the Turnpike in search of food.  I found a cheap but good mexican fast food restaurant called La Grange.  I was the only white guy in the restaurant, but I didn't care.  I was probably the only software guy and the only marathoner, so what did that matter?  I got a take-out order of chicken, tortillas, black beans, plantains and a diet coke.  It was the kind of place that my brother Mike would like and that made me feel a little less lonely on the drive.  The food was good and it cheered me up.  I still had a hundred miles or so to go.  I called my father to let him know I'd be getting in late.

What to Say?


My wife and I went over to a New Year's day open house party at a friend's house.  We didn't really celebrate on New Year's eve since we spent six hours delayed in Denver airport and got back quite late.  So it was nice to see a few friends.

We also learned that telling people your mother has cancer is a great conversation killer.  Either they've never been through this kind of a pain and don't know what to say or they have been through it and it brings back too much pain.  Maybe it's better not to say anything. 

Happy New Year.   I'm fine, how are you?

Hooters for Mom


My brother-in-law Mark went out today to find a gym to workout.  It happened to be located near the original Hooters location in Clearwater along the Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.  I am not necessarily a big fan of Hooters, but they have wings and there is a sense of history in visiting the original "delightfully tacky yet unrefined" location. 

Since Mark and my sister Karen live outside Ottawa and I live in California, I don't get much time with them.  They've been married more than twenty years and he was the first of the "outlaws" to really be accepted into the family.  Karen and Mark were also very supportive of me when I was living on my own as a student in Montreal many years ago and I've always appreciated the warmth that they've extended to me at that time.  So you could say that Mark is as much brother as he is a brother-in-law.

We talked about my mom's situation, not that either one of us knows a heck of a lot about what's going on. 

"Your mom's a fighter," Mark tells me. 

"Yeah, but if it gets worse," I say and I trail off.  "The chemo isn't working.  The pain meds aren't working.  She's getting nauseous, she's got no appetite."  I pause again.  "We may need to look into getting some marijuana somewhere."  And I let that sink in.  I don't know a lot about medical marijuana, but I know it's used to treat side-effects of chemotherapy, specifically nausea and lack of appetite. 

The idea of us two forty-year old guys looking to score some pot is comical.  I don't even know where you'd look for pot in Santa Cruz, let alone in Clearwater or Orlando. 

Mark has the equally comical idea of having the waitress, who appears to be about 19, sign a menu to my mom.  He tells her that she's fighting cancer and asks her to sign it "Keep fighting the fight."   The waitress offers to have all the girls sign it, but we decline.  We ask her if she knows about medical marijuana in Florida since we're from out of town.   She offers to ask her manager, which doesn't seem like such a good idea, but we say ok.  He probably thinks we're degenerates since I had my feet up on a chair earlier and he asked me to lower them.  They don't have any ideas, but at least we aren't arrested. 

When we get back to the house, my mom has a smile about the signed menu, which is enough for me. 

I speak to my brother Mike later by phone and he tells me to look for a Cancer Compassion Center.  I search on the web and I can't find anything like that in Florida.  Florida is one of the states where there is no legal use of medical marijuana.  Great.