My family wrote our wishes for 2013 down on small squares of parchment paper New Year’s Eve, penciled-in hopes of what will bring us happiness. Then we rolled the wishes into small scrolls and lit them on fire, watching as they flew upward, toward heaven. My mother, a beaded headband sparkling in her short, white hair, clapped her hands in delight, excited by the possibility that perhaps one of those wishes would come true.
2012 was a year of surprises. I never dreamed I would spend much of it helping my mom fight a brilliant, nasty disease called cancer. I never dreamed I would live with my sisters in perfect harmony, more of a team now than we ever were as children. I never dreamed that somewhere within the grief and fear that accompanies the specter of death I would find so much to feel lucky about. But even in these uncertain times, when my mom brushes her long, elegant fingers across my cheekbone as if mapping precious territory, I can’t help but feel a surge of joy.
As we close out the old year and start fresh, everything we do seems a little bit fiercer–everything we say a little more potent–every sign full of portent. During dinner, chunks of bread, apple and filet mignon dipped into a fondue pot, my mother ate only a couple of small bites. She didn’t speak much either, and a shiver of worry interrupted the good cheer.
“Are you O.K., Mom?” I asked.
“I’m fine,” she answered, her eyes roaming over some of the most important people in her life. She wasn’t exactly smiling, but her face was peaceful, luminous, and unlined by pain. ”I’m just taking it all in.”
We now face a year fraught with challenges, familiar and unknown. Each round of chemotherapy brings with it the ugly trifecta of nausea, vomiting, and fatigue – a constant downer – and coming soon is a new treatment called “radio embolization” for my mother’s main liver tumor, a high tech therapy that shoots radioactive beads into the center of that monster to hopefully blow it all to hell. How sick will this make her? What will the complications be? Will it even work? I think we are all practicing living in the moment because the answers will come only when they are ready.
After the last of the paper wishes went up in smoke, I hugged my mother goodbye. The fragile wings of her shoulder blades felt sharp under my hands, but her eyes were bright and full of life. Then, I walked back to the kitchen to sweep up all the small piles of delicate ash that had settled onto the counter and floor. The souls of those wishes were long gone, winging their way through the darkness to wherever wishes go and I could only hope they would get there in time.