As the new school year quickly approaches I have to confess I am not looking forward to it. Besides the usual feelings of not wanting to give up sleeping late and mostly doing nothing, sitting through endless mostly time wasting meetings the first week back when I have a ton of work to do and having to learn to go to bed at a decent time, the thoughts of going back are also stirring up other feelings.
I lost my mother to cancer on April 12th of this year. She had battled it for 5 years but around this time last year it came back with a vengeance. The real problems began for her around November of last year. The cancer, which had been in her neck, began to close down around her throat. The week after Thanksgiving her doctor decided she would need a stomach feeding tube, as she was having so much difficulty swallowing. After this surgery she was terrified and needed someone with her round the clock. My siblings who still live in New Orleans were determined she would not go into a nursing home, and with none of us being rich, a schedule was developed so that someone would be with her twenty four hours a day. We also found someone who could sit with her during the day several days a week. Another sister and I each live about 6 hours away in Texas so we could not help much.
I visited the week before Christmas to give my siblings a break and was shocked at my mother's appearance. The night I arrived breathing became so difficult for her we had to take her to the emergency room. The next day we were told she would have to have a trach tube inserted to help her breathe or she would die. The surgery was done two days later. I returned home the day after her surgery and two days later returned back to New Orleans. We all had to undergo training on how to clean the trach tube but the worst part was suctioning it clean. My mother would now require additional care from her children.
My memories of the spring semester of last year are always centered around my mother's health Roaring down two lane highways late at night on the way to New Orleans, reading email updates from my sister and always wondering how long till the end came. Nights with my mother were often spent tending to her needs, many of which were more for the company she needed because she often could not sleep. When she did sleep I would watch the rise and fall of her chest, thousands of times I watched it wondering if each would be her last and not knowing what I would do if it were.
The end began on a Friday afternoon in April. I have received several emails from my sister concerning the hospice nurse's opinions that it would only be a couple weeks more. My cell phone rang during the day (no one calls me on it during the day, they all know I teach) and my sister informed me things were not going well, and the nurse said it could be any day. The next morning I made my final trip to see my mother. The cancer had actually broken the surface of her skin, her face was swollen to a degree I wouldn't have thought possible and she was barely conscious. The next 3 days we tended to her physical needs. One of my sisters was the bravest of us all and she did things I could barely stand to watch her do or help her with to ensure that my mother was not in pain. On Tuesday morning of the 12th she stopped breathing for a 5 minute period and then, just as we thought it was over, began breathing again. The rest of the day was a long vigil waiting for the end, which came around at 9 o'clock that evening. The hardest part was watching the funeral home people take her away.
Returning to school helped take my mind off of it and even provided a laugh or two. During my week's absence there had been an unbelievable storm that had flooded part of my room and the room next to it (our school building is two years old). The woman who subbed for me, also a Mom of a student, had cleaned it all up and dried out my items that had gotten wet. She could've spent that time sitting around doing nothing. A 2nd grade class had made me sympathy cards, with one child drawing a stick figure, complete with arms and legs, protruding from the casket, on his card. His teacher was mortified but it actually made me laugh.
Throughout the summer I have suppressed most of the thoughts about this time but now the arrival of a new school year is bringing them back. Many of the things I do outside of teaching require long hours of sitting at the computer and updating class lists for the educational software we use or working on the school webpage. It was those times I was always on the lookout for emails about my mother's health, or what the nurse said that morning when she visited. I'm not ready for the daily struggles the new year will bring, the rushing in the morning to have the day's experiments set up for Science lab, the daily afternoon car rider duty in the 100 degree heat and the always horrible fight of trying to teach 7 year olds how to log in to the school's network. I have for years begged for a change to this procedure without any luck (last name, first initial, middle initial); our IT dept. just doesn't understand that most 7 year olds have no clue what their middle name is.
I'm just not ready for the return of it all.