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Rituals

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Our tuck-in time remains mostly the same. I walk into my daughters’ bedroom, and the two bigger ones are lost in books, and the littlest is either listening to an audiobook or quietly playing with her stuffed animals. They reluctantly close their books and snuggle into pillows, and I get close to each girl, one at a time. I put my hand on her head or shoulder and press my cheek up against the side of her face and quietly say the same blessing, every night. May the God of hope give you joy and peace, not just tonight, but tomorrow, and all the days of your life. 

There are tight hugs, kisses, the smoothing of blankets, and a bedtime prayer before I close the door on a dark room and venture back downstairs. I am not sure about too many things, but I am sure as I can be that I will weep bitterly in thirteen years when I am an empty nester and there are no tiny sweet faces under my roof to kiss goodnight.

Early in the morning, while three girls are pulling on socks and shoveling breakfast into their mouths, their dad is packing lunches and I’m sitting at my desk jotting down a quick note for the day. The littlest is still learning to read, so I draw a penguin or a cat or a carrot with a smiley face, and I write her name with hearts around it. I tuck notes into their lunch boxes, and sometimes I find them weeks later, crumpled – but saved, sort of – under a book or in a desk. Most mornings, even in the midst of the bustle, there’s a hot cup of tea for me in the counter, and I try to take a quiet moment to sip it. Some mornings the tea sloshes against the sides of my mug while I carry it out to the car, checking my watch and calculating whether or not we’ll make it to school by 8:20.

My tea drinking days go back to when I was small, pulling the same paper-covered tea bag out of the same yellow Lipton box I buy now. There are a lot of fancier teas out there, but this kind tastes like nostalgia and reminds me of Sunday afternoons on the couch with my mother, us drinking our respective teas, large blanket on our laps, and an episode of Golden Girls on the television. Even now when she visits, the kettle immediately gets filled, and it’s an unspoken rule that we both want a cup. Two-cents-a-bag Lipton tea has been a daily ritual instilled in me by my mom, and to her I owe my mild disappointment in coffee and complete disdain of restaurants that do not carry honey.

I received a call with news I didn’t like, and I found myself absentmindedly filling the kettle. Rituals can be a salve and a friend and a pair of lucky socks.

It’s been a year since my dad passed. A year since I saw him, a year since I talked to him, a year of my inbox being devoid of his emails, a year without hearing about any of his latest hijinks. And a year, to the day, almost, of my dad passing, my mother calls me from work and, in hushed tones, tells me that she has cancer.

I’m transported back to my 18-year-old self, watching my mom, all frail 80 pounds of her, reclining in her bed. Her wig is itchy, so she doesn’t wear it at home, and the lack of jet black hair combined with the shirt three sizes too big make for a memorable silhouette. The cancer diagnosis had been dire, and then changed, and then changed again, adding procedures and treatments to a laundry list of procedures and treatments. I lean against the doorway and ask what I can get her. I don’t want to enter her bedroom without a mask over my face. I wear one when I have any hint of a cold as I drive her to daily radiation. She’s lost so much weight that the last time she had a cold, she had a coughing fit and broke three ribs. When she has surgeries, I stay at the hospital and feed her ice chips and help her to the bathroom. I’m wearing braces and a choker and a v-neck tank top from the Gap. She sleeps and I try to get comfortable in the chair next to her. I have a stack of books, a stuffed animal, and a blanket. I live off hospital cafeteria grilled cheeses.

Like years ago, I’m calm as she explains the diagnosis. I ask questions about next steps, about meeting with a surgeon, about schedules and logistics. She matter-of-factly tells me everything she knows, and everything she doesn’t yet. She tells me the name of the doctor and she knows I’m googling his background. We tick off the mental checklists and I finally ask if she’s ok.

“Oh, sure,” she replies quietly. “I’ve done this before.”

I’ve disappeared into a quiet corner of the house to mull this all over, but I roll off my bed because the clock reminds me of my nightly ritual. I’ll go tuck in my daughters and whisper the same blessing I do every night, and thank the good Lord for the gifts that they are and the love they give me every day.

I’ve done this before, too, but I’ve got extra hands to squeeze this time around.

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27 Comments

  • Reply Lindsay September 19, 2017 at 10:13 pm

    My Dad passed almost a year ago (October 18th) with my Mom knowing it was coming. ❤️ To you.

  • Reply Tara September 19, 2017 at 10:20 pm

    Oh Roo…I’m so sorry to read this news about Lola. I got excited when I saw a blog post from you! But I wish you didn’t have to write this post. Love and hugs to you and your family while help your mom through this! <3

  • Reply MichelleLG September 19, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    I am so sorry, Roo.
    Beautifully written, as always, my friend. My heart is queezing for your babies and your mama and this life.
    Also, I am not too proud to co-opt that tender and powerful blessing and weave it into our routine with my 3 kiddos asap.
    Love and prayers for you.

  • Reply Jen September 19, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    We are coming up on 2 years since my dad’s diagnosis… and 12/20 will be 2 years since he passed. I, too, was excited to see a post from you; however, this is obviously not what I had hoped for. Thinking about you and praying for healing for your sweet mama.

  • Reply Roo September 19, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Going to note here what I noted on Facebook. Whenever I write, everyone is always so kind. Part of me always wishes I can turn off Facebook comments and regular comments on a piece like this because I don’t want to seem self-serving and all of this makes me rather uncomfortable. Writing is my own ritual, so this comes along with it. That said, please don’t feel obligated to comment. I feel your love and support whether you do or don’t. 💙

  • Reply Sharon September 19, 2017 at 11:00 pm

    Been there, sending prayers.

  • Reply Nikki Beesley September 19, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    Long time reader, random commenter, cancer survivor/patient (still not NED): I will pray for your mother and you and her family everyday. Never in my life did I receive so much love and support from strangers and friends and families alike. I give it all right back to her. 💙

  • Reply Amanda September 19, 2017 at 11:04 pm

    This piece is beautiful.

    Lots of love to you and Lola.

  • Reply Kat September 19, 2017 at 11:19 pm

    Nooooo…your family has paid your dues. I hate that cancer does not abide by my rules. I’m so sorry Roo. Lola has got this and treatment has come a long way in the last ten years (20? omg are we that old?), they are going to nip this in no time! Hang in there my friend, Love you!

  • Reply Feri September 20, 2017 at 12:07 am

    Roo, I am so so sorry for your dad ( I didn’t know that), and about my own dear friend. She is a fighter and I am sure she will pass this one too, she has to.
    Your piece was beautiful and she is so proud of you. Thanks for pouring your heart and thought out. Love and kisses to you all.

  • Reply Titania Jordan September 20, 2017 at 5:54 am

    I love you Roo.

  • Reply Liz September 20, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Im so sorry about your dad and now your mom. My mom went through multiple cancer diagnoses over the last 12 years and we lost her in June. I swear the only thing getting me through is knowing my toddler son needs me so your extra hands to squeeze comment totally makes sense. Hopefully your mom will pull thru this time just like she did in the past! Thinking good thoughts for all ov you.

  • Reply Jenni B September 20, 2017 at 8:32 am

    I’m so sorry Roo. I’m praying for strength and comfort for your family during this trying time.

  • Reply Lonek8 September 20, 2017 at 8:54 am

    This is so beautiful, but like the comments above, I’m so sad it had to be written. Your family will be in my thoughts ♥️

  • Reply Rennie September 20, 2017 at 9:32 am

    <3

  • Reply Kala Morry September 20, 2017 at 11:16 am

    Beautifully written. I’m sorry for the loss of your father and the news about your mother. I will be thinking of you and your family during this tough time. Ironically, a friend of a friend is currently in surgery at Yale today. She is 33 and is having a double mastectomy. She has a history of cancer in her family and they felt this was the best path to take in order to fight it.

  • Reply Mary September 20, 2017 at 11:17 am

    Oh Roo. I feel like I know you just from reading you. I’ve wondered how the new house was. And how your darling girls like their new school. With all changes, those rituals are so dear. You and your whole family are in my thoughts and prayers. Big hugs dear friend!

  • Reply Lauren September 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    I hope you, your mother, and her family and friend find peace, comfort, and cups running over with love.

  • Reply Christie September 20, 2017 at 6:58 pm

    Your blog is my very favorite. No one makes me think, laugh & cry like you. I am nursing a baby to sleep in the dark with tears steaming down my cheeks. I will be praying for y’all. Also, Lipton tea reminds me of my childhood too.

  • Reply Shirley September 20, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    What a touching and
    poignant piece. I have no words other than you and your mom will be in my prayers. Your mom is an amazing woman, and she raised an amazing daughter. You are both blessed to have each other. Love you, Roo.

  • Reply Shirley September 20, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    What a touching and poignant piece. I have no words other than you and your mom will be in my prayers. Your mom is an amazing woman, and she raised an amazing daughter. You are both blessed to have each other. Love you, Roo.

  • Reply Gloria September 21, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    Such a touching piece. I’m so sorry about your Mom. As you wrote though, she’s been through it before. She’s strong. Both my Sister & my Mom have had cancer several times as well, so I know how stressful that can be. I hope everything turns out alright.

  • Reply Taurie September 22, 2017 at 2:31 am

    I don’t have much to say, except that I’m sending love and prayers your way ❤️❤️❤️

  • Reply Virginie September 22, 2017 at 2:21 pm

    Roo,

    I am so sorry about hearing this news. I am just an internet stranger, but your description of your mom’s first fight with cancer brought me back to my own memories.

    I was 20 when my own mother got diagnosed with cancer. I was studying in a different town, but i remember the trips back home every weekend, the wig that is too itchy to wear at home, her tiny body in such a big bed, I remember the weeks of chemo and her skin burning from the radiation, the million trips to the hospital…
    I also remember the huge LeCreuset dutch oven full of blanquette de veau that a friend brought over to feed my brother and my dad. They both lived there then and could not cook an egg to save their lives :) I hope you have friends like that, who can bring you some comfort and some warmth.

    I wish there was something else I could do, I am sending you & your family millions of positive vibes.

    She can do it! You can do it!

  • Reply Bill Davis September 23, 2017 at 12:10 am

    So sorry to hear, Roo… praying for you and your family.

  • Reply Amber Flores September 25, 2017 at 4:32 pm

    Roo I’m so so sorry. Prayers for all of you during this tough time. The loss of a parent can be earth-shattering; I can’t imagine the struggle you’re going through. Please let us, your loyal followers & fans, help you if we can!

  • Reply Fariha November 2, 2017 at 8:51 am

    Praying for you

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