by Allison Pang
Like some of my fellow Word Whores, this week's topic is not a particularly easy one.
To be honest, I don't really want to talk about it at all, so I'll keep it as short as I might. Those of you who have followed my blogs for a while already know most of it, but the long and short of it is that 12 years ago this May, my own mother died of lung cancer at the age of 52. Her mother was also diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 52.
Where my grandmother was given six months, she managed to pull off six years, although I don't remember too much about it, as she passed in 1984. Her cancer was caused by smoking. (In an ironic twist of fate, that particular year was just sort of brutal. In March, my paternal grandmother died, in April I got mono, and in May my maternal grandmother died. Not a good year, to be honest. As an aside, my paternal grandmother also had cancer, though in her case it was breast and she had beaten it some years before.)
At any rate, my mother's cancer was not caused by smoking, though it did start in her lungs. Bronchioloalveolar Cell Carcinoma, to be exact. I was married and out of the house at that point, so the first I heard of it was at the initial diagnosis when she was starting to have trouble breathing. The x-rays weren't good, and the biopsy confirmed what it was pretty quick. The body scan revealed that although the cancer had started in her lungs, by the time we'd found it, she had 13 tumors in her brain, as well as additional tumors in her spine and ribs.
She started radiation and chemo, though it didn't make any difference and she was gone within a few months.
I'll admit I have a certain fatalistic outlook some days, given I've got about 12 years until I reach the age of 52 myself. If I really let myself wallow, I wonder what I'll look like if I ever reach 70 or 80 since I have no frame of reference.
And then there's the distinct terror that Lucy might have the same problems - she's had lung issues since she was 4 months old and been hospitalized twice already.
The rest of it is that I had a lot of emotional baggage to sort out and I still do. Much of my earlier writing in the Abby series was me processing those things, hence Abby having to deal with them. (Although her mother dies in a car crash - the end result is still the same.)
The following is a scene from A Sliver of Shadow and it's probably the most difficult thing I've ever written, for a number of reasons. I still have a hard time reading it over, but I will say that it did help, in its own way.
My arm brushed something cold and I looked up. We were standing outside the iron gates. They were closed and glittering with their own silvery light beneath the rust. The edges of my old home, my Heart, gleamed through the trees in the distance, beckoning to the soft comfort within.
“Won’t you invite me in?” I glanced at my mother sharply, the wheedling tone very unnerving. I swallowed
hard, a warning bell ringing through my mind. It was so tempting to let her pretend to be what she once was, but it would be a lie. A pleasant one, at first, but even I knew it would mean my doom. If I brought her shadow further in, I’d never be able to let her go.
“I might be able to fix your necklace if you let me in,” she continued. “It’s missing a spark.” The gate pressed into my spine. I’d retreated before her.
Giving ground, my inner voice noted.
A piece of paper flickered in the corner of my eye and I snatched it up. Something was scrawled on the back in Ion’s neat script.
I crumpled the note in my fist, terror and sadness banding over my heart. “No,” I whispered. “I can’t.”
“But you’ve brought me so far already,” she persisted. Her hand tipped my chin up so that I was forced to look at her face, requiring me to deny her directly.
“It’s as far as I can take you, Mom.” Something hot blurred my vision, scorching down the side of my face. Her gaze became curious as she captured it, turning her fingers to peer at the crystalline softness of my tears.
“And yet you still weep,” she said wonderingly. “Was it so very difficult, my death?”
“You wouldn’t remember.” The wind picked up around me, whispering its song of despair and I knew I wouldn’t be able to hold on to the Dreaming for much longer. Without Ion here, I would plunge into nightmare. That I’d managed as long as I had surprised me as much as anything.
She stared off at something I couldn’t see. “I remember a car and you. And then . . . nothing. And yet, here I am, day after day.”
My knees started to buckle and I grasped the gate in support. The metal burned, lancing heat up my arm. Something fluttered to my feet in a golden heap.
Her hair . . .
Her grip tightened around my wrist, the knuckles suddenly brittle and pale. I knew before I looked up what I’d see, but I did anyway, trying to school my features into blandness at the balding head, the way the flesh sloughed off to reveal the moon-round skull, the mangled mouth, the dulling eyes.
“I remember,” she sighed, leaning forward to brush my forehead with the remains of her lips. “Death is a funny thing sometimes, the way it happens. But it’s not the going that’s the sad part, Abby.” She pressed something hard and gleaming into my hand. “It’s the leaving.”
I choked on a sob, the wind whipping around us with a sudden howl. I could taste the sea on it, echoed with a rotting odor beneath. My mother crumpled into a small pile of bones, my name nothing more than a dusty whisper as the gate opened behind me.
Gasping, I tumbled backward, clutching my mother’s parting gift as the Dreaming disappeared
into a misty fog of dried leaves and darkness.