My 88 year old mother called me about 10:00 yesterday morning, from the assisted living facility she is in.
xxx“Did you go to the doctor?” she said.
xxx“For what I answered. My cold is over. No more xxxcoughing.”
xxx“You know why. What did the doctor say?”
xxx“I don’t know why. What are you talking about?”
xxx“Wait let me turn the TV down.”
xxx“What are you talking about?”
xxx“That you have cancer.”
xxx“What? Mom, I don’t have cancer. I had a cold.”
xxx“You are just saying this so you won’t hurt me.”
xxx“Well, I don’t want to hurt you, but I would always be honest with you. I think you were xxxhaving a dream.”
xxx“I found out last night at 3 or 4 in the morning that you have cancer.”
xxx“Mom, you probably woke up from a dream. How do you find something out at 3 or 4 xxxin the morning anyway?”
xxx“That’s when I found out. They told me.”
xxx“Who told you?”
xxx“The letter. The letter that said you better get to the doctor as soon as possible. The xxxletter that said the test didn’t look good.”
xxx“I didn’t get any letter.”
xxx“Yes you did. I saw it.”
xxx“Mom, I didn’t get any letter.”
xxx“I’m telling you, we were so upset. What with you retiring, wanting to spend some time xxxwithout having to work. I’m telling you, we were really crying. Your sister couldn’t even xxxspeak.”
xxx“Mom, I’m OK really. It was just a dream.”
xxx“Have you talked to your sister?”
xxx“Not in a couple of days. Mom, really, I’m OK.”
xxx“And you take such good care of yourself and you eat so well. To have something like this happen is awful. Just awful.”
xxx“Mom, really. I don’t have cancer. You were dreaming.”
xxx“This makes me so sad.”
xxx“Mom, I don’t have cancer.”
xxx“You’re not just saying this?”
xxx“Mom, I would tell you the truth. Honest.”
This conversation went on for at least another 15 minutes.
There is something so very disconcerting about arguing with your mother, a mother who once had incredible power over you, that you don’t have cancer. (A mother who also killed the next door neighbor with a curse she once made.) There is something so unsettling about making a case that you don’t have cancer to a mother who is adamant, stubborn, absolutely convinced that you do. There is something seriously unnerving about trying to convince someone who supposedly loves you, that you are, in fact, not in any imminent health-related danger, when really, who knows what will eventually finish any of us off.
I know my mother’s grip on reality is slipping. I know that her fear for her own death or her fears for her children have manifested in this story she is convinced is true. I know all this and yet it’s really hard for me to shake this phone call off. A small piece of me can’t help but wonder whether it’s a premonition or a curse.