By Brian Lafferty
Last year I lost my mother to breast cancer. This column is the second of a four-part series about loss and grief from an Autistic’s perspective.
October 27, 2011 (San Diego) – At my alma mater, The Winston School, I was blessed to have a fine P.E. teacher and softball coach. On one of my toughest days he gave me a piece of sage advice. He told me, “If you worry that something bad is going to happen, chances are it’s not going to happen.”
This advice would prove time and again to be true. Granted it wasn’t true all of the time, but when my mind is inclined to worry about something, I remember what my P.E. teacher said. Nine times out of ten, nothing bad happens and life goes on.
This dictum would be put to the ultimate test, however, when I learned Mom had cancer. I remember the day well and it’s hard to believe it’s been over a year. We planned to go to the screening of Going the Distance. I knew she liked romantic comedies and it looked like something she’d enjoy. As I grabbed the car keys, I asked if she was ready.
I remember her face. I could tell something was wrong. Her eyes looked a slight bit worried. At first she didn’t know what to tell me and how to say it, but she found a way. She said she was awaiting a phone call. I asked why. She said she might have breast cancer. She explained that while on our vacation only a week or so ago she discovered something on her breast that raised some red flags. She needed to talk to the doctor and expected to hear from him that evening.
As she told me all of this I could only stand there simply stunned. I wound up having a great time at the Going the Distance screening; it turned out to be the best American romantic comedy of 2010 by far.
But over the next few days I was consumed with fear. This was totally surreal. When it comes to a loved one dying, you will never have enough time no matter how old you are. At the age of twenty-four, I certainly wasn’t ready to lose her. Like any person in my position I asked myself over and over again, “Why?” I kept thinking, “This can’t be happening! This shouldn’t be happening!”
Mom had surgery in early September. The prognosis at the time was good. The cancer didn’t seem to spread. She went home after a few days and was expected to begin chemotherapy treatments in a few weeks.
During the month of September my sisters decided to give her a gift. They asked all of our friends to write her a letter. These letters would be collected in a book, which would then be presented to Mom over a family dinner.
I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life. But one of my worst ones was missing that family dinner. I attended the screening of Buried, instead. Although I enjoyed it immensely (it was one of those films that had to be seen in the theater to fully appreciate it), over the last two months I realized it was against my better judgment.
There’s no sense in dwelling on it. Unless someone discovers the Flux Capacitor, I can’t change what happened. I did, however make a vow: If any similar conflict should present itself in the future, I would forego the screening and spend the time with my family instead.
In Mid-October, Mom had a setback while she and Dad visited some friends in Palm Springs. She had to go to the hospital. After spending over a week up there, and after what sounded over the phone like an endless battery of tests, she was diagnosed with an infection. She returned home to receive IV treatments that would be administered by Dad, my sisters, and the neighbor from across the street.
The next few weeks were hard on me. It was difficult enough spending most of the week alone while Mom was in the hospital in Palm Springs (Dad briefly came down, then went back up). Now with Dad mostly working, it was just Mom and I a lot of the time, except when someone came for her infusions. Her friends did drive up often to have dinner with us and for that I was very grateful.
I can tell you it’s tough living at home with a sick loved one. Mom was always in pain. I could see it in the way she walked, talked, and did things around the house. My sisters and I would keep telling her not to move around a lot or do any chores but there was no stopping her; it was in her nature.
She was in pain but she was very stoic. She never complained. She was very upbeat and positive. She even taught me a few things such as how to use the carpet shampooer. Now when I shampoo the carpets, I remember that day.
Nine times out of ten my P.E. teacher’s advice about not worrying about bad stuff happening is true. But as I would painfully find out, there will be at some point that one time out of ten when it isn’t true. This exception would, over the winter and spring, be surreal, grueling, and soul sucking all at once.
Brian Lafferty is a young adult with High-Functioning Autism currently living in Escondido. He graduated cum laude from California State University, Fullerton with a degree in Radio/TV/Film and is also the film critic for East County Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff.