Que Sera Sera

 
When I was just a little girl,
I asked my mother, “What will I be?
Will I be pretty? Will I be rich?”
Here’s what she said to me
“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be”
When I grew up and fell in love
I asked my sweetheart, “What lies ahead?
Will we have rainbows day after day?”
Here’s what my sweetheart said
“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be”
Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother, “What will I be?”
Will I be handsome? Will I be rich?”
I tell them tenderly
“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
Que Sera, Sera!”
 
“Que Sera, Sera,” written by Evans Raymond B / Livingston Jay
 
In the past week, it seems like the entire world has been turned upside down.  Schools, events, and businesses are closing. Almost everyone I speak to says something along the lines of “It all just feels so surreal”. It feels surreal to me too. The only difference is I am already well-acquainted with this feeling. That feeling that everything that you know has suddenly changed.  That scary feeling that you don’t know what is going to happen next. 
My world has also been turned upside down, but on a much larger scale, and it’s been that way for about eighteen months now. My husband and I still occasionally turn to look at each other at night, with the full weight of the world draped over us like a blanket and he might ask “What happened, love? How did we get here”? “We just did,” I now answer, and the discussion ends there, because there are no longer any other words to say.

 

With these latest world events, I now find myself in the unique position of facing several crises at once:  1) that my current prognosis has shifted from years to months, 2) that the world is now facing a pandemic that could kill me much quicker than the cancer will, and 3) that I have now essentially been sequestered to my home for what may be the sum of the “healthy” time I may have left. I have already had to cancel a trip to Chicago with my daughters and some girlfriends. We were going to go to museums and see a show and I was going to make some memories- both with my daughters and with my friends. That’s off now. So much for a bucket list, and for going out and “living life to it’s fullest.” 

Even if I don’t get the virus itself, I still have to worry about the hospitals being overrun and the possibility that my treatment or trial will be postponed. There seems to be no end to the things to be worried and sad about. Many people are feeling very worried and shocked. They feel scared for themselves and also scared of passing the virus to weaker family members or friends. That feeling of unease and fear of the unknown is just the tiniest shadow of the frustration and fear that I have been feeling, every day, for a very long time now.  Unsurprisingly, all of this has caused the blues to come visit me. They creep around the corners looking for weak spots to slip into. And I feel the weight of it dragging me down.

But I have been here before. It isn’t my first time wading in dark, cold waters. It’s just me grieving again.

The only thing keeping me going right now is the hope that comes with a new clinical trial. But I am also smart enough to know that it’s far more likely to not succeed than succeed.  It will take 2.5 months to wash my prior chemo out of my system, begin treatment and get my first CT scan six weeks in.  A lot can happen in 2.5 months.  I could progress quite a bit. Despite that, I know that I have to take a chance, because third line chemo offers very little in the way of hope. A trial offers hope. Hope of a long shot chance that I might catch some success in a jar and follow it’s light down a path that gives me more time.

In the meantime, I work through the colors.  Blue is the sadness creeping in at the corners.  Yellow is the anxiety that rises and pours through my chest.  But I see another color that began in my brain that is now soaking into my neck and shoulders.  It’s the dull silver-grey sheen of acceptance.

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.”

My grandmother on my bio-dad’s side used to sing this to me before bed when I was little. Despite my bio-parents divorce when I was very young, my brother and I would stay at my grandparents’ house quite frequently. Sometimes weekends. Sometimes, longer during the summer. They lived in Huber Heights, Ohio in a small, original Huber home shaped like a brick.  Grandma had embraced old age well before her time.  She wore nightgowns and smoked, and had severe arthritis. She was best distinguished by the tall grey, curly beehive she wore atop her head.

She was only 65 when she passed away at St. Elizabeth’s hospital.  That was where I witnessed her frail, grey frame against the wires and white sheets. That was where they told me that she was dying and that I had to say goodbye. A sudden, overwhelming sadness came over me, triggering a series of sobs that shook me as I broke down in the hallway.  I flipped over the bucket and let my mourning pour out with a long, powerful splash onto the floor.  And once it was empty?  I pulled myself together and then after that, strangely, moved on. She loved me, but I knew that she had a special place in her heart for my brother. She loved him more. At least that’s what Mom would always tell me.

In Grey’s Anatomy terms, she was my brother’s “person.” The person who loved my brother unconditionally during a time when nobody else did. I think that the reason she loved him that way because she knew that my father- her son- didn’t.  When she died, I think that it hurt my brother more than anyone else. Thirty years have passed, and I suspect that he hasn’t mourned anyone as hard since.

Although my bio-parents marriage happened largely before I started collecting memories, my mother used to tell me that “if he ever loved anything, he loved you.” Though most of my memories of him are post-divorce, I don’t remember feeling love. I just saw a bored man with a bowl haircut, who attempted to talk to me during scheduled visits. If I talked back at all, it was in short concise sentences. I was the quiet kid, remember? 

At home I would either stay in my room or wander off and make up innumerable outlandish fantasies. Of fairies living in the flowers. Of the village of fairies living in the Christmas tree. Of the perfect life I was gonna have when I grew up. Around him? I just wanted to be somewhere else, and was able to that perfectly clear to him even at the age of six. Much of this could probably be attributed to the fact that my mother trashed talked him constantly.  Even then, she always referred to him was “midget stick” and minced no words explaining to me exactly what she meant by that.  Despite that, I recall feeling that there was something about him that I didn’t like.  He didn’t give hugs or affection. It was kind of like I didn’t really know him at all, and witnessed nothing that made me want to.  And there isn’t a single thing he did afterwards in his life that proved that this instinct was wrong.

I did get trips to his new wife Phyllis’s house and to his new wife’s mother’s house.  She lived in a condo and had white, cottage cheese hair and I thought that she was one of the golden girls.  I also got to visit with my new step-siblings. They all had red hair. They were my step-siblings until he divorced their mom to too and then went on to marrying somebody else. Not too long after my Mom re-married, bio-dad kind of disappeared altogether, along with his child support payments. When I was 12, he made a deal to sign away his parental rights in exchange for not having to pay child support. My brother and I dressed up and sat down in the judge’s chambers. I recall shyly telling the judge that I wanted nothing more than for my step-dad-who-was-really-my-real- Dad to FINALLY be that way on paper.  My brother’s response was also yes, but his voice had the weight of reluctance. In the back of his brain, I think that was still holding on to that possibility that he would one day squeeze some love out of his “real” Dad.  And they did reconnect for a type of a love/hate co-dependent relationship once my brother became an adult.  At least until my bio-dad collapsed from a major heart attack one day after being dismissed from a health clinic.  I often wonder whether my big bro ever even got a sliver of what he was seeking. Que sera sera

So much of that history comes out in how I have raised my kids.  When people use the word “good Mom” or “best Mom” I always correct them. I am the okay-est Mom. What I don’t do is hover over homework assignments to make sure that they get every question right.  I also don’t volunteer at the school and make friends with all of their teachers and coaches in order to give them a “leg up.”  But I DO try to be the best Mom when it comes to the things that they really need. And what they really need is just two things: 1) someone who will be in their corner and show them that they are loved unconditionally, and 2) someone who will take interest in the people that they are becoming, trying to steer them into the best version of those crazy, creative, unique selves that they can be.

Okay, back to Grandma.  Que sera sera.

Grandma was a Catholic and attended a large congregation and gave her ten percent every week even though she and Grandpa lived solely off of a military retirement and social security. On her death bed, her only request was to see a priest to confess. It took her three calls to the priest at her church to finally get him to bother to go there and spend a few moments with her before she passed.

Whatever will be, will be

Grandma believed in fate and God’s will. When I grew up I believed that I would be in control of my life, and it drove every motivation I had for two decades. And in the last 18 months of my life, I’ve had to re-learn that I am in control of almost nothing at all.

The future’s not ours to see…

With the Coronavirus just starting to hit, causing cancellations and disruptions of your life, it’s normal to feel some anxiety. We don’t know how bad it’s going to be, how long things are going to be cancelled or whether anyone we are close to in life are going to get sick or be affected. And the worst part is that so much of it is out of our control.  That spinning, uneasy feeling that you have is only sample bite of what I have lived with every day since the moment I knew that my cancer was metastatic.

I have never believed in “whatever will be will be,” because I witnessed others with that attitude around me growing up.  And it seemed to only lead to the belief that others would come along to save them.  And they never did.  So I adopted a different mantra:  “Whatever I work and fight for will be.”  This philosophy gave rise to several expectations:

I expected that because I had worked and planned to build a family and career that they would always be there for me.

 I expected that I would reach a certain level at work, watch my kids grow up, and then travel the world and enjoy my grandchildren in old age.  It’s because of those expectations that it hurt so very hard and so very long when all of those things were taken away from me with the words “incurable cancer.”  I grieved, and will probably never fully stop grieving that future that I expected despite the fact that it was never guaranteed.

I expected that I would get to live longer after diagnosis- possibly five years or longer. If I had only qualified for a full liver resection.  If they had only not found disease in my peritoneum.  If only my chemo had lasted longer before failing. If, if, if. I had to mourn each of those lost expectations in succession. With each onslaught of bad news, I grieved the loss of more time with my family.

What it took me so long to figure out is that all grief is caused by having expectations and then losing them. I believed, despite myself, that if I did “the right thing” that I would be rewarded.  I expected that my run of relative good fortune would continue, instead of taking a very sudden and dark turn (of course, I think that my intuition was trying to tell me something different, but I wasn’t listening). And with each lost expectation comes another wave of pain and grief.  So I’ve finally learned that the only way to stay mentally balanced through something like this is to just stop expecting anything at all.

So I’ve begun, bit by bit, to release all of my expectations.  A crucial step in doing this is to find peace and acceptance with the worst case scenario. For example, my worst case scenario right now is dying of Coronavirus in a hospital corridor (the last place that I would want to die), because they won’t have enough ventilators and I don’t have enough life years left to make the cut. That worst case scenario is most likely not going to happen, but it is possible, so I have to embrace it. This doesn’t mean that I stop trying to live longer or that I abandon my desire to die at home. It does mean that I have to release my expectations that whatever I try will succeed. The truth is that no matter what I do, I may die both sooner and less poetically than I would like to.  I have to accept that truth so that if it happens I don’t waste time mourning it before I die.

I can’t “expect” that this trial will work. It probably won’t.  I can’t expect that that this pandemic won’t be as bad as they say. It probably will. I have to accept that I won’t get to go out and do more of the things that I wanted to do while I am still healthy.  Nothing is ever guaranteed, and I don’t have enough time left to mourn another expectation lost.

Slowly, but surely, this re-framing is beginning to work.  Here is a hard truth- accepting the fact that I am powerlessness to fix bad things is the hardest thing that I’ve ever had to do in life. 

But I am doing it anyway, because it’s the only answer right now.  And I have to keep working at it- reminding myself daily. I can’t get tempted to lift the divider between effort and hope and acceptance. Those things must stay separate, if I am ever going to find that place of peace before I die.  That peace (mingled with sadness) that I am finally just now beginning to feel…

Whatever is going to happen over the next several weeks; with my health, with the virus, etc. is out of my control.  And I am finally becoming at peace with that.  With that acceptance comes the knowing that I can no longer put off tying all of those loose ends. Those things that must be done before I become too sick.

“Que sera, sera, whatever will be, will be. The future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.”

One thought on “Que Sera Sera

  1. “Acceptance of the fact that I am powerlessness to fix bad things”

    I agree – and I guess this is why I’m not as stressed about the virus as people thing I should be. Even though I’m in the age range where it is apparently the deadliest. But, I will be pro-active and wash my hands more than usual and will stay away from large crowed (easy for me, anyway) but, as you say, “What will be, will be.”

    My grandmother and her mother survived getting the Spanish flu, so maybe she passed on her super immune system. I can only hope.

    Liked by 1 person

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