“I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested
I’d like to think that if I was I would pass
Look at the tested and think there but for the grace go I
‘might be a coward I’m afraid of what I might find out”
-The Mighty Mighty BossTones
Have you heard this song? Well, if you’re like me and exist, you probably have. I always liked this song growing up; thinking that if I was tested I would kick whatever situation’s ass that I found myself in. I imagined that I was some kind of super hero and my powers were integrity and perseverance. I would be so stoic while I triumphed that the world would stop.
“Have you ever been close to tragedy, or been close to folks who have
Have you ever felt a pain so powerful, so heavy you collapse “
My mother’s illness and subsequent passing were not my first exam. Sure, I’d been through tragedies before, like when the captain of my high school hockey team committed suicide. But that wasn’t my test then, it was his parents’ and his closer friends’.
My first personal test came when I was 20. I received a call from my estranged grandmother telling me that my equally estranged father had been in a serious car accident. “I don’t know if he’s alive or dead!” She’d said, “Call this number”.
And so it began.
To make an insanely long story less long: My father broke a really important bone in his neck in such a way that any movement could kill him. He had several serious life-threatening-on-their-own-individually infections, and a broken heart. (Yeah, he literally broke his own heart and needed a pig’s valve to fix it). The icing on the car accident cake was his 3 weeks unconscious from a medicine allergy we didn’t know about.
Well done, dad, go big or go coma.
For long-story reasons best saved for another post, my father’s care fell to me. The car accident itself wasn’t a test for me. I wasn’t the one lying in a coma with tubes feeding me, or the one that was unable to move without excruciating pain. I was tested by having to make (literally) life or death decisions for a man I barely knew and deal with the ‘family’, or more appropriately: the crazy strangers who shared my bloodline.
I didn’t want to be his proxy, I didn’t want to drive almost two hours from school to make decisions that could potentially kill him if I was wrong. I didn’t want to deal with my brother, or my dad’s brother, or my grandmother. But I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t help him. I couldn’t let “little me” down.
And this stupid effing song would come on the radio while I sat there with my hands at ten and two. At first I thought it was ironic. My mother thought it was a sign. Every day that I was supposed to go, no matter what station or time of day it was, this song would play. Even when I gave up on the radio, my own iPod betrayed me and played it on shuffle.
So I took the test. I stayed by my father that spring. So much so that I had to withdraw from school; not only because I missed lots of class to physically take care of him, but also because in doing so I developed a sinus infection and pneumonia of my own that led to surgery the next year. I hated going to the hospital. I would sit in my car with the engine running and my hands on the wheel. Not driving. Not willing to spend more time with my father while he was unconscious than i spent with him when I was growing up and he was awake. But even after I gave up on music altogether, I would hear the song in my head, and then again over the hospital PA system in the waiting room, or in my father’s ICU room coming from his T.V.
Fast forward a few years: my father survived and I’m still in school. My mother was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML) during the winter of my final year. At this point, my mother had been taking care of her mother (from here on out referred to as either “The dragon lady” or “SlenderGran”) who had had a recent foot surgery, and I was recovering from ankle surgery on the opposite leg. It fell to me to take care of SlenderGran while my mother was sick, as well as taking care of my mother, her condo, her bills, and my schoolwork.
I didn’t hear the song on my way to the hospital this time. I knew that I wasn’t a coward, that I have certainly been tested, and I’d like to think that I passed. But it occurred to me that this time may not have been a test. As hard as it was to help my mother, take care of The Dragon Lady, and stay in school, it would have been unbearable to stay away. I don’t hold much stock in fate, but I don’t think I needed the song this time. I didn’t need a reminder to do what was right. So what if this time I was sick enough on my own to drop 30 lbs in one month. So what if it was winter and I had to carry my grandmother down her front stairs, or shovel her house out of feet of snow while I was down to one leg? I didn’t have leukemia. I wasn’t fighting for my life. The very least I could do was help my mother fight for hers.
The song has come back since her passing. I hear it when I’m thinking about burning all of my estate work, or when I’m thinking about taking off and never coming back. The test with her wasn’t in saving her life or helping her out like it was with my father. It’s surviving now that she’s gone and continuing to do right by her without her here. It’s in trying to build a relationship of sorts with my father, or checking in on The Dragon Lady to make sure she’s O.K. even though we haven’t spoken in almost a year.
Little-girl-me thought that you could only pass or fail when tested and that you wouldn’t really know which until it was over. It’s not over for me, and as much as little-girl-me thought she’d be so brave she’d stop the world, grown-up-me knows that pass or fail, the world will keep on turning. It would just be really nice to get a progress report every once in a while to see how I’m doing.
“Because I’m sure it isn’t good
That’s the impression that I get”