Smoldering

Why a cancer diagnosis hasn't generated the usual emotions.

I recently discovered that my biological mother has cancer.

Stage 4.

Lung Cancer.

I haven’t arrived yet at any specific emotion. It’s really just, for lack of a better word, complicated.

I’m usually pretty aware of my emotions, my thoughts, my feelings. I’m usually in pretty good control of them. I express what I want to express and what I’m not willing to offer… I don’t.

It’s a bit different with this.

I know that I’m supposed to feel angry. Throw in a touch of sadness and a lot of grief. I think that’s what I’m supposed to feel.

It just doesn’t actually match what I do feel.

Because, as I said, it’s complicated.

After all, we haven’t spoken in probably 13 or 14 years. It’s likely we may never speak again.

There’s just a void, an emptiness. Like I’ve already lost her. The truth is, I lost her a long time ago.

But, she’s still alive and fighting for her life. Because cancer is a monster that has to be defeated. That’s truly what I want for her. It’s no different from what I’d want for anyone who is fighting cancer.

It’s almost like her having cancer brought her back to life in my thoughts.

We had a falling out.

It wasn’t really over anything specific but over a series of issues. It goes back to when I was born, almost 42 years ago. In short, she chose not to keep me. (This is the part where I always feel obligated to express this caveat about being adopted into a great family with loving parents who raised me well - which they did and I’m forever grateful for that.) It’s a bit too dramatic to say she simply gave me away, though sometimes a kid who feels abandoned by his mother doesn’t know the difference. Anyway, some details are sketchy as to why she couldn’t keep me, some aren’t. She had her reasons, I didn’t exactly have a say, you know.

Sometimes it’s easy to leave the past in the past and sometimes the consequences of our actions linger and smolder and eventually catch fire again.

This isn’t a post seeking answers or solace or any measure of comfort. It’s not even her versus me. We all have a history that we sometimes would rather keep hidden.

Sometimes that history needs to be confronted.

The thing is, when I heard that my biological mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, it caused me to feel… something. That something sometimes feels like… nothing? I think the sense of nothingness, that void I’ve felt is what seems to have me the most troubled.

It’s not that I don’t care. I do. It’s not that I wish her any harm.

I don’t.

It’s just, I’ve really never had a relationship with the woman who birthed me, or even lived in the same state with her. She was nineteen and already a mother to my sister who she’d earlier moved to a different state. She said she tried, but couldn’t do it. But she also never told my biological father that I existed.

It’s heavy.

I felt robbed. A part of my life, my story, my history was stolen from me and there wasn’t a thing I could’ve done about it.

I’m not even sure why I’m writing about this. I never have before. Maybe it’s therapy. Maybe I’ve wanted to protect her.

Maybe I’ve veered away from writing about her to protect myself.

After all, I’ve always felt a little embarrassed to be adopted. Perhaps a bit of shame too. No… that’s not it. Being adopted by a family that wanted me was love. The shame comes from feeling like my own mother didn’t want me. It’s not just shame that has been heavy.

It’s pain too.

I’m happy she birthed me. She gave me life.

But she also stole my life.

I never met my father. He died before I had the opportunity to reach him. I lost over two decades of time with my sister and my brothers from my father’s side who I hadn’t known existed.

My mother’s cancer diagnosis stirred the smoldering embers and caught fire all of the tensions and grievances I assumed were away.

As I said, it’s heavy.

We could dive into the topic of forgiveness here, maybe grace as well. But we’ll save that for a different time.

So, that’s why this is all so complicated. I’m guessing I’m not the only person to deal with complicated parental relationships. I love being unique, but I don’t think I’m that unique.

Cancer is a monster. A beast. I hope she kicks its ass.

I’m just not certain that I can create the emotions that I often feel I’m supposed to have.

- JG