Ebb and Flow.

Ebb and Flow.

There are words and phrases that, when I hear them, they are like sneaker waves, knocking me temporarily out of whatever moment I’m in and transporting me back in time. Thankfully, Foley catheters, baclofen and Hoyer lifts don’t often come up in casual conversation.

I was watching a comedy special with Tig Notaro the other night which seemed like the perfect antidote to my melancholy mood. A comedy special should be safe, I thought. But it wasn’t. Someone approached Tig to share something along the lines of, “When you had cancer, that’s when I was diagnosed, too.” And there it was, hiding in my “safe” comedy special, the phrase that I just cannot hear without stomach clenching.

I was diagnosed.

After my mother got sick, she said that all the time. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I was diagnosed with MS. When I was diagnosed…

Night after night, phone call after phone call, she told people she was sick. She said it like she was announcing what was for dinner or what she’d watched on TV the night before.

I was diagnosed.

There are so many other ways to say what she obviously needed to say and yet she chose that one phrase every single time, saying it so casually that I wanted to scream at her, “Stop fucking telling everyone you know that you’re sick! Stop saying it like you scraped your knee.”

When you’re fourteen, the more you hear something, the more true it is.

For the next 20 years she said it to anyone and everyone, her voice only growing calmer, more relaxed as the disease stole her strength. As her illness progressed, it wasn’t like a minor injury anymore. She said it with the appropriate level of devastation, but by then the damage was done physically, mentally, emotionally, that her inflection wasn’t necessary to feel the weight of it.

Now I can’t hear it without a sea of ordinarily repressed memories flooding back to me. I was diagnosed can collapse my insides faster than anyone knows but I’ve had lots of practice pretending my skin is enough to hold me up; I can react like a normal person most of the time.

It’s five years today since she’s been gone and longer than that since I’ve heard her voice. I’ve almost forgotten what she sounded like but when I hear those words, no matter who is saying them, they sound like my mother. I don’t want to forget her but I don’t want to remember those parts anymore.

I don’t know if using the words will ever take away their power. As I type them now I feel like my organs are being scooped out; I’m systematically hollowed. I wonder if next time it won’t be so hard. I wonder if remembering will ever get easier.

I wonder if I’ll ever stop being tricked into thinking the ebb of grief won’t be followed by the flow of its return.

20 Responses to “Ebb and Flow.”

  1. ywcourtenay says:

    Oh, my love… So many feels here. Love you.

  2. as anyone who ever lost their mother or someone nearest to their heart can tell you, no, it doesn’t get easier. It gets different maybe. Some years it sneaks up on you and you have to remind yourself. Other years it invades your soul and you wonder why you are feeling so out of sorts till you realize what day it is. I just hope you can remember that her diagnosis was never intended to be your diagnosis for a lifetime.

  3. “She said it with the appropriate level of devastation, but by then the damage was done physically, mentally, emotionally, that her inflection wasn’t necessary to feel the weight of it.”

    I feel the weight of that line. So well done, Michelle.

  4. Michelle, I just want to hug you right now. Just hugs.

  5. Nancy Lowell says:

    Oh those moments, those reminders, they are sneaky indeed. They knock you down, and then you get up.

  6. Meg says:

    Ah, sweetie. I had no idea your mom had MS. It is hard when someone defines herself by her disease but also it was brave of her to face it and name it. I can imagine that this fact elicited conflicting emotions for you as a teen and adult. You evoke this so clearly in your essay. Beautifully written, Michelle.

    • michellelongo says:

      I often feel like if I had been older when this happened, things would have been so different from how they were. Or if I had a better support system. Or if she had more adults around her to talk to (and a little more discretion!).Such is life though, I suppose. Thanks for the kind words.

  7. Sending you lots of love this week. This was heartbreaking and also beautifully written.

  8. I hope these particular words lose their power over you.

  9. snapsandbits says:

    Oh man, I thought I already commented. I actually was diagnosed so I get the pain of those words. We are not our diseases but sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the terminology. Hugs to you. MS is a horrible thing to live through.

  10. Birdman says:

    There are words that my Nan used to say that trigger things for me. Maybe it’s because she never really talked about being sick when she was. Luckily for me, the triggers always make me smile or cry the happy tears, instead of the dirty cancer tears. Great post.

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