I’m back in therapy and glad about it. There are some things you can only tell a shrink. Mine is pretty, (most days – not today) and gay, and living with another chick, which I would definitely like to meet, along side my psychologist…in their bed.
Okay, I’m bad. I can’t stop imagining those things. But that’s not what I need to talk about today. What I have to say is, “We’re all on death row,” which I do.
“A disconcerting thought,” answers my therapist, with a flat tone that hides her opinions. “Why are you thinking that?”
“I just returned from a parents-visit,” I answer. “And they’re old.”
“Like ancient. Dad’s an ornery, senile ninety-four year old going on four. And Mom’s ninety-two, his cook, servant and wrangler. It’s a miserable life for her. She’s totally depleted and she told me a day doesn’t go by when she doesn’t think she’ll wake up dead. Or something like that.”
“Are you starting to miss your parents, Irv?”
“No, they’re not gone…yet. So I pretend they’ll live forever. But every time I visit, all their friends want to see me again, and they are close to the grave. Emphysema, gout, osteoporosis, the recovery from a kidney swap, blotchy black and blue eczema, electric wheelchairs, and cancer…lots of cancer all around.”
“Not that much different from a hospital,” responds my therapist, tightening while she bounces her pen.
“Yeah, except they’re all living at home, barely. And nobody talks about how sick they are, at least to me, ‘cause when we all met at the Red Lobster and everyone turned up their hearing aids to three and started yapping, nothing relevant got talked about.”
My doc writes a note, saying, “Grandparents talk about grandchildren.”
“Actually, they didn’t. I don’t know what they talked about ‘cause I was too bored to tune in. But it wasn’t about family or their tickers winding down or livers going bad or their skin falling off or–”
“I get the picture.”
“Because thanks to modern medicine we get saved from strokes and heart attacks and kidney failures only to live… Oh, now I remember. One guy at the table announced Jane’s new kidney was failing and she went back to critical care, which explained her absence. Then my mom said…good ole Mom… She said, ‘Jane’s a strong woman. She’ll fight this too.’ And everybody agreed and dropped the subject.”
“No one wants to die, Irv.”
“Nope. And we’re all pretending we won’t. I got another depressing story.”
“Light on the details this time.” She checks her watch.
I continue. “So sitting across from me was a woman named Marcia. She ordered soup with a salad and her husband ordered the Seaside Shrimp Trio, which is more than anybody can eat but since he was depressed and not talking that night, the food pile gave him something to do. Problem is, he kept clearing his throat and gagging like a panic attack and spitting into–”
“And nobody said anything.”
“Must we continue with this?”
“Yeah. So on the way to the restaurant, Mom told me that Marcia beat back her pancreatic cancer but then last week it was there again and the doctor told Marcia chemo wouldn’t help anymore.”
“I know where this is going.”
“No, it gets better.” I sit up. “Marcia decided to take the chemo anyway and I’m expecting her to look like burnt toast. But she didn’t. She actually looked good. I liked her short black wig, even though it was crooked, and she was smiling and seemed perfectly normal. So I leaned over to Mom and whispered that Marcia looked great, ‘cause like, people with stage three get down to cadaver weight but Marcia looked meaty. ‘Cept not enough I found out, ‘cause Mom whispered back that Marcia had just lost forty pounds and I thought, She hasn’t looked this trim in years. She’s not aesthetically challenged anymore.”
“She might make it,” responds my psychologist pushing up her glasses. “Doctors can only guess at these things.”
“Okay, but really, we’re talking months and not years. Still Marcia’s keeping really together. It’s her husband that’s super down. He usually brags how smart he is but that night he was mute as a monkey and when Marcia threw up on his linguini, he just sat–”
Doc drops her pad. “That’s it!”
“C’mon! I need to vent!”
“Ya gotta hear why Mom wants to be dead.”
“But my sister’s gonna lose her house ‘cause her law firm kicked her out, even though she’s a partner. And now her kids have to drop out of college and get jobs to buy breakfast.”
“You’re making that up.”
“Uh uh. My sister went bonkers and lost her lawyer cred and then her clients. So last month she asked my folks for ten thousand dollars and my parents barely get by on social security. But Mom gave it to her anyway so I had to replace it to cover Dad’s medical bills. With my sis falling apart, I got Mom to change the will. Now I’m the sole trustee and not my sister. That pissed her off. She’s not talking to me anymore, or her deadbeat musician husband, he plays bass, or her kids.”
“This is so sad.”
“Yeah! Why do you think going home’s a bummer! My only sibling hates me and my parent’s friends are dying…long, lingering, aching deaths with wheel chairs, oxygen tanks and stooped, crumbling skeletons.
“Please! No more!”
“Last week I bought my parents a new cordless phone system and spent an hour programming their friend’s phone numbers into the memory. And I’m thinking, How many of these numbers are they gonna need next year?”
Wow. My doc screamed at me. I turn to face her. Whoa! Is she..? Yeah she is. She’s crying. And fogging up her glasses.
I get off the couch, start moving to her. She waves me back.
Now I’m really feeling bad. So I say, “I’m sorry. Guess you don’t wanna talk about this stuff.”
She explodes. “My father died last month!”
“Oh… Sorry for your loss.” I’m trying to be sensitive.
“And my partner was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer.”
Jeez. Even worse! Gotta be up-beat. “Hey, they can cut those out.”
“So they carve out the rest. Who needs a gall bladder anymore?”
“Irv. You’re not helping!”
Guess I’m not, ‘cause she’s withering into a fountain of sobs, dropping back into her chair, hands raised to her face.
Man, I’m never good at times like this. When Mom said that some days she wishes she were dead, all I could do was hug her. Except she hates to be touched, even by me. So that didn’t help much. And saying, “I love you” didn’t help much either ‘cause she already knows that.
I move back to the couch and sit down, thinking… Words can’t really help someone when their scared and depressed. All we can do is hang close and wait for them to ask for help. And if they don’t, well… We did what we were supposed to do — be the friend. Be there. Offer chicken soup.
I try to be that kind of friend. And I do my best being the loyal son and brother. But I’m not very good with therapists. I make them cry. And I just learned that nobody, not even my shrink, wants to think about death.
Okay. I get it. But maybe if we did, if we remembered we’re all on borrowed time, just maybe we’d all be a little kinder to each other.