I guess it’s not easy to be the one that lives farthest away in times of crisis. How must it feel to not know what is going on because of geography when everyone else, it seems is familiar with intimate details? Being far away is hard.
My son, Ben, called me today from his university dorm in Thunder Bay. It is like he is a world apart. It is not abnormal that he calls – he is much better than I ever was at his age and even well into my thirties. I was not always happy to hear from my Mom when I was at university. I may have been busy playing cards with my room-mates and her call would be to find out information about how school was going. I saw it as an interruption and I almost resented it. I can hardly believe that’s how I felt then. My Mom would call me at least every Sunday and if I was busy doing something I would not make any effort to hide that I was distracted. How rude of me. On other occasions, however, I would call her and expect that she drop everything for me. She always did. She always let me talk until I felt better. I used to cry on the phone to her. How hard must that have been to be so far away and hear your child so upset. It wasn’t until she was in her well into her late 70s and I into my 40s when Mom’s phone calls became a part of my daily routine. I would panic if I didn’t hear from her. I think I even gave her heck if she missed one day. We didn’t really have much to say to each other on some occasions. It was enough to just touch base with one another to hear each others’ voice. It was re-assuring. Being far away is hard.
Ben is different. Ben calls me. I like it that way. I know when he calls I am not interrupting his life. Whenever he calls me I race to the phone in eager anticipation of an overview of the exciting or non-exciting things in his life. He had surprised me when he came home from school the previous year. Sort of. Okay, maybe I surprised myself. He arrived home while I was at work and so his buddy drove him to the school where I was teaching. I saw him walk in through the doors and ran towards him. I didn’t know that was what I would do. But I ran. And Ben and I stood in the middle of the hallway and embraced each other. I just couldn’t let go. Tears of joy streamed down my cheeks and nothing else in the world mattered at that time. I was just so happy he was home. Being so far away is hard.
“Mom, why don’t you call me?” Ben asks.
“I don’t want to impose on you Ben.”
“Mom, I like hearing from you.” (Really? I think to myself) “Being far away is hard. I don’t know what’s going on.” How different he is from me. He is my boy. I guess at the age of 20 he is more of a grown man. But he will always be my baby. I worry about him the way my mom used to worry about me. Is he eating well? Is he getting exercise? Are the other kids playing well with him? Is he doing his home-work? You know the drill. When Ben was born, the only thing I ever hoped was that he would be happy. Was he happy? It is so difficult to be so far away. It is so difficult for him to be so far away when I am sick, too.
“How are you, Mom?” is the only question he will really ask. Maybe he doesn’t know what to ask or whether he should ask.
“I am fine, Ben.” I reply. Inside, though, I crumble with the question. I am fine, but I miss him. Our house is not the same when Ben is not home. My eldest boy is a gentleman. He is well respected by our friends and family. He has a great sense of humor. He is sensitive. He is very handsome.
I don’t think Ben knew what it meant that I had cancer when we first broke the news to him. I was too far away and he could not be part of the impact the news had on our family. He could not give me a hug, nor cry on my shoulder the way Katya and David had. He could not look me in the eye and evaluate how I was really doing. I was worried about him. I wanted him home. So, Kevin booked him a ticket and brought him home.
As usual, Ben appeared calm and collected. Other than the odd comment, “I’m a momma’s boy!” Ben doesn’t really talk about his emotions. I didn’t really look any different at the time – still had my hair, so there wasn’t anything really shocking about seeing me I suppose.
“Was it difficult to get away from your school, Ben?” I inquired.
“Well, I had a few friends that owed me favours and I had to get special permission from my bosses. ” he replied casually. I had to conclude that this had been tricky. What had Ben expressed to his residence manager that had caused her to grant Ben permission to come home? How had he been managing himself being so far away? I was not there – I was not part of this aspect of my boy’s life.
It turns out Ben was able to accompany Kevin and I to my biopsy. He was keen to go. I had not been so sure this would be a good idea – how would he react to the needles, poking, prodding, and doctors? Of course, Ben wants to be a doctor, so my overall feeling was that it may just be good for him to see what happens. Ben wanted to come so that he could be a part of my life. “Oh, right.” I replied with surprise. Of course he wants to be a part of things. Between Ben and Kevin, they kept the nurses in stitches. I was just proud of my tall, handsome boy. “That’s my son.” was my tag line to everyone we met. Although he didn’t quite out-grow my husband, he was tall in my books on that day. My boy. He wanted to be with me. Imagine!
We spent a good amount of time together, Ben and I, during his short stay home. It seemed after a while, that nothing was different. We fell into the same routines we had before he had left at the beginning of the summer. It was a treat to have a “normal” day with Ben. These days were always special to me. We didn’t have much to say to other always, but just knowing that each was there was enough.
And then it came time for Ben to fly back to school. Oh, God. How was I to be strong? Kevin was the designated driver on that day – I didn’t want to get sick before chemo. “Take care of yourself, Ben, and be sure you stay on top of your work.” I advised.
“Don’t worry, Mom.” But being far away is hard. I broke down and absolutely sobbed after Ben drove away into the distance. I knew I would. Our good-bye was quick – on purpose. I didn’t want Ben to see me crumble. I wanted to race after him and drag him back home. That’s what I wanted. I don’t like that he is so far away. My heart ached. I closed the door and breathed. And life carried on.
And that’s just it. Life does carry on. Ben is doing what he does in Thunder Bay and I am only privy to the parts of his life that he chooses to reveal to me. I am doing what I do here and the only things Ben has access to are the parts of my life I choose to share with him. And life carries on.
We may be far away from each other, but we are always “there” for each other.