I phoned Jamie. My cousin and I hadn't spoken in some time, and then only rarely. Each conversation, however, felt deeply familiar and easy. We were raised like siblings as our mother's are very close. We're all close. We didn't know we had a choice in the matter. Family is family.
He is the bullying older brother of my girlhood who made me choose between getting whacked with his right hand as it dangled over my head, or his left which shook expectantly at his hip. Who pushed me down stairs in a laundry basket when I was refusing to go and thus holding up the line-enter trauma leading to random stair phobia. Who made mashed potatoes fly out of my nose with a joke like a bullet ready to strike just dangling on the edge of his lips daring me to take another bite (a tradition, I'll add, which he recently bequeathed to his sons: This is Jessica. The Mark).
These are the stories that get told and retold in my family. And so, it becomes the story of you. We all, and by all I mean all, have stories that follow us around within the family. Just in case you have ideas of outgrowing your britches, these stories remind you that you were once just a little girl who put raisins on her shoes. For more on that story, see my Aunt Gaile.
My mother is the middle child in a family of 7: Nana (D) and Grandpa (D)--aka. Barbara and Jim Seufert had Roxanne, Gaile, Mom, and the twins, Terri and Mark. Various aunts and uncles have come and gone. Some have gone and come back. I am somewhere in the middle of 13 cousins.
Joshua and I were raised with Gaile's kids. We played soccer together - well, they played, I picked flowers in the field. We went to the Redwood City Fourth of July parade together. Went on road trips together. Saw each other for most birthdays and holidays, trips to Sea World and Great America. We're family. So, even though Jamie (Gaile's eldest) and I hadn't spoken in a while, when mom told me she sent her tests down to Jamie in order to get his honest opinion before she had to face the rest of the family, it made perfect sense to me. He's got that fancy Head Researcher job in Southern Cal doing something to cow brains for the good of genetic research, and he'll give mom a straight answer in that tender, sensitive way he has.
Before I phoned him, I wanted to be up on the terminology related to Pancreatic Cancer. I phoned the Pancreatic Cancer Society to get information on the best treatments available, the clinical trials, causes, stories, basic anatomy, everything I could stuff into my brain. I don't remember everything that was said. I do remember that in my research I had already read the life expectancy statistics before he said them out loud: 2-3 months without chemo and 4-6 with. I remember that he said again and again: If you ever need to talk, have questions or just need to scream, I'm here.
Mom confessed that Jamie was the one that told her with conviction: You have to tell the family. Not that there was any question of not telling them, it's just that she wasn't rushing to make the announcement. For the first time ever, I saw my mom turn so deeply inward that she wasn't rushing to take care of everyone through this. She answered her needs with quick provision and without constantly weighing the needs of everyone else. This, from the woman who made the best pesto I've ever had despite the fact that she hates pesto. She only realized a year or so ago that she often made food for others that she didn't particularly care for. My mother, as it turns out, was a very picky eater, she just never burdened anyone with it.
As she told me so often before in a kind of mantra of the self-actualized woman: It's okay to be high maintenance, as long as you can take care of yourself. Her rigidity to this anthem would soon be tested and I think the prospect of that vulnerability and dependency sparked her need to dive into the reaches of her person for the fortitude and courage this next season would require of her. As for me, I think I tried to dive in with her. Perhaps I'm still trying to crawl back out.