Sunday, August 19, 2007

Living Between the Hurricanes

In August 2005, my Loved One was in Alaska, working as he does as an exploration geologist for a gold mining company. He loves his work. I love him. I love that he has work to do that he loves. Life is too short to work only for money...

Anyway, he thought I should see Alaska, and he was right. I needed to see the last Great Frontier, up close and personal. Actually, everyone should see Alaska. In my heart I know that the wild places in Alaska (and thankfully, there are still thousands of wild places in Alaska) must be what the rest of our country was like before it became so populated. It's like looking into a little bit of God's mind--if he created one place so heart-breakingly rich and beautiful as Alaska, imagine what the rest of the world once looked like.

But, I was going to see Alaska. Was I excited? Ha. I was about to come out of my skin. This trip involved so many details--getting time off from work, find a decent pair of walking boots, booking planes, arranging for Dear Daughter to spend some time with friends, careful packing of layerable clothing for the mercurial weather. The day I left Memphis was 98 degrees at noon. When I arrived in Anchorage, it was 40 degrees at midnight.

I left behind a lot of worry, but I figured it was mostly under control. My oldest sister, who lives in New Orleans, had just arrived in town. Hurricane Katrina was threatened the Gulf of Mexico, and while no one knew exactly which way the storm was going to turn, my sister had ridden out a multitude of storms in her nearly 20 years in Louisiana. We weren't all that worried about the storm.

My other sister, who lives in Middle Tennessee was also in town. Fortunately, no meteorological disasters were looming over her hometown. Scattered as our family is, we're not terribly often all in the same place at the same time, but, as the clouds gathered in the gulf, we gathered to face a storm of another kind.

It wasn't the best of times for me to be leaving town. My mother had just been diagnosed with lung cancer. Both of my parents had been in, well, declining condition, and although both had been long-time smokers, this was a blow. Mother has always been a vigorous and almost larger-than-life person. Besides a hernia when I was about 10, she was only ever hospitalized when her six children were born. She had the occasional bad cold, but was never ever really sick. Until now.

So, I left anyway for Alaska. The Loved One and I thought it might be best for me to go ahead and take a vacation while I could, since we didn't know what would happen with my mother. Three days into the trip, we came out of the wilds of the Bush at Carlo Creek. In a small coffee shop 20 miles south of Denali National Park we saw a newspaper photo of New Orleans smashed by Hurricane Katrina. Two days later in Valdez, we finally saw CNN the day after the levees breached. I knew my sister was safe at my house in Memphis, but the city we loved and consider almost a second home was irrevocably damaged and altered. Frantic calls home gave us little new information...we had no idea how bad the real damage to my sister's home or life was, and wouldn't for a few weeks yet. In the meantime, mother began her radiation and chemotherapy--a course of treatment that would last until March of 2006.

Life continued. I came home. My sister was able to return home eventually and resume her life. The Loved One came home for the season. My mother did really well with her treatment, although it was never easy. The storm hit us, broke over us, and though we tumbled and were tossed, we came through it. We celebrated Mom's end of chemo while Dad was in the hospital in March 2006. He recovered from his fall and some health problems, but died three months later of a massive heart attack. Mom recovered from her treatment, and got better and started traveling after Dad's death.

It was a year in June since Dad died. In a week, it will be two years since Hurricane Katrina hit. Mother has been off-treatment for more than a year. As I write, Hurricane Dean is assaulting Jamaica and setting his sights on the Yucatan Peninsula and the Gulf of Mexico. This afternoon, my mother was diagnosed with multiple, inoperable brain tumors.

I don't know how to tell her this. I don't know how to tell my daughter this. It would be a good day to be in Alaska.

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