I got good news this week.
My doctor is doing appointments over the phone for now, and he called early, catching me in the bathtub to let me know the scope and the scan I had this summer, almost two years after a life-changing flare of Crohn’s disease, showed I have scar tissue but no actively diseased tissue in my colon.
He was so proud of us, genuinely happy.
Not everyone experiences Crohn’s the same way, and the damage I suffered was particularly gruesome and dangerous. Based on that, some setbacks this winter, and a natural drug tolerance that had me, in his words, “chewing through” my fancy IV medication, he didn’t expect the results he found. He expected to be increasing my medications, and the possibility of surgery remained a live one. He was not only proud but openly surprised none of this will be necessary.
I was the opposite of proud. I’m a spiritual person and I embraced the good news as an exchange of grace I don’t deserve or understand, something connected to my father’s faith as he did his dying this spring. It’s a religious person thing, meaning made in the best of faith…
I need to keep taking IV medication to stay this way. The bowel isn’t the only part of the body affected by Crohn’s, and many other symptoms — typical auto-immune garbage — are still with me. The side effects of my medication remain too, a lesser evil but evil all the same, one which leaves me immune compromised during a pandemic. Yes, I am part of the “it’s only the…” population so many are willing to make into human sacrifices. Into the volcano with us. Cheers.
Still, nothing ruins my good news. This year has been astoundingly bad all around. As the year I lost my father to a long illness, it certainly includes some of the worst days of my life. But there have also been moments in the pandemic that bring goodness home to me, not always unlikely remissions, but things worth remembering.
- My kids – It became obvious that my programmer son could work anywhere, so he moved 3500km from head office, back to the city where the rest of the family lives. Bonus is that, according to his youngest brother, “he is nice now.”
- My sibs – The sibling group chat (seven of us) has been a lifeline. As we work out Dad’s death, there isn’t much that needs working out between all of us. At the end, my sisters and I (five of us) moved into my parents’ tiny house for two weeks under the most stressful of circumstances, and we couldn’t have loved each other better or more. It was a great testament to my dad’s gift for making families. Elton John’s “Your Song” and Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” — basically any bittersweet Brit-alt-pop covered by a woman with a sweet voice — is about them.
- Love – My husband will still kiss me goodbye for the day, even if I’m in a zoom classroom with twenty teenagers.
- The earth – My modest yard is dominated by a pair of huge white spruce trees. For the six years we’ve lived here, we dismissed their corner as a black hole of sharp needles and mad insects. But this year, we took the time to see that many of their lower branches had died off. Once we pruned them away, it left the perfect spot to hang a hammock. The bugs hated it and left in a huff. We spent hours out there, in a fake boreal forest, like a place from my childhood. In this spot, I read reams of heavy philosophy that might have been unbearable otherwise. And yeah, it’s close enough to the house to get wifi.
- My work – I’m a writer and a PhD candidate and this late in my degree, I would continue to do my work whether I was paid for it or not. But I do get paid for it. Months into the pandemic, the government of Canada continued to award funding for research in the humanities, and I benefit directly from that. Clearly, culture and art have been comforting and sustaining people through this crisis. And even as people I know and like fall for anti-intellectual, anti-humanities conspiracy theories, unaware of the irony of the parallels to Maoism in what they repeat, ill- and misinformed about what we do and how and why, I’m still in a place where I can keep working and creating.
Grief is work — grief for what we lose in global disasters, what we lose from our families, from our bodies.
Grief is collaborative work done with my family, my medical team, in publishing, in research, in social media posts of my feet in my hammock.
Grief is creative work. Writing my dissertation and my creative projects under newly pruned spruce trees dripping with sap is the same work as making sense of Dad’s death, which is the same work as healing my colon, which is the same work as taking care of my husband and siblings and long lost children, which is the same work as all of this.