It's been a very long year for me. I left home four and a half years ago to go to a college three thousand miles away. I had a lot of reasons for doing this, but one was that my family always used to get in these terrible (verbal) fights. About four or five nights a week I would end up sitting in my room listening to my parents and brother yell at each other, my sister and my Mom fight, or my parents fight with each other. This seemed to be no big deal to everyone else in the family, but I always felt like I had to keep the peace or pretend it wasn't happening. Neither of these approaches served me well, so I -- somewhat unconsciously -- got out of there as soon as possible.
I came home for holidays and vacations every year, and up until last year I loved seeing my family, but hated the family environment. Then last year when I came home for Christmas, things got much better. My younger brother had also left for college, and my parents both seemed happier. I enjoyed being home so very much. There was little fighting, and I was able to spend and enjoy time with everyone. That was my last vacation before I graduated and went out on my own without parental support. It was the first time I actually wanted to stay.
I went back to school to enjoy my last semester in college. Since my freshman year I had looked forward to my graduation when my entire family would come visit me and I would be able to show them around and spend time with them and play hostess. Everyone began to get a little excited. My Mom and I had been discussing what restaurant to have my graduation dinner at since September, my brother and sister both managed to talk my rather cheap Dad into letting them come, and my Aunt and Uncle decided to come too. I went about trying to lose weight to look good for when my family came, get straight A's to graduate with honors, and plan the best ways to entertain my guests.
Something else happened to me that semester. I had been an ovolacto vegetarian for about five years and had gradually begun to do some research on veg*nism on the internet. In March I began reading even more and when Mad Cow and cattle being burned because of Hoof and Mouth seemed to show up everywhere on the news, I made the switch and became a vegan. From then on I felt incredible -- physically, mentally, and morally. I was on the biggest emotional high of my life.
About two weekends before finals started my Mom complained that she was feeling sick, but she didn't know what was wrong with her. She was sure that she'd be fine in a few days though. Four days later I got the first in a series of bad phone calls from my Dad. My Mom had antibiotic resistant double pneumonia and was in the hospital. She had been in there a few days, which was not a good sign because hospitals generally want people out as soon as possible.
By the next phone call she had been moved to a different ward--oncology. The word sounded familiar, but I couldn't quite place it when my Dad mentioned it. He then told me that he had needed to look up the word when the hospital called and that it meant cancer. He continued on to say that he hadn't heard anything regarding cancer from the doctors, but they generally wouldn't move someone into this ward for no reason. He told me not to mention this to my Mom, because he wasn't sure if she knew what oncology meant and we didn't want to scare her. My Mom had smoked for about thirty years.
The next I heard, she had developed a condition called pleurisy -- fluid in the lungs. First the doctors went in and drained the fluid out with a tube; unfortunately by then some of the fluid had dried. A few days later she underwent surgery to scrape out the dried fluid. My Dad called several hours after the surgery. They hadn't found any tumors--thank God--but she wouldn't be coming to my graduation.
When I first heard that my Mom was in the hospital it was like hitting a brick wall. The incredible high that I had been on since becoming a vegan stopped, and I was left completely devastated. I couldn't come home and see her because of finals and graduation, and I called her only once when I was told she was in the hospital. After that, my Dad told me not to call because talking made her cough too much. I tried to help by getting her an incredible Mother's Day present, but it didn't help me and probably not her either. I had never felt so helpless in my life. And while the rest of my family did come here for my graduation, it was all terrible. The absence of my Mom seemed more present than the rest of my family members. I spent the second half of the graduation ceremony in tears and most of the rest of the visit tense and unhappy. I started my job almost right after graduation and wasn't able to see my Mom before starting work.
It's taken me almost five months to start healing from this. I felt guilty for not being able to see or help my Mom. I also felt so incredibly helpless; she had gotten so sick very quickly. I was hurt that she wasn't coming to my graduation, even though I logically knew she would have done anything to be there. I developed an intense hatred of smoking. I worried a lot about my family's health. I used to wait until my boyfriend fell asleep at night and then cry myself to sleep. It's only in the past few weeks that I've started letting myself heal from this and begin to feel happy again.
I'm coming home for Christmas this year and I can't wait to see my family, especially my Mom. Last Christmas may have been my best visit home, but this year has helped me appreciate my family much more. My big surprise for my parents will be that I'm a vegan. They don't know this yet, and I've been dreading telling them. But now I'm starting to feel hopeful. Maybe they'll embrace it and be happy for me. Who knows? One thing I've learned this year is that the future could hold anything in store, and I'm finally ready to start being optimistic.
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