Oh, how I miss Robin Williams. For many of us, I think, his presence was so steady and so comforting for all its strangeness (or because of that strangeness) that it was almost familial, and his death has called up for me an echo of the feeling I had for a long time after the loss of my mother and grandmother: "No, he's not gone. He can't be gone. He's just stepped out for a bit."
A friend asked me the other day whether I ever speak with my mother's spirit. I don't. I've never had the sense (though I envy it in my sister) that Mom's right there, listening and ready to lend me guidance. But she does occasionally make precious appearances in my dreams. They're not recurring dreams, strictly speaking (despite being about recurrence). The setting and other incidentals are fluid, but the core situation and the emotional tenor stay much the same: Mom is back, but not for long. She's here on a kind of furlough; she's been granted a special reprieve from the void, and all she wants to do is to hang out with us for a bit. Like I said, the setting changes, but it's most commonly our kitchen back in Lafayette, CA, and she's stirring batter in a bowl or sauce in a pot. We're all sad, of course, that she can't stay for long, but we're also tremendously glad that she's with us again, however briefly.
Time. Strange stuff. I've been losing track of days and dates, not only because I'm a brain patient and almost completely untethered from the working week, but also because my hours are plump to bursting. Moments like grapes and minutes like melons.
A couple of weeks after Robin Williams' suicide, one of our excellent local pizza/beer/movie houses, the Academy, showed a small retrospective of his work, and I went to see a personal favorite, The World According to Garp. (My most favorite favorite is The Fisher King, and I'm glad I saw it again four or five months ago, because I think it would now be unbearably sad.) There's maybe no other book that has had such a profound effect on me as Garp, thanks in part to my first reading it when I was all of ten years old - talk about wading in over one's head! The movie could never have done the novel justice, and it ain't great on the whole, but in many of its parts, in many of its moments, it's pretty wonderful. (Hey, it's got John Lithgow playing Roberta Muldoon, formerly Robert Muldoon, linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles!) And there's one scene I've kept in mind for thirty-two (!) years, a touchstone with lines that aren't in the book.
It's actually a terrible scene when you know the story, because the shit is about to rain down hard, the maw of the undertoad about to gape wide. But at this fragile moment, Garp the writer/househusband has just spent a long afternoon sword fighting with Roberta and his two sons. He's preparing dinner, and he stops to say, "Sometimes you can have a whole lifetime in a day and not even realize that this is as beautiful as life gets. I had a beautiful life today."
I put that last line on my "senior page" in my high school yearbook, and I turn it over and over in my head now. Since the day not quite four weeks ago when Dr. Phoebe Harvey told me, "We're always wrong. You know it's impossible to say. But six months would be a reasonable estimate," I've had two cats' worth of "whole lifetimes in a day." Here are a few of the strange and beautiful moments that have made them so rich:
Medical update: As I noted in an earlier post, I decided against full-brain radiation (the only treatment that can lower my risk of additional brain metastases, but at the cost of immediate cognitive decline and at the risk of horrible cognitive deficits should it buy me some extra future). Not wanting to waste anyone's time, I cancelled my consultation with a sharp and compassionate radiation oncologist, Dr. Christopher Hoffelt, who had talked me through my options by phone when I was in the hospital. Generously (and fortunately), he followed up, calling me at home to offer another mode of treatment, this one much safer because much more targeted and limited. This week I'm undergoing three hour-long radiation sessions over five days, with everything beamed strictly and with great care at the "tumor bed" (i.e., the crater that surgery left in my brain); this will take the risk of a recurrence at that site from 50-80% down to 15-20% but will not reduce much if at all the risk of a metastasis elsewhere in my brain. It's a relatively new approach and not on offer to everyone, but for someone like me with a solitary brain metastasis and a powerful attachment to her own mental powers, it strikes a good balance between risk and potential reward.