CW: Cancer, death (but not from the cancer)

My mother-in-law was a paper hoarder. She had difficulty identifying what was important, so she kept everything. I’d come over and help her match up EOBs with medical bills, discarding the boilerplate FYI’s and ads and empty envelopes, stapling and clipping and making notes of what everything was so she could find what she needed.

Now that she’s gone, I’ve still been going through her papers, figuring out what to recycle, what to shred, what to keep. I just got to the file from when she had a double-mastectomy. It was a shock to come across my own handwriting. My memories of her bouts with cancer are of Shawn being gone, two years of his life dedicated to caring for her, and how hard it had been on him. I had forgotten that, when she decided to have her breasts removed, I was involved with her healing as well.

But there it was: a neatly written list of instructions on how to drain the fluid from the incision, how to replace the bandages, all in my own hand.

Suddenly I was back in her kitchen, sitting with her, Shawn talking me through the process as I wrote it down, joking with her and feeling her agitation lessen as she realized that she wasn’t going through this alone.

The kitchen is gone now. The house closed escrow a couple of weeks ago, and the new owners are in the process of a major remodeling. It’s weird, all these memories associated with person and place, now untethered. But they still live inside me, and my cells hum with remembered love.