My Surreal Summer or “What I Did on My Summer Vacation, Part 1”


Summer got surreal when my daughter gave me the phone message. “Uncle Josh is in surgery,” she said. And no one knew what that meant. What surgery? Why? Where? What for?

Details filled in like they usually do in Crisis Mode. Misinformation mingles with fact, then retreats and regroups and a forms a new working reality. Lay people like my mom and my brothers and me repeat medical terminology given to us by doctors and specialists and surgeons. Though we don’t comprehend fully, it’s all we have to work with. And it feels like the more we feel like we know, the more secure we feel amidst all that’s spinning around us.

As we gathered in the ICU waiting room one night, we piece together what had happened. Cancer back after 20 years of remission. Growing tumor presses on brain, impairs faculties for weeks until one day strangers find him out cold along the road. Then ambulance to hospital, MRI to OR to ICU.

And here we wait.

In the waiting room we talk and wonder out loud and stave off boredom and fear. I sit next to one of my other brothers: he is working, typing quickly on his laptop, I am knitting, clicking needles quickly. So close to each other, but we are both inside our own heads. Inside my feelings battle and fight for position: guilt, selfishness, hope, longing, guilt again.

ICU waiting rooms are surreal places where no one wants to be, but many of those there can’t fathom leaving yet. Or ever.

But the summer continued, as it always does. My brother moved slowly through the stages of recovery and planned an August of chemotherapy and rest. And we all returned to normal life a little at a time.

But by “normal life” I mean “bustling to get ready for a very formal family wedding at Walt Disney World.” All of my daughters and I were in the Disney Wedding bridal party so for the next month we prepared for the big day. We bought four matching formal gowns, and four pairs of sparkly high heels, made four sets of rhinestone/crystal jewelry sets, and practiced four different up-dos (one with a sparkly princess tiara for my little flower girl).

To plan a Minnie Mouse Bachelorette Party, I made lists and lists and lists: hors d’oeuvres to make, drinks to mix, treats to bake, groceries to buy in Illinois, groceries to buy in Florida, kitchen gadgets to bring (or else I was screwed), decorations to make, songs to playlist, restaurants to call, bars to call, limos to call, and limos to never call again. When the dust settled, me, my daughters, and 14 nice ladies I’d just met had a great time giving my cousin one last night of singlehood. In sparkly Minnie Mouse ear headbands we descended on downtown Orlando and ate Mexican food like rock stars. We teased and laughed and sent her off to the Great Unknown.

Or, The Great Big Day.

On the day of the wedding, I think I could have had a thought bubble hovering over my head that said, “Oh, get out of town!” While the many Disney fans around me loved that day for all the Mouse is, and all the Mouse has done, I had a very different feeling.

Like that of a bewildered foreigner.

I kept trying to make sense of this lovely day with all the funny Disney details at every step. Like, as I walked down the aisle before the bride I stared straight ahead at Cinderella’s Castle, perfectly framed in the window of the wedding chapel. And when most grooms would turn to the best man for the rings, these rings were delivered by a “Page from the Castle” resplendent in powered wig, and white tails with gimp cord. And then, who crashed the reception, but Mickey himself?! (Now dear readers, you know I’m a practical girl. When I see a big black mouse run onto the dance floor, I look for broom so I can close my eyes, turn my head and beat it. But no. At this time it seemed appropriate to encircle said mouse and serenade him with Hey Mickey You’re So Fine You’re So Fine You Blow My Mind Hey Mickey. If I had a nickel for every time I checked my instincts.)

But truly, it was a beautiful day. Very Disney. But so lovely.

It’s all too weird, really. How does life go from one thing to another without a care that we’re not keeping up? By brother is coming along well, I think. Cancer treatment looks very different than it did 20 years ago, which is wonderful. And my cousin is happy and settling in to new season of life with her husband. I think of them both a lot, and I pray for my brother and his treatments throughout every day. And life goes on, as if the last few months didn’t happen.

It all feels a little surreal, really.

But now, as I look back on how much I just wrote, I realize that I haven’t even gotten to the main point of talking about my summer. The real deal is a cool project that I worked on to keep myself sane through everything. So I will write again soon and get to the fun stuff!

Stay tuned.