Sweet and Sour

Caitlin - Notre Dame, Indiana
Entered on February 25, 2008

I believe every person has the capacity to choose to savor what is sweet in life, even while experiencing life’s bitterness.

I walked out of the murky locker room after the swim meet had ended and turned to face my best friend. She grabbed my hand and squeezed it and, with tears streaming down my face, I looked once more into the stands to see my mom’s shining face. Realizing that this day marked the beginning of her life-long journey against breast cancer, I then asked myself a question: would I let the bitter waters engulf me, or would I stay strong, fighting the waves back in order to achieve the sweet satisfaction of finishing the race? I would forever be a witness to the suffering of a loved one, and I had this choice to make.

Although I knew I couldn’t live my life struggling to breathe under the bitter current, the sweetness was often extremely difficult for me to find. I was a witness to my mom’s sour suffering. She cried as she began to lose her hair, and I watched her cry. When she threw up from the drugs doctors repeatedly gave her, I was at her side. The drugs caused her to lose her appetite and I watched her become weak and fragile, as her weight dropped to a mere 100 pounds. I visited her in the hospital after she had both of her breasts removed. I watched her struggle to raise her arms, as the doctors had taken tissue from her back to repair her bare front. I applied a healing ointment to several deep scars on her back. I sat with her in her bed when she was too weak to get up from it. I grieved daily, swallowing some bitter water.

Desperate to keep my head above water, I relentlessly attempted to delight in the small things. Keeping my choice in mind, I began to compartmentalize my emotions. I began to focus on that which brought me pleasure—swimming, music, friends—while denying that which caused me pain. I had to look beyond my mother’s bald head to see the warmth of my friends and other family members cheering for me at a swim meet. I delighted in the delicious dinners that friends and relatives made for me and my family, even while fully aware that these dinners only came because my mom could no longer cook. I savored good jokes and fun nights with my friends. I allowed that which was barren to achieve fruition. I was a witness to the disease’s progression, but did not permit it to rob me of experiencing the sweetness in my life.

I believe that the yin and yang of human existence is sweet and bitterness. I believe you can only appreciate the sweet by understanding the bitter, but you can’t be fully succumbed by either one. I believe life does not offer a pure utopia, but it also does not call for constant suffering. I believe people are blessed with the beautiful power to focus on life’s sweetness.

My mom is currently attached to a machine that is being utilized to clean her body wound. She is visited frequently by a home health care nurse who cares for her wound and changes its dressing. I play my trumpet daily to mute the sound of the loud, bulky machine. She, as well, listens to my music, concentrating on blocking out the machine’s noise.