"I don't want to eat at the table tonight," my mother said to me.
"Why?" I asked. "Is it because you're so tired?"
"No, because I'm tired of pretending?" she replied.
"That everything is normal."
I, for one, don't think that I am pretending everything is normal. In fact, just the opposite.
This is the first week I actually went out into the world and interacted with people without telling every single one of them that my mother has a brain tumor. But even if I didn't say it, I was screaming it in my head as they would ask, "Credit or debit?" or say, "Have a nice rest of your day."
I told my mom that bringing her to the table wasn't about "pretending," but it was about spending time together as a family. She nodded at the chair next to her bed and told me I could sit there and watch her eat at her bedside table if I wanted to. It certainly wasn't worth arguing over, so I gave in.
While I can't possibly know how she feels, I know as the daughter of someone with brain cancer, nothing feels normal to me, so I can only imagine how she feels. When I'm in the grocery store and I see people shopping I think, "Why are they happy? Why are they price-checking? Why are they smiling? Don't they know my mother has brain cancer?"
Pretending to be normal when you feel like this takes a lot of effort and requires a lot of energy. It's precious energy my mother in her weakened state can't exert anymore. Now, when people come in to say hello, she greets them briefly and chats for a moment but then she closes her eyes. It is a sign that she is done with the conversation. She doesn't need to pretend anymore.
I, unfortunately, still have to pretend when I leave the house. Because that's how we live together in a civil society. We smile, say thank you, and we tell people to have a good day even when our mother has a brain tumor. But beneath that pretense, just know that inside, I am screaming, not at you, but at the thing that has taken our normal away.
"The Pretenders" is an excerpt from Amanda Lamb's journal chronicling her mother Madeline's 2012 battle with brain cancer. To read more entries, visit Madeline's CaringBridge site, or find out more about Amanda's book, "The Living Room."