We were coping until the bees. I started to say that we were doing okay, but we weren’t. We weren’t okay. When cancer invades your family, there is no okay. When cancer invades your mom/mother-in-law, there is definitely no okay. There is only coping. So we were coping.
We have known since the beginning of May about the cancer in my husband’s mother. Three days before what should have been her 5 year all clear from uterine cancer, this new cancer was located in her lungs. Sometimes the universe has a nasty sense of timing.
We had been waiting since then for the appointment that was going to tell us what kind, how bad, how long, what to do, how to treat it. That appointment was on Tuesday.
On Sunday night, we noticed the yellow jackets. My husband had been working like a fiend in the garden, his inherited-from-his-father way of coping. Work until you fall over, so that you’re too tired to think about “things.” Attacking weeds is therapeutic, cathartic and symbolic. He unfurled the patio umbrella to rest in the shade. A few minutes later, we noticed a few yellow jackets buzzing around. We thought that they had been building a hive inside the umbrella and didn’t take kindly to being evicted. We noticed a couple of them exploring a location on our deck where the wall of our house meets the exterior wall of the semi-detached house we’re attached to. It’s a lovely protected spot and the gap in the siding is big enough for bees. We had wasps make a similar foray under the siding a couple of years ago and they had to be professionally removed. My husband grabbed the can of Raid, but it was empty.
The next morning, we had a couple of dozen flying menaces buzzing around our deck. We tried calling some pest control people, but with the long weekend, no one called us back.
Tuesday morning, as my husband was on the phone receiving the news about his mother’s cancer, I heard a buzzing, and looked up to see a swarm of bees flying straight for the patio door. I yelled to look out the window, and ran to close the patio door. The swarm buzzed around the deck and then started to crawl under the siding in waves. A closer look revealed that our first identification had been incorrect. These weren’t yellow jackets: they were honey bees, and they were moving in.
Honey bees in Ontario are protected. Once we knew we were dealing with honey bees, I started phoning beekeepers. We didn’t want to kill them, but having a hive of bees on our deck was not a viable option. I like my honey in the jar, thank you. One beekeeper told us that we might be able to lure them out with a pan of sugar water and an upturned box. Another beekeeper told us that if we’d “only called before the swarm arrived with the queen in it” that we would have been able to send the bees on their way. The swarm arrived once the scout bees had found a new location. What we had mistaken for yellow jackets the previous day were actually the scout bees. He continued by informing us that once the queen was up inside the new quarters, there wasn’t much we could do. We could live with bees in our siding, or we could eradicate the bees.
We don’t kill living creatures lightly in this house. An animal behaviourist told me that our house has a “safe animal aura” and animals know that our backyard is a safe haven. We spent an entire summer with a groundhog living under our garden shed. We named him Chuck and resided quite peacefully with him. We’ve had a possum that we named Simon who visited from time to time, and any number of birds, butterflies, squirrels and other critters. But bees, even honey bees, are different. Leaving the hive intact would mean the end to sitting on our deck, or for that matter, going out in the backyard at all. It would mean taking the long way to walk to the park and to school. It would put an end to line drying my clothes. It would put my daughter in danger from bee stings, and send me over the edge from terror. I was stung by wasps badly when I was a child, and I am pathologically terrified of anything with a stinger that flies. I have sat in the kitchen while the rest of the family enjoyed a lovely evening on the deck. My mental state would not accommodate sharing the deck with a swarm of hundreds of bees. As much as we hated it, the bees had to go.
The bees quickly became a metaphor for what else was going on in our lives. Maybe we could have avoided killing the bees if we’d been able to react faster. Maybe the cancer in my mother in law wouldn’t be so advanced if we’d noticed little signs or if she’d sought medical attention earlier. Just as we are powerless to stop the cancer, we were equally powerless to stop the bees. My husband kept saying “but I tried to call, but I tried to call.” All I could do was reassure him that he had, indeed, tried to call and done everything he could do.
Our deck is littered with bee corpses, and our lives are littered with uncertainty about my mother in law. We play the hand we are dealt in life, and sometimes we need to bluff, sometimes we need to fold. And sometimes, despite our best efforts, life sucks.