Death of a Mom
My mom passed away during Spring Break at the local hospice house. The week she spent there I stayed at her side, spending my nights on the foldaway cot by her bedside, holding her hand and talking about all the fun times we had in the past. She was in a near comatose state. Her only method of communication was a slight squeeze of her hand or a shrug. Sad to say I was not sure what that even meant: yes, no, who cares, or even stop talking- you are bugging me! My dad died years ago and truth be known, I knew mom was going to die that week at hospice, her cancer having threaded itself throughout all of her internal organs, they had started shutting down, but I did not want her to die alone. So I stayed.
My friend Jae told me that the stages of grief are:
- Letting Go
And they don’t necessarily go in that order. I think I ran through them all- twice (maybe more) and sometimes all at once. My mom had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer over two years ago and chose the chemotherapy route. She was far braver than I. I took her to the hospital to have a port fitted in her chest and I took her to her chemo sessions-( that tale is for another time) and watched silently as she and the other patients( we saw every visit) deteriorated over time. I researched alternative therapies and persuaded her to take mushrooms and turmeric, and grilled her doctor anytime I read about a new, less invasive treatment. According to her doctor, mom was a long term colon cancer survivor, but the chemo treatments had taken their toll, destroying her body’s white blood cells- the ability to heal itself and the cancer came back ten-fold. Her liver was failing when she went into the hospital. She chose a hospice care facility after that and while there, slipped into a comatose state. The first time we saw the hospice doctor, she took me aside and told me mom would be dying soon. They told us (my brother, sister & niece) that every day, even giving a time limit, but mom, stronger than most, by passed their expectations and held out for a week, before slipping peacefully away in the presence of my brother and I. I had witnessed my sister’s death. I am still haunted by the single tear that rolled down her cheek in her final moments. My brother had tried to save my dad. Mom gave us a quiet parting gift the we both needed: that death need not be a traumatic affair. Thank you, mom.
The only way to survive mentally, is to remember the good times. I was blessed to have spent my mother’s 74th birthday with her before she passed, and lucky to have had her as a mother. She was SAHM in my youth, and a guiding influence in my travels (though she would have adamantly denied it). I remember her taking us on historic tours around New Jersey in my youth (though we never did get to go into those mines), Ringwood Manor and Skyline Drive. Both of my parents loved to explore. Every year (twice a year sometimes), we would go on a road trip from New Jersey to Florida, slowly meandering through the states and stopping to see this botanical garden or that park, staying in hotels so many times that we got to know the owners well.
Eventually we moved to Florida, where mom became a Disney Fanatic. I came to know every nook and cranny of all the Walt Disney World Theme Parks and Resort Hotels. If mom had been a clubber, she would have been the last one standing, as we were often the last guests in the parks, gently ushered out by the employees. We explored Florida inch by inch, and park by park: Palm Beach, Weekie Wachee, St. Augustine, the Everglades (before the big snakes took over). Even now, almost every place I go, I have once been a long time ago.
I would never have survived this mom hood of mine without my mother’s guidance and support- and babysitting! Together we took my kids on their first adventures: the Florida Aquarium, Silver Springs and of course, Disney World! She joined us on our trick or treating jaunts and showed up for their awards ceremonies and school Christmas concerts and of course, those lengthy pig showmanship shows at the county fair! Mom celebrated many a holiday dinner on our little homestead: Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and every single birthday. My last couple of years have been wrapped around mom’s doctor appointments & shopping schedules. I became her chauffeur, her shopping companion and her personal cheerleader: trying to keep all conversations light hearted, and upbeat. I feel blessed to have had lots of good memories of my mom, many moments, many conversations, and I miss her dearly.
On an ending note: death makes you appreciate life.
Every breath you take is a precious gift. Every sunset you see is proof you are still alive. Hug your children and tell them that you love them everyday, even if they are teenagers and think you are crazy, because you never really know what breath will be your last.
Though I will always hold to the belief that every adult is in charge of the decisions they make for own body, knowledge is power and it is good to be armed with vast quantities of it when facing the subject of cancer. The side effects of chemo and radiation treatments shocked me, and even though mom had the least invasive of the chemo therapies, her body never recovered from its effects. I had been researching and reading about the less harmful alternative treatments to cancer since mom’s diagnosis. Okay, my mom thought I was flaky for the most part and stuck with her chemotherapy, but then did add a couple of them to her daily regime after discussing it with her doctor. I found this website that is devoted to the subject: The Truth About Cancer
I believe my mom’s doctor was a good lady. She encouraged healthy eating in a big way and a healthy lifestyle and lots of happiness. She even once prescribed mom meditation to help with her sleeplessness. Through the years, I learned a lot from her too. In the end, only you can decide which course is best for you.