”I remember when I first faced the reality of my Mom’s death I was very angry. I railed at God and cursed him. It all seemed so unfair watching her suffer….somehow I resolved those feelings…here is my journal excerpt from the day I was told her death was eminent. I hope it helps those of you angry over life’s injustices…
The fluorescent lights in the hospital waiting room were too harsh. Suddenly it seemed like the world was too bright and close up. I needed it to be softer, diffused and a little blurry. Somehow the room should be darker so the words I was hearing could be pushed into the shadows darting in its corners. “It’s not good” , the Doctor was saying. “I’m sorry your Mother has inoperable cancerous tumors in the esophagus.” Somehow his lips and words seemed out of sync. I realize the delay is in my mind. My processing is off, I’m not hearing right. His eyes are kind and compassionate while his voice is firm and clinical. “She’s not a candidate for surgery”, he states, as he hands my sister and I a photo from the endoscopy of our Mothers internal organs.
My mind snaps back into sync again as I look down at the photo. For a moment the child inside me feels guilty, like you do when you’re snooping in your parents bureau draws for spare change or candy. Surely you shouldn’t be looking at the inside of your parent’s body. It seemed like a violation of privacy. Then I remember I am an adult and my Mom is helpless in a wheelchair, part senile and a nursing home resident. Hmm … game changer there …huh? Then I realize.. she is still my Mom. And with that thought grief washes over me.
”This grief is like a tidal wave and almost knocks me to my knees. I reflexively lean back and find a chair as though someone has pushed me back by the shoulders. There is no one standing in front of me it is the force of the sorrow that has seated me.
My Mother’s life is ending. I have to be responsible and make sure that she is cared for. “About 3 – 6 months”, the Doctor’s voice drones on. His voice is so flat and heavy with detachment that I have to listen closely to understand. I am trying to be strong. I want to be strong. But the ache in my chest is growing wide and radiating through me. Emotions come rapid fire I feel immeasurable sorrow, then more than a little desperate and then despair turns to shock.. Finally the tears come and I can’t stop them. I hear the word “Hospice” and then the Doctor is leaving. He has said all the things they are trained to say. He seems a like a good man, but he is hardened from witnessing too much of life and death. We have asked him many questions. He has all and none of the answers.
Reality breaks through and I notice the harsh waiting room lights again. My sister has crossed the room and we are embracing. And I think of what is real.
Nothing we do or say will change the outcome of this event. Mom is leaving us. It takes only a minute for me to push my grief aside and think only of her. I start to pray that God will take her in her sleep and not let her suffer. My beautiful kind Mom deserves mercy. The Doctor has told us she cannot eat food only liquids. The irony is not lost on me. My Mother loves to eat. Food is her solace. Denying her one of her last pleasures is too cruel to contemplate. My sister and I take some strength from each other, enough to pull ourselves together and put on a brave face for our Mom.
We go back to the exam room to our Mother to get her dressed and bring her back to the Nursing Home. She smiles and asks to go to lunch. We can’t bring her for lunch. Not ever again. No solid food for the rest of your life. Can you imagine? We promise her a milk shake and distract her. Inside I am growing cold, the frost that rolls over me is palpable.. I start to get angry. Really angry.
I walk out of the room. For a few endless moments I feel like I am going to throw myself on the floor kicking and screaming. Why? Why fu____ food, why fu____ esophagal cancer? Why??? I start to curse and scream at God. Why Fu___ food God , my Mother loves to eat now she will be dying to eat !!!! Sick Mo___ Fu___ bullshit!!!!
”As I walk down the hall I try to reason myself out of this anguish. I have to find a way through this anger or I know it will swallow me whole in its darkness. It will destroy my life and rob me of whatever precious moments I have left with my beautiful kind sweet Mother.
I pause in front of the Nurses station and hold my breath ballooning my cheeks. It’s an old trick Mrs. Corrigan, my childhood friends’, Mom taught me when I was six to stop from crying. It’s been stopping my tears for 40 years and it works again today. Thanks Doris! I am Ok to step back into the room with my Mom and Sis. I am the picture of calm as I watch my sister put on my Moms shoes. It is the little everyday gestures that break your heart during times like this. I decide I will go on ahead and get the milkshake and meet them at the nursing home.
A well meaning Nurse follows me out of the room as I walk down the hall. She says she is sorry and how hard these things are and she hands me instructions and starts talking to me about my Mom’s dietary restrictions. I look up into her eyes and she sees my anger. She puts her arm around my shoulder and says “Look, you just give your Mother whatever she wants”. I thank her but I feel guilty because although she means well in my mind I am thinking “God she is an idiot”. I realize people say things to make themselves feel better and it has nothing to do with me. I don’t need her to tell me how to care for my Mother. I realize there will probably be much of that in the next few months and I resolve to give it no importance.
I’m crying again as I push through the glass Hospital doors and gulp in cold air. I am finally out of that sterile horrible place that now harbors the “bad news”. It is freezing and snowing with pellets of ice hitting my face and mixing with the hot tears of my grief. I remember something made me put an ice scraper under the seat of the Pick Up truck a few days ago and I thank God for the small convenience as I do a million times a day for the little things. And then I remember I am mad at God! But I’m not …I need him more than ever!
I am crying and scraping the windows now. I want to shake my fist at the sky and then put my fist through the windshield and scream for my Mom. But instead I just scrape the window and try not to think about the war raging inside me. I keep scraping and try to think about Mom and not my own feelings. But it is hard I hurt so bad inside. I get in the truck and drive and I start to feel like a zombie, I’ve shut it all down. Everything is detached and far away. As I drive along snow covered streets I wonder why everything and everybody seems the same and functioning normally. Don’t they know the whole world just changed? What’s that expression? Stop the world I want to get off! I get the milkshake and it seems somehow pathetic to me.
Walking down the hallway of the Nursing Home nothing has changed yet it is all different to me now. My heart is heavy in my chest and my senses are dull and numb. I can’t take everything in, it is too big a mouthful to chew. I see Chris the Director of Nursing and I can see by his expression he has been informed. His eyes are sad with knowing and he seems overwhelmed. He touches my shoulder and says , “I’m sorry I heard ….the diagnosis..anything….”, I realize I am only hearing every other word as the human touch of another person is my undoing. My wall cracks and the grief seeps through. And I start to cry and I am apologizing as Chris ushers me aside into his office. “I’m sorry”, I say “I just need a minute”. He is touched and awkward and does not know what to do, so he hands me Kleenex. I turn my back to him to compose myself and when I finally do I turn to go see my Mom. I am comfortably numb again.
”My Mom is the same as she was hours before. She is smiling, seemingly normal and lovely and chatty and just Mom. I am a completely different and changed individual. I am broken and devastated and I hide it from her. After awhile I say good bye and I go home.
The next day I go back to see my Mom. I give her a manicure. It is “our thing”. She loves the attention and I just love to hold her hands and feel her life blood, her energy. She is so happy and oblivious that the end is near. I revel in the fact that I hold her hand in mine and hear her voice and see her smile. I cannot be angry in these moments only grateful. I sit across from her with the little table between us and I file and paint her nails. We talk and laugh and I can smell her and I memorize her and I am so glad I have her and I am touching her. I feel like we are the only two people on earth and it feels as though all the years we have lived have faded away to unfold into this moment. It is as though we are in a play and the scenery has dropped away to reveal just the two of us in a spotlight on the stage. There is only she and I and the love that fills our space is the only thing of importance. Nothing else in the world matters. I focus all my senses on the making of this memory and fill my heart with it.
My grief is catastrophic but my joy at being with my Mom is stronger than the grief. I feel her love and it is so alive I know it will transcend death. I know my Mother will not suffer she will go to a better place. And I know she will always be my Mom even when she is not on this earth with me. I thank God for this insight and for creating my Mother and the life we have lived.
I make sure I spend as many afternoons as possible like this with her while we both are still on this earth together. I know before long she will not be here with me. I know I will hear her cry out in pain and I pray I am a comfort to her.
I feel blessed even though at times it feels like the opposite is true. Death is sad and devastating but so much is learned about oneself and life from the experience of losing a loved one. I suppose in some ways death really is a beginning .
As I hold this beautiful womans hand in mine I decide to live each precious moment of my life never letting anger or my ego rob me of sharing time with someone I love or who loves me. I want to spend this lovely time with Mom where nothing negative can taint it or rob a single second of its pleasure. I need to feel her now while I can… I paint her nails her favorite pale pink color and she tells me it reminds her of seashells. She talks about swimming as a kid at Sandy Hook and of Crab Meadow Beach and picnics from our childhood and she calls me “Darling” as she has forever. To any passer bys we were a mother and daughter sharing a winter afternoon in that cozy day room. But in truth we were sharing a defining moment where I learned nothing matters but love and to cherish the people who show you love.
My Mom died about 9 months later. . I miss her every day. Mostly I miss her hands… on my face or in my hand. I can feel her sometimes … it is true after all love truly does transcend death. When I am upset I can feel her arms around me.. Whether it is real or a memory or my imagination it doesn’t matter. It is comforting to me.
Peace and Love,