In recent days I have fed my mother. I have changed my mother. I have cared for her in the ways that she cared for me as a child. Life has come full circle it would seem. In a way, I feel honored. My mother is, and always has been, a sweet and genuine person. She deserves nothing less than to receive tender care from the people who she cared for most deeply.
No matter how poetic, this has been the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. It hurts to think of my father having to care for my mother on his own for so long. I wish they lived closer. I wish they would’ve moved when they could. I wish they would have let me move. Early on in my mother’s diagnosis I mentioned to her that we had discussed moving closer. I wanted to be there for her. She pulled me to the side and made it very clear that that wouldn’t be something she wanted.
“There’s so much more opportunity in Atlanta. You wouldn’t be happy here. Stay in Atlanta and plant your roots Kesha. Life must go on.”
Life must go on.
Yesterday we all made the tough decision to place my mother in the Hospice facility. I cried. My father cried. My mother agreed that it would be the best thing, but the decision was still so difficult. It almost felt like giving up – relenting to the inevitable – But my mother’s condition has depleted considerably. In the few moments that she is able to stay awake, her face holds a permanent grimace of pain and discomfort. Hospice is best.
The facility is absolutely gorgeous. Fresh cut flowers are placed on every surface daily. Handmade quilts and stuffed animals sit neatly in every chair. Everyone is so friendly and sweet, and every area is bright and inviting… but there was still an air of gloom and sadness in the air. No matter how hard they try to mask it, this place that tries to create so much life and happiness is ultimately a place of loss and death.
This is so hard…
Watching cancer ravage a human body – especially when it’s your mother’s – is the worst thing in the world. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I’ve been trying to avoid it. I’ve made excuses. I’ve stayed away. I’ve felt guilty. I’ve hurt. I’ve relished, and have taken refuge in my immediate family – finding solace in the everyday meandering that being with my children and husband brings. But now I’m with her. I’ve made the trip home.
My father has watched his wife whittle away to nothing for two years, and it has taken its toll. I watch him piddle about aimlessly, making inappropriate jokes like he usually does. His jovialness is searing – a reminder of the hurt that he’s oh so bravely attempting to mask.
I walked into my mother’s room and went weak after seeing her. She was no longer my mother. She was now only a shell of the mom I once knew. She was small – skinnier than me. Her legs were frail, eyes dark and sunken in. She looked at me but wasn’t able to focus. I saw a brief glimmer of recognition and then she drifted off to sleep.
This is hard.
Mom on Christmas Day
This Christmas was wonderful. My children were spoiled beyond comprehension, and most importantly, my mother was right there to witness it. The doctors told her months ago that she wouldn’t make it to the holidays. She’s proved them wrong and continues to fight a miraculous fight. She was strong enough to sit at the dinner table with us for Christmas dinner, and she outdid us all by consuming two healthy servings of desert.
There are many days where she feels hopeless. Not one to be defeated, I continue to provide her with the fighting words and spirit that she so desperately needs to hear. On Christmas day she told me that she didn’t realize that she had raised such a fighter.
“That’s how you raised me to be momma” I told her.
She smiled with approval as she drifted off to sleep.
Sometimes I’m afraid that my optimism is silly – knowing that I can’t do a thing about her prognosis I often fear that people may perceive my positivity as a maniacal hope – as simply a frivolous dream; But I believe that the more my mother concentrates on the positives, and carries her faith in God in her heart, the longer she’ll hold on. Silly to some I’m sure, but this is how I choose to carry on.
My mother told me of a personal story that her nurse recently shared with her. Her father was taken to the doctor with health concerns of his own. He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Two weeks later he passed on. My mother has been fighting her fight for a little over two years. If that’s not God, I don’t know what is.
Here’s to my mother bringing in another year.
Mom after her morphine.
I was there for my mother today.
There are times when the pain becomes unbearable for her, and this morning was one of those times. As I was washing up my children’s breakfast bowls, I heard my mother call for help. She was calling everyone – anyone – hoping that someone was close enough to hear her call. I heard and went running. Seeing the grimace of pain and discomfort on her face was frightening. Her small gloved hands were wringing to the beat of her agony. She asked for my father. I knew that he was gone – having slipped out early in the morning to complete some last minute Christmas shopping.
“I need morphine” she told me through clinched teeth.
I had never done this before but had seen my father give her a dose on occasion. I had to steady my own breathing as I ran to the fridge to grab the “emergency box” that was filled with pain relieving goodness. I carefully filled the syringe with the liquid morphine and ran back to her bedroom to administer the dose.
“Thank you,” she said, with what seemed to be relief in her voice.
“Do you want the kids and I to come sit with you?” I asked with a slightly quivering voice.
“Whenever you get finished with them that would be nice.”
I finished up the dishes and took the twins back to sit with her. By now the morphine had already begun to take effect. We sat and talked for a while.
I’m glad to be back here by her side.
My mother. Christmas 2011
As Christmas quickly approaches I’ve found myself with one last gift to purchase.
What do you buy for someone who’s dying? It seems even more finite and wrongly prophetic to not purchase anything… But what do you get them?
A couple of years ago Tracy Clark-Flory over at the news blog Salon wrote in detail about her father going through his last Christmas with his wife who was dying of lung cancer.
Here’s a excerpt from the piece.
When your partner is dying, the idea of a shiny new Lexus as a symbol of commitment—to anything other than monthly payments—becomes particularly odious; “diamonds are forever” takes on depressing new meaning (because life isn’t forever). No, love isn’t “a car in the driveway with a big bow on top.” It’s pushing a wheelchair. It’s cutting off all of your lover’s hair as it begins to fall out in large clumps during chemo, and massaging that patchy head to give her one of the few physical pleasures left to her. It’s laughing while browsing a wig shop where the only other customer is a transvestite prostitute. It’s relearning how to cook after three decades of marriage. It’s giving shots through a layer of belly fat. It’s sitting side-by-side in a hospital bed watching TV.
It’s a truly thoughtful perspective on the true meaning of Christmas for those dealing with a terminal disease.
My twins turn two today. Since the beginning of this entire ordeal my twins, along with my husband Will, have provided me with so much comfort. They often tend to be a bit of a reprieve from the reality that is my mother’s cancer. Given that my children are only two years of age, it’s a fact that they have not a clue what is going on. I’m so thankful for that. Their happy squeals and pure innocence keep me going.
I’ve been at home in Atlanta, GA and away from my mother for over a week now. I’m almost ashamed to say that I needed this time to recharge. My children needed to be with their father. I want to go back – need to go back, but dread it all the same. Seeing my mother in her current state is heartbreaking. It pains me to think of my father – A man who’s had to endure and face the ups and downs of this disease every single day for the past two years. I was only there for 40 days and often felt that my heart couldn’t take another.
My father, at times, seems almost crazed with worry. I spent 15 minutes on the phone with him today listening to him list all of things that he’s cooked for my mother over the past week.
“I made pancakes yesterday morning and she ate a lot of that” he said triumphantly. “But she’s been asleep most of today. I let her sleep because at least then i know she’s not in pain.”
I need to go back.