My Mother's Last Illness: The Fateful Day
I was not with my mother the day she was diagnosed with terminal abdominal cancer. She called me from the hospital to inform me of the horrible prognosis that she had been given; I had suffered a bout of insomnia the night before, therefore, I was barely coherent when the phone rang and I answered. My mom had survived three bouts of cancer over a twenty-year period and, in my mind, this would be no different from the others. I told her that everything would be fine and nearly drifted off to sleep while speaking with her.
Unfortunately, this is a moment in my life that I will always regret because I was not capable of fully comprehending the extent of what she was telling me and I spoke with her a few moment longer and then told her that I loved her and we ended the conversation. I can only think how she must have felt when her eldest daughter responded to such news in such a way.
A few hours later, my youngest sister called me and asked me if I had understood exactly what was going on. I had not. By the time I ended the conversation with my sister I had finally realized that my mom, my mommy, my mother was dying and there was no possible way that she could win the battle over the particular type of cancer with which she had been diagnosed. Tears caught in my eyes and I felt a knot form in my throat as I tried to assure myself that there must be some mistake and that she would make it through this episode with cancer, just as she had the three times before.
Once I had managed to gather a portion of my wits, I quickly dressed and drove to the hospital, certain that I must have misunderstood what I had been told. Upon arrival, I found that my mother had been admitted and I made my way to her room with a foreboding in my heart. I was close to my mother growing up, as close as a daughter and mother can be and she had always been my best friend, my confidant and the only person in the world that I knew would love me, unconditionally, no matter what.
When I entered her room, I realized that she had been given medication to ease her anxiety and to help her pain. I was terrified to speak—to ask her if it was all true, but I approached her, reached out for her, and held her in my arms. In that moment I realized how fragile she had become, how much weight she had lost and the terrible toll that this cancer had taken on her poor body and that this truly was happening. I cried, she cried, my sister cried, my stepfather cried. It was a moment in time that will be forever etched in my mind.
Other family members and friends began to arrive and I was certain that I was going to lose my composure and my mind. As the last of my three sisters arrived, I left the room, and went into a bathroom, closed and locked the door and broke into sobs that seemed to be coming from the very depths of my soul. My poor, poor mommy was all that I could think. I simply could not imagine life without her. I was forty-three and she was sixty-two; too young to die. My mother had been through so many trying times in her life, she did not deserve this, but then who did deserve this?
The doctors and nurses came, went, and explained to us, several times, that this cancer left no hope for her survival. My sisters and I demanded proof and we received it through scans and tests. The four of us huddled, held one another, and cried and then we called our only brother to tell him of the news. He lived in another state and it would take him ten hours to make the trip, but he headed out right away.
Choices to Be Made
Once we forced the reality of the circumstances into our minds and talked with the physicians more, we found out that we had some very important and difficult choices to make for mother in her final days. The doctors had given our mother mere days to a few weeks to live. Were we to leave our mom to the care of those who did not know her? Were we capable of taking her home and caring for her properly? Mother, always a stubborn soul, did not want to die in the cold interior of the hospital. She wanted to go home. Who could blame her when she would be poked, prodded, and stuck by needles if she were to stay in the hospital? My dear mother, along with the rest of us, had no idea of what was to come and how hard it would be to take care of her until her final day.
Social workers, and individuals from a group called Hospice, began to speak with us all about taking our mother home, allowing her to pass away in the comfort of her own surroundings. At first, it all seemed to be the correct choice, as each sister agreed to share the responsibility. We all had children and husbands, as well as jobs and other obligations. I, knowing my sisters so well, knew that it would come down to me and my stepfather caring for her, and that the other girls would not be able to handle the emotional toll that caring for the most important person in our lives would bring. I had my family, my work, my college courses and my husband to consider; however, I understood my duty as a daughter and my mommy had taken care of me for so many years and I owed her that much. Hospice was going to help and I believed that I had the strength to follow through.
I went home, packed a few items and delivered them to my mother’s home. I returned to the hospital, where I stayed the night again, knowing that tomorrow would be the first day of the last of my dear mom’s life and the beginning of something which would change me, but not quite certain of the exact changes to come.
The Beginning of the End
First, I must point out that it takes a tough and determined individual to make it through what my stepfather and I experienced. However, it took a courageous person to realize her own demise looming, the end so very near and yet my mother was steadfast and stronger than I had ever seen her in my entire life. She was and is still the epitome of a true hero and a lady in my eyes and I will remember her strength and her dignity as she lay dying; and I pray that I can be just half as brave as she was in the face of her own losses.
I literally moved in with my mom and stepfather, and I slept many a night in my mother’s favorite recliner beside the hospital bed that Hospice had provided for her. Hospice provided everything that we needed to care for my mother. At first, she was still able to get up and get around and Hospice provided her with a portable toilet so she did not have to walk so far, they provided her with many other devices that were pertinent to the proper care of my mom. My mother fooled the doctors with her strength and her ability to survive for much longer than the initial prognosis that they handed down to her.
Around the one-month mark of mom being home, she no longer was capable of sitting in a chair and then shortly thereafter she could not get out of bed. A day came when she could not even dangle her tiny legs over the edge of her hospital bed and she fell into a quiet depression. Suddenly, mom felt that she was a burden, and she was in one sense; however, that was my own burden to bear as I could hardly remain stoic while watching her lay there deteriorating in front of my eyes, many times I had to go into another room to break down and release my own emotions, but this was not truly her fault. She was not the burden that she believed herself to be, as I would never have left her or stopped caring for her for anything else in the world; including my family, my courses or my job. I loved her too much to ever be able to abandon her.
I fed mom, I bathed her, cleaned and dressed her sores from lying in bed. I sat with her throughout the night when she could not sleep and we talked of the many things that we still had left to say to each other. We watched our favorite shows together on television and, a few times, we cried together. I sat in her chair beside her bed and held her hand and I rushed to get whatever it was that she wanted or that she needed.
In the mean time, Hospice sent out a wonderful, personable nurse who was assigned to my mother. She would come and check on mom several times per week and aid me in changing her bedclothes and bathing her as well as perform many other tasks that were important to the care of my mother. My mother became attached to her nurse and her nurse became attached to her. The nurse truly cared, my mother knew it, and the family knew it. After several weeks my mother professed her love to this nurse and, without hesitation, the nurse let my mother know that she loved her too. I always walked the nurse to the door when she was leaving and she always had tears in her eyes because she felt as helpless as we all did in controlling our mom’s pain.
After two months, my dear mother was barely recognizable as herself. She was emaciated and so fragile that it made you afraid that you would break her tiny arms or legs as you cleaned her and changed her. In truth, my mom resembled a corpse long before she actually passed away, and this was difficult for me to realize and to handle while caring for her. We believed many times that we were losing her before her actual passing and Hospice workers were a mere phone call away. They would come to our home any time, day or night, for any reason that we needed them there. Mom started to go in and out of consciousness and she hallucinated at times which scared us to the point that we would call the social worker assigned to her case. It did not matter what time it was, she would come and sit with us and try her best to comfort us.
I had time, time that I would not have managed had we left mom in the hospital to die. We talked about our love for one another, we hugged, we kissed, we talked of the past and of my future and then there were times when we did not need to say a word. I held her tiny hand often, as I knew that it would not be much longer before I would never be able to touch her, see her or hear her loving voice again.
After three months, my dear mother let go of this world and I was there beside her as she took her last breath. It was so hard, so traumatizing and my heart broke into a million pieces and I felt as though I must have a tear in my soul. My mother’s nurse, social worker and many other caring people came to us right away and while some of them cleaned our mother and contacted the funeral home, others cared for those of us who were finally not able to hold the grief in any longer. There was not one dry eye in our house that day. The individuals from Hospice cried for our dear mother and they cried for those of us that were left behind to face the future without her.
The After-Care of the Family
Hospice did not abandon us after we laid our sweet mother in the ground. Indeed, they called several times per week until we were up to seeing them again. It has been nearly four months since the passing of my beloved mother and the social worker still calls me nearly every week to check on me. She helped me make and keep appointments with grief counselors and with a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder. She often comes to visit and to simply sit down and chat with me for a while.
terminal cancer personal stories, terminal illness personal stories, mother's death personal stories, hospice, mothers and daughters