Mom’s Final Months

I have trouble sharing the trauma that I went through caring for my mother in the final months of her battle against cancer. A friend came to visit her shortly before her death. The friend could not sit in the room with Mom for more than 5 minutes, because seeing what had become of that vibrant energetic woman was heart-breaking. Some  have said that I should have allowed or even arranged for her death months earlier and spared her that time.

Mom and I had that discussion, because I believe that I would have chosen differently for myself. For her, I chose based on her stated wishes. She’d made it clear: she would die fighting. It didn’t matter that the battle was hopeless and that everyone dies. It didn’t matter that she knew where she was going after death. It was the death she chose. Once when she was in pain, I sat beside her bed in tears and asked. “Should I have let you die?” She touched my hand and her face became very fierce. “No. I’m grateful for every moment.”

She knew it would be hard.

She knew it would hurt.

Well-meaning doctors and nurses tried to help me “arrange” her death earlier. I consider those discussions with her medical team to be among the most eye-opening of my life. This was long before any silly chatter about “death-panels.” From what I can tell, this is – or was in the excellent hospitals we were in – standard practice.

People are often stunned by my reaction when a loved one is in the hospital. I’m generally pretty sweet and compliant, but not when a loved one is in the hospital. If possible, I’ll stay by their side, checking every dosage, every treatment. I’m kind to the amazing nurses, because I do not believe this was a lack of good nursing or poor care. All I can say is, you had to have been there to understand the entire situation. You had to have seen the scans. You had to have held her hand. So — no judgement on the medical care she received. Nurses are some of the most amazingly under-appreciated people in the world.

My mother was never good with words. She painted. Here in her own “words” is what those last 6 months of life meant to her:

Before:

Mom's before painting - a barren desert

After:

Mom's after painting -- a peaceful spring meadow

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