For the last several weeks I have hesitated to take heartbroken finger to devastated keyboard to write about what to do when the unthinkable and yet inevitable thing happens, you lose your mom. Uncharacteristically, I just could not find the words.
Ever since I was born I was afraid of losing mom. My best friend lost her mom when she was 13 and I just could not have that. I could not have that the one thing I most dreaded in the world had happened to her. It scarred both of us because I could not stand her pain. It was so all encompassing, so overwhelming and so, so sad.
Technically I have not lost my mom yet although she has a terminal diagnosis. No one knows how much time she has just that it will be “soon”.
My family and I have been through this with my dad. He also had a terminal illness and it was torture watching him go through it.
It was torture then and it is agony now.
I live about 3 hours from my mom. Fortunately I have sisters who are close and can keep me updated on the day to day happenings while I come up on weekends. Every waking moment I am thinking about her.
I try very hard not to call and say “How is she?” then hang up and call two minutes later and say “OK, how is she now?” My sisters are very understanding. They are also in agony.
Much as I am upset about watching my mom go through this, my sisters are boots on the ground and therefore suffering the brunt of it. Bless them.
Still, having observed this up close and personal once before I feel I can write to you and hopefully give you some advice or, failing that, at least let you know that someone, somewhere knows what you are feeling and hopefully provide some distant comfort.
When someone you love has a terminal illness, we all become the victims of time. We are in “wait” mode for as long as it takes for the illness to run its course.
The “wait” is agony and watching someone suffer both physically and emotionally is worse. We are torn between desperately wanting the person never to leave and wishing for an end to the spiritual agony that exits when you know that losing someone you love so much is inevitable.
I have come up with a few helpful things that I hope you find soothing as you negotiate the unhappy path before you.
Reminisce with the person you are losing.
Recalling happy days makes them happier. Sometimes they even laugh as they recall. The more of this you can do, the better it is for them. If they can’t recall happy days, perhaps they can recall a day when they accomplished something or won something. Even if they remember the last time they had a great meal, this is all helpful. I really think this helps them to look at the life they had and the good things they did so that there are no regrets.
Take walks when things get to be too much.
Go outside and look at things. Walk around the block and try to get your attention out of your head. Breathe, regroup.
Understand that this is a time of extreme stress for everyone not just the dying person.
Stress makes people act strangely and sometimes they unwittingly take it out on you. You can be understanding but do take note if someone not under this stress dumps a load of crap on you. Someone who does this is not thinking of how their actions might affect you during this time. People who do this might be OK when things are fine but when things get tough, do not let them close. The last thing you need is someone else’s bullshit at a time like this.
Try to make the process of dying as smooth as you can.
This is not the time to recriminate or try to get the dying person to understand. If they haven’t thus far, they may not ever and please be ok with that.
Protect the dying person.
They are working hard to handle this and get through it. Keep negativity away from them and don’t be afraid to offend someone who you feel might upset the person or bring negativity into the area even if they are family. If someone would do that when another person is dying, they are not thinking straight and you do not have to accommodate anyone who will bring bad feelings and stress. A person who has caused the dying person pain should not be allowed near the dying person either unless the dying person specifically requests it.
Remember that this is all about the dying person.
Much as we are suffering, it is not about us, our feelings or upsets. It is only about them.
I found out during this process that there was something my mom never forgave me for. It wasn’t something I did wrong but a decision that I made that she hated. I knew that she would never understand but I had to put that aside and realize that when she is gone, I don’t want anything left but love. Differences, old upsets, honestly they don’t matter. Don’t take the risk that your last words might be angry ones.
Find out from your loved one if there are any cycles of action they would like you to finish.
This can be a source of great relief to someone who is dying. Knowing that the things they started will get completed is huge.
My mom had a few quilts she had been working on when she was diagnosed. She is a magnificent quilter. Her quilt group came over and took the projects. They promised to finish these works of art and send them where they were supposed to go. Several were going to Ronald McDonald house because my mom wanted a sick child to know that someone they don’t even know loves them immensely.
And this is how I will remember my mom.
If you are going through this and this is why you are here, please accept my sincerest condolences and understand that I am so, so sorry.
You WILL get through this. And so will your loved one.
I have been learning a lot about the dying process. It is a part of life even though it is unwelcome and frightening. It makes us stop and think about out own exit from this world and how it will be. It makes us wonder what will happen to our loved one.
I like to think of death as a new adventure. The person is going somewhere else. They will be back in communication with us one day. We will know. We will look at little bit too long at a child and know in our hearts that we knew this person before.
If your beliefs are different, you can take comfort in them. The person does not cease to exist.
My mom passed since I started this post.
It was a smooth parting. My sisters and I had all decided before hand exactly how it was going to go and we moved Heaven and Earth to ensure that it went that way.
Before her diagnosis mom had been feeling very ill with a stomach ailment. Just prior to the diagnosis, the doctors found out what was causing it and gave her meds that handled it. Finally she could eat without discomfort. And eat she DID.
Our goal in life them became “Get mom whatever she wants to eat whenever she wants it. We don’t care what it is.”
And we lived up to it. One day it was Dickies BBQ, another TOGOS, Sunday mornings I brought croissants and strawberries with whipped cream. She had ice cream and chocolate and cake and MnM’s, pizza. Anything she wanted we got her, day or night.
One day she was polishing off her second Hershey bar while I nursed indigestion from trying to keep up with her (I am only good for one chocolate bar, it turns out) She fixed me with her steely, blue eyed glare while she smacked her lips and finished her mouthful. She waggled her Hershey bar and said “I get to eat these whenever I want.” She took another bite and chewed smugly. “Nyah, nah, nu, nah, nah!”
Well, that pretty much made my day!
Before I left that afternoon to come back home I found her in the hallway with two Drumsticks ice cream bars. She waggled one at me. “You want one?”
“Geez Mom! I can’t keep up with you! I’ll be 300 pounds!”
Mom smiled a superior smile. Made me laugh out loud once I got to the car.
The weekends for two months consisted of a long drive and taking turns with my sisters running out for food. It was lunch with my sisters whom I had not seen for a long time and whom I missed sorely. It was slowly swinging on the porch swing in mom’s backyard knowing that her universe that had contained all of us together, forever, was going away.
It became weekends of asking each other how much time she had. Was there anything we had not thought of? and what had happened during the week while I was gone?
The weekend before her death I had become the hero. The tree in the neighbor’s yard that housed a bunch of rats that had been infiltrating her house was ordered removed after I called the health department. This was a major coup. Suddenly, after all these years, I was bullet proof in her eyes.
Additionally two of my good friends who had grown up with me wrote beautiful emails to my mom telling her everything she meant to them. It was heartfelt and it was lovely.
As I left that weekend my mom took my hand and thanked me for a wonderful weekend. I could not have asked for a better parting gift to give her. Those two dis-related things, for whatever reason meant the world to her.
That was the last time I saw her conscious except for a very brief moment toward the end when she opened her eyes for a second and looked at me.
I was glad to end that way. It was a good way to say goodbye. And I have made a conscious decision that all of the disagreements we have had, all of the times we might have hurt each other, all of the times we were not 100% in accord will be consciously forgotten and only the pure love between mom and goofy, wild, uncontrollable and sometimes pain in the ass daughter will remain. I think my mom wanted that too. She did not like pain, especially not the pain of others. She is one of the best. And I will never forget her.
Love you mom.