Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Love and loss.

I've started this blog post several times, not sure exactly how I want to proceed to tell the end of my mom's cancer story. I've decided that chronologically is probably the best way.

Thanksgiving 2016, my life changed forever. That day, I arrived at my parents' house early in the morning to help with Thanksgiving dinner. I knew my mom was pretty sick, which is why I was preparing dinner at their home and not my own as I did the year before. But I didn't fully grasp just how sick she was until that day.

I walked in to find a hospice bed in my parents' bedroom, a Do Not Resuscitate order on the fridge, and my mom, who looked nearer to death than she ever had before. Gauntly-thin with sallow skin, immobile, in pain.

I always knew that day would come, but I hadn't planned on it being so soon. My brother was newly-engaged, my sister had a new baby, Christmas was around the corner ... there were too many life events for my mom to miss if she were to die in the near future. Maybe this is just palliative care, I assured myself. She is going to get well enough to make it to the wedding in January. That's what she was saying, too. That's what we were all saying.

My dad, sisters and I pulled off Thanksgiving dinner that day for about two dozen people without a hitch - except for the 10 pounds of mashed potatoes that were accidentally prepared. My mom was able to come out and join the family for some of the time, but she mostly laid in her bed.

I went home that evening feeling all sorts of emotions -- fear, anxiety, sorrow, anger, guilt -- and the cycle of these emotions continued for weeks afterward. Physically, my stomach was wracked with near-constant pain and I wasn't sleeping. I was rock-bottom depressed.

The Christmas season came and went with Mom deteriorating rapidly. By mid-December, she was hardly eating and could not get out of bed without the assistance of a walker or wheelchair. We took our last family picture on December 17th and my sister and I had to dress her, style her hair and apply her make-up for her. She was very sick that day. We took the picture in my parents' front yard and my mom was only out of bed for about 20 minutes, yet the whole event took an enormous toll on her.


About a week later, on Christmas Day, Mom couldn't get out of her bed at all. We all gathered at her bedside to help her open her gifts -- things we all knew she wouldn't be able to use much or at all. She was so weak, she couldn't even remove tissue paper wrapping from a gift bag. I created a photo book for my parents as a Christmas gift, and I had to hold the book and read it to her as if she were a small child.

My heart was so broken for her, for my kids, my siblings and especially my dad. It was very apparent in that moment that we were all too young to be going through this.

A few days later, my mom's brother came to town to see her. At my dad's request, we gathered on New Year's Eve to discuss her funeral arrangements. The reality of the situation became even more harsh at that point and we were all very emotional.

The next day, January 1, we met up again at my parents' home to bless our sweet mother with peace and comfort in her final days and say our goodbyes while she was still lucid. That was easily the hardest thing I've ever gone through. No one wants to weep over their mother, the woman who bore them, cared for them and taught them all they knew. No one wants to watch their children lay across their grandmother's frail body to hug her for the final time.

The following day was my parents' 32nd wedding anniversary, so I stopped by for a visit then. In her frail voice, my mom slowly explained she'd eaten some Bahama Bucks shaved ice a little while before I came over. I asked her how she liked it, and she flashed me a thumbs-up. It wasn't long after that she became too tired to converse and fell asleep again.

We were able to see her a few more times during that week, but the last day she was fully lucid was Saturday, January 7. I had blocked out the whole day to spend at my parents' home and I'm so glad I did. My dad and I actually had some pretty good conversation with Mom that day. For some reason, she wanted me to administer her medications (she was picky about who she trusted), so I was able to give her some Dilaudid in a dropper just like a little baby and squirt some Biotene in her dry mouth. My dad noticed her ears were kind of dirty, so I swabbed them with a Q-tip. After I was done, she said "Thanks, Jenna" and I told her she was welcome, and she said "I'll talk to you soon."

That was the last thing she ever said to me. I left the room with a lump in my throat.

On Monday, she was completely incoherent. My dad and sisters said she hadn't been awake since the day before. I knew it would be soon. I delivered her burial clothes to the house -- a white temple dress worn by my Granny, her mother, many years before. It was the only thing small enough for her gaunt frame. The skirt and blouse she normally wore to the temple was far too big.

The next morning, at 4:00, I woke suddenly. A feeling of peace washed over me. I felt like my mom was probably drawing her final breaths at that time. I went back to sleep and woke a while later to find my phone ringing -- it was my dad. He told me Mom had passed away around 4:30. She was 55 years of age.

The days following her death were full of miracles large and small, many I don't feel I can discuss due to how sacred they are to me. From Tuesday to Friday, Dillon and I spent every day with my family, helping my dad with funeral arrangements and other household responsibilities. We ran errands, organized things, and talked a lot. We grew closer as a family than we ever have been.

Back at home, women in my church community were cleaning my floors and bathrooms, delivering meals and groceries, and taking care of my children. The doorbell rang with frequent flower deliveries. My phone and Facebook were flooded with messages of condolence, comfort and kindness. I have never gone through something so hard as losing my mother, but I have also never felt more loved and supported in my life. It is a precious gift I will always cherish, this feeling of being carried.

My mom's service last Friday was so beautiful and well-attended; she was loved by so many people. Again, it was a very difficult day, but it was made lighter and memorable because of the kindness of others. My parents' church congregation put together the most beautiful display of my mom's special things and photographs. They also prepared a beautiful luncheon with centerpieces of pink carnations, my mom's favorite flowers. My best friend compiled a slideshow of hundreds of pictures from my mother's life. My in-laws purchased a beautiful pink flower arrangement to accompany a large portrait of my mom at the front of the chapel.



When I was growing up, I never considered the possibility of my mom dying. Even until a few years ago, I thought Mom was invincible. Her cancer diagnosis two years ago woke me up to her mortality, and then, last week, I actually lost her. It seems impossible. I still catch myself wanting to call or text her several times a day, even though it's been about a month since she could even use her phone. My heart aches when I think of a future without her in it.

I do believe my mother is in a far better place now, doing very important work. I know she is looking out for us as the "pennies from heaven" have been raining down on us. And I know I will see her again.

However, it's still hard not having her here with us now.

But through this trial, I have learned more about love than I had in my 29 years of life. I learned that love means cleaning your mother's ears out while she is on her death bed. Love means going with your dad to the funeral home to help him choose your mom's casket. Love means watching your friend's toddler for hours while she spends time with her bereaved family. Love means bringing food and flowers and sincere condolences. Love means letting your friend sob on your shoulder. Love means attending her mother's funeral even though funerals are hard for you. Love means creating a beautiful arrangement of flowers for the casket because you care for her so much. Love means praying for your friend over the pulpit at church as she mourns the loss. Love means mourning with those who mourn and comforting those who need comfort.


Love is tender, kind-hearted, patient and without judgment.

I know, because I have felt it. And not just any old love, but charity -- the pure love of Jesus Christ.

I have experienced loss, and I will experience more, because that is part of life. But I have also experienced love in the purest form, and it has truly made the loss more bearable.

My mom's obituary: http://www.horizonfuneralcare.com/single-post/2017/01/13/Liz-Haney

24 comments:

  1. I know from experience, that there is no cure for the heartbreak you feel. Only our Heavenly Father can give you comfort as you navigate your grief. I just want you to know, that I love you. I know that seems silly since we've never met, but I feel like we are friends. My heart goes out to your family. My Nash included you in his prayers last night. We are praying for continued peace for you all.

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    1. Oh, thank you so much Andi. I love you, too!!!

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  2. Oh, Jenna. I am so sorry for you and your family, and can't even imagine the grief you must feel. Love is a powerful thing.

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  3. Jenna I am truly sorry for your loss. I haven't lost a parent but when my great grandmother died I felt her loss pretty deeply. I truly wish you and your family peace and love right now. You can see your mom's strength in you and I hope you feel the Savior's love for you too. <3

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    1. Thank you, Ali. Losing a loved one is very hard.

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  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Jenna. I've never experienced loss like yours but my heart goes out to you and your family. Though we experience grief and pain, I believe Christ's love is truly what sustains and carries us through difficult times. I know we're not close but I've followed your blog a long time and I seriously love you!

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    1. Aww, thank you, Rachel! I've always looked up to you!

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  5. Great post Jenna, I am so sorry for your loss. Amazing how love can carry you.

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  6. Jenna, your choice of words in this blog post were raw with emotion. Anyone who has every lost someone close to them understands exactly how you feel. The feelings come back as if it was yesterday. You will never be the same Jenna. You have experienced something that has changed you. Your heart loves a little deeper and your understanding of Christ's atonement is stronger and you have never loved the Savior more for making it possible to live again as a mortal being. Thank you for sharing your story. Your mom's story. It is beautiful.

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    1. Thank you, Lisa. The loss you endured when your husband passed away is one I cannot fathom. I remember that fireside you and Steve gave in Cornerstone Ward. I couldn't believe how tragic both of your stories were! But I have recalled your words many times throughout this. I didn't realize then that your testimony would strengthen me during my own trial of loss many years later. Thank you for your mentorship and friendship throughout my life! I just love you and your family!

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    2.  Jenna, thank you for sharing not only your painful experience of losing your "one in a million" Mom, but for sharing the lifelong and eternal lessons, knowledge, perspective and even blessings you gained through this life changing painful experience. Sharing these tender Mercies you and your family received through this difficult trial will forever change those who have not yet had to experience so great a loss in their lives yet. We love you Jenna.

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  7. I just cried reading this, your way with words and your love and admiration for you mother is so beautiful. What a blessing to understand where she is, what an amazing testimony you have! I'm sure you feel her presence so strongly throughout your life!

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    1. Camille, thank you. I am really trying to have faith in what I believe because it's all I have. I definitely feel my mom is still watching out for me.

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  8. I'm so so sorry for the loss of your mom. Your post was so inspirational to read and like everyone else it brought lots of tears from my eyes. I just recently put a quote in my wall and you reminded me of it when you talked of cleaning your mothers ears and the quote I put up says "enjoy the little things in life, for one day you will look back and realize they were the big things." The fist birthday my mom had after being diagnosed with cancer left me worried about how many more she would have. I chose then to live every day to the fullest and to love my mother more and more and your post was the greatest inspiration to keep cherishing that life even when I start to forget. I know it's knowing we will see our families again that makes death a little easier to understand. I'm thankful for that gospel everyday. I'm thankful to see your strength and watch it spread to others around you. Stay strong and unwavering. Love is people you never see or talk to that are here to support you anyway and if you need anything at all please don't hesitate to ask. I can tell how amazing your mom was by how amazing you are. Prayers to you and your family.

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    1. Oh, Cheyenne! I will never forget how you reached out to me when my mom was first diagnosed. It meant the world to me. Thank you for your support and prayers.

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  9. Beautifully written Jenna. We continue to pray for your family at this difficult time.

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  10. Jenna- You have such an amazing way with words. As I read your post I was taken back to when my father passed away. He was only 49 and I thought I would never get over the pain of losing him. But 24 years later, I can honestly say it is easier. There are still times that catch me off guard and I cry and I miss him so much, but it is easier. Then I pictured you so gently caring for your mother cleaning her ears and wanting to do everything you could for her. I felt that way when my mom was in the hospital. I painted her toes, made sure she had lipstick. When she died I was crushed, reading your words, "no one wants to weep over their mother, or watch their children hug their grandmother for the last time." It broke my heart to know my kids were seeing my mom for the last time. You have so eloquently put into words things that I experienced and have felt for years. Thank you! I pray that your family will continue to comfort eachother and find strength in the gospel.

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  11. This was beautiful. I'm in tears as I read it. You are right, you are all too young-- SHE was too young-- to go through this. I'm so sorry she will not be here in the flesh for all the events for your family in the future even if she is watching from the other side (which I truly believe she is doing). I know you know this, but remember it's ok to be angry. You do know the plan of salvation and you know you'll see her again but it's ok to feel whatever emotions you have and to let them out. I can only imagine it will be a roller coaster for you and your sweet children for a long time. Hugs.

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  12. Oh Jenna. This was so beautiful. I can't stop crying. I'm so, so deeply sorry for your loss. Your words for strength and love and peace are so inspiring and have been a strength to me. You are wonderful. Your mother sounds absolutely wonderful. I'm so sorry. Praying for you and your family. ❤️

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  13. Stumbled on your blog quite randomly. I am so, so sorry for your loss. The pain (as well as its companionate beauty) is so potent. Thanks for your description of events. I lost my mom on May 28th. She was five years older than your mom, and died of early-onset Alzheimer's. Because of this coincidence, I could relate to this account of your experience so viscerally that I wanted to leave a comment. I guess I can say that eight months in, I now know that even though at times it feels like the grieving process--and it's strange and unexpected twists and turns, as well as the occasional dips into powerful depression--might last forever and be the new normal, as time passes, there really are things that somehow heal inside the mind and heart. I have been surprised how deep grief goes, and how long, at least for me, the feelings of not-quite-being-back-to-normal last. For months I kept forgetting somehow and then saying "I feel so off today. I'm treating people so strangely. What is WRONG with me?" And my wife would look at me skeptically and be like "Uh, sweetie, you just lost your mom two months ago" (or whatever) and it surprised me every single time. But yes, eventually, at least for me, some things have somehow healed or adjusted in inexplicable and relieving ways, even though of course things will never be the same, and losing her early, before my kids all knew her, will never be "okay" and I will always always miss my sweet mom. (I'm sure you know all to well what I mean.)

    Anyway, each process is different, of course. But sometimes it's helpful to know there are people out there who know some approximation of the pain you are feeling (though naturally there is no way anyone else could really know the tender details of your sweet Mom and the ways that make this loss so personal and tragic for you.) Please know that things do slowly get better--or at very least they have for some random guy on the internet. :)

    Blessings to you and your grieving family. ❤️

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  14. It's been awhile since I visited your blog. I am so sorry for your loss. I pray that you continue to be surrounded by God's light and love.

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