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