My mom had been to the doctor a few times over the summer months, ostensibly for a stubborn urinary tract infection. Sherry, my sister, and I suspected otherwise. I had said to my sister “You know, this is going to be one of those end stage diagnoses, and there won’t be any treatment options”. This happened on the first Sunday of September. Sherry sent me a picture of mom, and asked, “Do you think she looks jaundiced?” Less than 2 hours later, she was at the ER department of local hospital, and given the diagnosis of advanced liver cancer. Three weeks later, she was dead.
Mom herself had her own stirrings about her pending death. She told me she stood up in her (beloved) garden in the summer and said to herself, “Well this can’t go on forever”. And in the few weeks before her diagnosis, she was markedly different. Nicer. Kinder. Loving. After the diagnosis, all those changes x 100. These were the best 3 weeks of my life with my Mom. Sherry would, and has, said the same. I know in my bones that Mom would say this as well. She had clearly decided how she was going to approach her dying and palliative care, which was now set up in my sister and brother-in-law’s home.
I took a leave from work and moved in to help with the care. Mom was very weak but blessed to be without pain until the last couple of days. This may have helped her be so present. And present she was. The stories from her childhood poured out, and my sister and I wondered to one another why she had never shared them before now. She opened her heart and gave and took in love like I had never seen. It seemed to me that she had let go of all fears, all insecurities, all judgements, resentments about her life, and now trusted love. As the word spread amongst friends and relatives, she enjoyed visits and flowers (no food, as she was unable to eat), quipping at one point that she felt like she was at her own wake.
We, in turn, dropped our own resentments and guarded loving. It didn’t feel like a decision, it felt more like a natural response to feeling such intense love. Truth be told, Sherry and I didn’t look forward to the time when Mom needed more help. Up until this moment in time, she had been, how I can I put it, ‘difficult’ to care for. It was never enough or good enough, and Mom had always seemed jealous and envious of her kids’ lives. It has been said that what matters most in life is how well we have loved. My mom turned that into a visceral life lesson, for herself and for us.
And yes, it all felt like a miracle. I know that end of life often doesn’t play out this way. I know that relationships don’t necessarily get healed. I know that caring for someone at end of life isn’t typically a joyous experience. But/and for me, it was both healing and joyous.
Willing to have a conversation with me about your caregiving story? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I would love to hear from you!