Today, with the advent of better health care, senior citizens are living longer healthy more productive lives.
I saw my mother, an extremely beautiful woman age gracefully. It appeared as though she never aged, and outside of minor problems associated with aging, at 78 years young, was healthy and still active.
One day, mom called, and said very bluntly, you will have to bury me. At the time I though “she’s 78, on a fixed income, ” and thought she was just looking ahead, and as usual being very practical.
What my mother did not tell me was she had cancer. Her cancer was cancer of the pancreas, the same type of cancer that killed actor Michael Landon. Funny, Mom was a smoker and we always joked about her dying of lung cancer.
Pancreatic cancer is a very insidious one. By the time it is discovered, it is too late, and is also one of the most painful. Over the course of the illness, our roles reversed. I became the caretaker, the parent.
Mom was living alone, and able to take care of herself for about three months after her diagnosis. One night, she called and said she hadn’t eaten in 3 days. Within an hour, I was on the road, eight hours later I was in Buffalo.
For me, I think the hardest part was seeing my mom. This vibrant, beautiful, laughing person who at 77 looked as though she were 50, looked old, frail and bent, and I cried. Suddenly at 55 I was facing the lost of my best friend, my mother. In a way, I was also looking at my own mortality, I suddenly realized how precious time and life really is.
I never thought of my mother as old, or even aging. She has always been there, my pillow, my rock. Through all I had been through, good and some very bad, she was there. Her advice may not have been what I wanted to hear, and at times I know she didn’t believe I listened. But I did. And, as I grew older, realized I was very much like her, had many of her ways…good ones and bad ones.
The next day, I took her across the street. To the hospital, which admitted and kept her for the next three weeks. Her room overlooked her apartment complex; I could almost stand in the parking lot and wave to her.
Each day, I watched her waste away a little more; fight the losing battle with pain yet her fighting spirit refused to give in. The hardest part was watching. Watching a very vibrant, energetic spirit slowly give way toe the rapacious disease eating away the body.
At first we could only fell lumps on her arms and legs, as the disease progressed, we began to see them. Since Mom was a size 10, and had about zero body fat, she did not have much left to fight with. The human spirit is an amazing thing, when everything else begins to go, it seems to grow stronger. An hers began to soar.
After three weeks, I brought her home with me. Before picking her up, I packed bed clothing I knew she liked, made sure I had her brushes, she had long, beautiful hair, not yet completely silver, and her rosary. As I closed her door, I realized that the next time I walked though it, I would be moving her possessions.
I then made an almost not stop 8 hour drive. Except for gassing up, and pulling over for her to have a cigarette, we did not stop.
The next three-month, were some of the most physical painful and soul searing ones in my life. Over a course of sixteen week, I had watched my daughter waste away in a coma, and I thought that had prepared me to handle all harshness life could throw at me.
Yet, nothing, nothing could prepare me.
Where once she had cleaned, bathe, fed, pick up after, read to, patted and hugged me, it was now my turn to do the same for her.
As the pain grew, we called in a nurse to help out. But, pain is it’s own taskmaster and not matter how much pain medication we gave, nothing seemed to work for long. When the body is in pain, we become mean. We don’t want, nor do me mean to, but pain is mean and we lash out to try and stop the hurt.
One of the toughest blows came when she cut her hair. Mom always had long hair and as I child I use to love to sit and brush it. By now, even her hair touching her caused pain. At 78, her hair was not completely gray; although gray is not the correct word, shining silver would be a more accurate description.
I think cutting her hair was the only concession to pain she gave.
I remember one day getting out of the shower, leaning against a wall crying and begging God to take her. No one should be in that amount of pain.
Mom ‘s appetite began to fade, so finding something she liked became harder and harder. In the end broth was all she could handle. By now, we realized we could no longer care for her at home, and the painful decision to put her in hospital was made.
One of the hardest things was to call my remaining aunts and uncle to let them know how short time was, Mom had been asking about them; my son and granddaughter were out of state visiting her other grandmother. My mom never knew that a third great-grandchild was going to make an appearance in a few months. Even though my other son was nearby, for the first time in my life I felt totally alone.
My aunts and uncle came up and my son and his family were there the next day. It was almost as though she were waiting for them. Within a week she went into a coma. Mom had been in a room with four other ladies, who kept each other company. That day, she was moved to a private room.
A couple of day later, just sitting there, I saw how wasted she really had become; she hardly made a lump in the bed. After fifteen minutes I left. I knew-knew that the body was there, but the essence that was my mother was gone even though the body was still breathing. Maybe for that reason, the room felt empty.
Leaving the hospital, I went to the local funeral home and made arrangements. The next morning at 7:35 am, I received the call. Mom was no longer in pain.
My mother had given me one final lesson. How to fight a debilitating disease and die with dignity; to live life to the fullest, to love those around you, have a deep abiding faith and thank God for each day.
I’ve learned to appreciate sunsets, for no two are alike, to play with and laugh with my grandchildren, to listen and appreciate the wisdom my children have, to learn from the bad, and to really appreciate and learn from the good we experience and receive. All the little petty slights and hurts we receive, they really don’t mean much in the scheme of things.
If, at the end of my life I can show the same grace and dignity, my mother showed, then I truly have accomplished something is this life.
Owner: Lady of the Herbs, Div. Of Gaia’s Breowan, Inc.
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