On Death and Dying - 5 years later

Death and dying has been so strongly a part of my life for the past 18 months that every quiet moment my thoughts and feelings about the subject bubble up and I find myself having one sided sermons about the issue.

Seven years ago when my mom told me about her breast cancer I was shocked and upset but we had a plan, there was a course of treatment: chemo, surgery, radiation. Those were difficult painful treatments, painful to observe and certainly painful to live through. We laughed and giggled when I shaved her hair. As her hair was growing back we were told she was in remission, her regiment of drugs included one that was supposed to keep her cancer at bay, but would cause her to have arthritic symptoms. She quickly got back to the business of living, becoming the president of her local Homemakers Groups and the organizer of a legendary Harvest Sale.

January of 2012, we were at a quilt show in Florida, six of her high school friends came to see us. Mom was in a lot of pain, but as always she carried on. I drove straight through the night to get us home and the following week she went to the doctor. At first they thought it was a ruptured disk, then they did the scan. Metastasized breast cancer. This diagnosis lead her down a warren of untried and experimental treatments, all recommended by her oncologist, most where ineffective, all were very costly. They finally did a round of chemo, and as a last resort, a round of radiation. They never really gave my mom a full picture of what any of her treatments would do to her living flesh and after the radiation she became very sick, the possibility of recovery was gone, her cancer was not responding to any treatment, now there was just dying.

In June, after two visits to the emergency room, my mom entered hospice care, she did recover from the esophageal damages that occurred during radiation and she was able to continue in a quiet life that contained small joys, like petting her cats and watching Nascar. As the summer progressed so did her cancer and she began spending more time in bed with more morphine and less small joys.

This downward spiral is expected, the hospice care workers can really map it out for you, dying takes time, is often painful and it takes a certain kind and generous soul to watch out for the dying and to be a support and not a hindrance. I am not really that person, I understood her refusal for IVs on an intellectual level but I am losing my mom, I wanted a miracle, I wanted her to rally. We spent a lot of time in her room, giggling, laughing and telling stories. The last great visit was about 2 weeks before she passed, my eldest came along, sat on the bed and read to her grandma. There were still smiles and laughter that weekend, although my mom was sleeping most of the visit. The following weekend I went alone and spend the weekend sitting quietly, administering morphine and anti nausea medication, she was no longer eating.

November of 2013
My Mom passed in late September and the world is a blur, expected or not this will be my first birthday with out the woman who gave birth to me and I am sad. For the past 8 weeks I have traveled to quilt show after quilt show working at the company my mom helped start and missing her. When I get home from this trip I will be cleaning out her sewing room. Most of mom's fabric was sold earlier in her disease cycle to help fund some of her care, so I have the bits she could not part with, the unfinished quilts and the machines to pack up and move to my home. My girls both received Singer Featherweights from her before she passed, so I need to make a space so that they can use their Oma's machines.

At the very end of my mom's life she still responded to us with faint smiles, she stopped taking the morphine about a week before she slipped away. My step father is a hero and unfortunately the hospice care workers assigned to my mother in the last two weeks were pathetic and not helpful, they all but abandoned my mother to her death. Grieving is a personal process and I think I am still in the denial part. When I think of her she is the vibrant, happy woman I will always remember.

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