Runner up for the Mother's Day story contest. A story of the pain and frustration of watching someone enjoy the very thing that is killing them.
My Mother, My Best Friend
For the past ten years, Mother’s Day has been difficult for me. My boys (16 and 14), with the help of my husband of 25 years, choose thoughtful gifts. We usually go out to a nice restaurant, but I just can’t shake the sadness.
You see, my mom died on Mother’s Day 1999. She smoked for 40 years, had tried to quit for 20 of those and finally was able to stop by using hypnosis (really!). Then, 7 years after she had taken her last puff, cancer turned up in her right lung.
The surgeon removed her entire lung, but the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes so we knew it was just a matter of time before it turned up again. Mom kept on going, bravely, one foot in front of the other, like so many of her generation. She made it 6 more years before it showed up in her left lung. I was there with her and Dad when the doctor gave her the bad news. “Well, you’re not taking this one. Just send me home.”
So, the doctor gave us the number of the local hospice and sent us on our way. This was the week before Thanksgiving, 1998. I was hosting the family gathering that year. I was so bitter, what can I give thanks for? My mom had 6 months if we were lucky, the doctor figured she would be gone by the end of the year.
Hospice was wonderful! The first thing the nurse did was take Mom off all the extra medications that the doc had prescribed. So many of her prescriptions were for counteracting the side effects of other meds… the hospice staff concentrated on Mom’s comfort only. I love hospice for that. Mom actually improved and for a while I fantasized that the cancer would magically disappear from her lung.
Of course, it was a fantasy and Mom steadily lost lung function. I had a wonderful friend during this time that took my 4 year old in the morning and then off to preschool with her son, so I had the morning to help Dad care for Mom. I wouldn’t have made it without Kelly, and Dad wouldn’t have made it without the hospice volunteers that stopped by every evening after I had to leave to take care of my own family.
As spring approached, Mom continued to decline. It was obvious she wasn’t going to make it to the fall, which she wanted to do as it was to be Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. Instead, we had a little party at the house, celebrating the approximate time of their first date. Instead of 50th anniversary it was 50 years of togetherness, oh well. I ordered food from their favorite restaurant and played hostess for the evening.
The first week in May, Mom slipped into a coma. The death watch had begun. My brothers and sisters in law started to take shifts so Dad would never be alone when the time finally came. There was always a crowd at the house that final week, but the nights were quiet. I wanted, needed, to take the night shifts on the weekend, and slept on the sofa in the living room next to Mom’s hospital-type bed. That last night, I didn’t get much sleep. Her breathing was shallow, her body was very warm. The hospice nurse said it could be any time. I woke up frequently, about every 20 minutes, would get up, check her breathing, and feel her by now hot forehead. Each time I would wake with a start. Eventually, when I got up to check her, she was no longer breathing.
My mom was gone; it was 3 am on Mother’s Day, 1999.
So, every year, my husband and boys try to do something special for me. I try to enjoy myself, I really do, but I can’t help but grieve. Mom was my best friend. I miss her so much.
Jo Marie Mann, 1948