I went down to my mom’s a couple of weeks ago. This wasn’t a normal visit. My mom’s cancer was getting the better of her and she was about to go on hospice. She took one last chemo treatment just in case it would help get the tumors under control, but her oncologist didn’t hold out a lot of hope.
This wasn’t a normal visit. It was most likely going to be the last visit.
I met my brother at the house. He arrived a couple days before. I walked in anxiously, got my shoes off and went upstairs. My mother…my mama…lay there weak and nauseous. Seeing her, it became very obvious. This was the end.
Over the course of 6 days, hospice nurses came and went. My brother and I doled out pain medication as scheduled, and reassured her that it wouldn’t be long. “How much longer??” she asked, completely disappointed that she kept waking up each day. “You’re really, really close, mom. We just don’t know exactly when. Your body will go when it’s ready.” What do you say to your best friend when she’s just waiting to die?
And then the middle part came. The stage when your best friend is so tired, so weak, that conversations can’t happen anymore. Every question, every tidbit of information she wanted to impart was so important because it was the last words we would ever share. Communication is a phrase, or half a question that you can’t answer because you didn’t get the second part, or God forbid, you didn’t quite hear it the first time and she’s too weak to repeat it. It is then that the mourning starts, because that’s really the end. The end of hours of talking and listening. The end of phone calls that last forever. No more advice given, solicited or not. Your best friend is too weak to hold hands, to smile, to wink. No more jokes shared. There will never be another walk on the beach, another July 4th fireworks at the Pismo Pier, another trip up to my house. No more text messages, gripe sessions or silly voicemails. You both sit and wait for her to die. She’s miserable. It’s hard to watch. You don’t want to lose her, but you want this to end for her.
And then it happened. The person I could say almost anything to, the person who made me, left. I held her hand, smiling and crying. Crying because I was about to lose her, and smiling because we both knew that what she was waiting for was actually happening. “I’ll see you soon, mama. I love you.” And she was gone.
I want to talk to her. If I could have another conversation, it might start with, “Hey, did we do alright in those last days? Were you in any pain? Did you get sick of us asking if you were in any pain? Were you comfortable? Did you like the nurses?” If I could speak to her, I’d thank her for letting me help her. To be sure, losing my son and then losing my mother is a giant pile of bullshit, no doubt. But she gave me something as she left. She gave me a chance to say goodbye. She gave me an opportunity to be with her as she left this world, showing me a different experience of death than the one I saw 2 years ago. My mother was too young to die, but at nearly 71, she lived a full life, and battled the hell out of cancer. She gave it all she had for years, and she never gave up. She didn’t want to die, but she faced death with absolute fearlessness. Saying goodbye to her over the last days of her life healed my heart a little bit. I miss her to bits, but she continued to teach me things up until the last second of her life. I love you, mama.