The Dying Process

Amid all the acrimony over the political process, not only on this blog, but across the new and old media, I’d like to offer a different kind of post for a change; something that everyone, regardless of philosophy can probably relate to on some level.

As several of you know, my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer about 18 months ago. According to the doctors she was supposed to be dead LAST June.  She passed away recently with family by her bedside.  We were led to believe that the end of her life would likely be ugly, painful and gut wrenching. It was not, and I’d like to share with the readers the magnificent way my mom dealt with the process of dying.

At the funeral her pastor gave one of the most personalized eulogies I’ve ever heard; my brother and sister spoke about how she lived and the people she touched, and I spoke about the graceful, dignified and often humorous way she dealt with the process of dying; all of which contributed to her extra year every bit as much as her medical treatment according to her oncologist.  I recounted the day I took her home after the diagnosis of pancreatic cancer was confirmed.  She sat down on her sofa and let out a big sigh and said, “well, I guess that’s it — I’m going to die.”  That defeatist attitude was so uncharacteristic of one of the strongest, most positive women I’ve ever known that I was somewhat taken by surprise.  Knowing her strong faith, I told her that only one person in history had escaped death, and she wasn’t going to be the second, nor was she going to die that day.  She looked at me and smiled and said, “no, and probably not tomorrow either, but if I fall asleep tonight and don’t wake up, that will be fine, and if I wake up tomorrow, that will be OK too.”

She woke up to over 500 more tomorrows after that day, most of them good ones.  When we celebrated her birthday last fall, one of her grandchildren commented that, even though it wasn’t a surprise party, it was a pleasant surprise that she was still there.  Mom replied, “yeah, I guess the doctors just didn’t realize what a tough old broad I am.”

Her treatment, (a combination of a short regimen of radiation followed by weekly chemo) which I’m sure some will characterize as excessive for a woman nearing the century mark, especially given that her disease was incurable, was designed to make what time she had left more comfortable and shorten the pain and agony at the end.  It accomplished those goals in spades with minimal negative side effects, and none of us ever regretted allowing her oncologist to convince us to take that course of action.  The only hospital stay during her last year and a half was toward the end for a few days to deal with a kidney stone.  The end came quickly and peacefully with only 11 days in hospice care during which she was still able to sit up and talk with family and friends right up until the last two and a half days.

My mom always had a great sense of humor, which was never more evident than when she came down the home stretch.  About a week before she died, my sister and I were sitting next to her bed talking quietly so as not to wake her.  At one point she opened her eyes, look over at us and asked, “so, how long does this dying process take anyway?”  That sense of humor lingered in the room even after she was no longer conscious.  A day or two before she died, my brother, his wife and oldest daughter and I were sitting around the bed talking.  A nurse walked in, and hearing us talking in normal voices, said, “you realize she can still hear your, don’t you?”  To which my niece replied, “no she can’t; she doesn’t have her hearing aids in.”  We all had a good laugh, even the nurse.

And in the end, she did just fall asleep and not wake up; it’s just that she fell asleep on Monday night and didn’t wake up on Thursday morning, but no one is quibbling over the extra two days in there.  She even got one of her last wishes – perhaps her LAST wish.  She asked me a week or so before she died what it was like outside, having not been out for a couple weeks.  I told her it was in the 90’s with a 25 mph wind that made it feel like you were standing in front of a giant hair dryer, a weather pattern that has been our norm over the last 6 weeks or so.  She said she hoped it would be cooler for her funeral.  It was — 81 and sunny.  Yesterday in Fort Wayne it was 106.

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14 thoughts on “The Dying Process

  1. Cluster June 29, 2012 / 8:22 am

    That’s a great story Spook. Your mom set the example and we should all be so lucky to follow her lead.

  2. tiredoflibbs June 29, 2012 / 8:34 am

    I and my family wish to offer our condolences for your loss. You and your family will be in our prayers.

  3. Amazona June 29, 2012 / 10:05 am

    Spook, you and your family were very fortunate to be able to share this last stage of this life with your mother. She sounds like a remarkable woman, and I am sure her passing is a great loss to you. Thank you for sharing this with us—it’s important to remember that life is not just about politics.

    • Retired Spook June 29, 2012 / 10:24 am

      it’s important to remember that life is not just about politics.

      Amazona, given the present political climate, it’s often difficult to remember that. My mother’s death put a lot of things in perspective for me, as I imagine the loss of your husband did for you a few years ago. I’d love to hear how some of our Lefties have dealt with the loss of a loved one.

  4. Kelly Smith June 29, 2012 / 12:02 pm

    As someone who lost her Mother very quickly to pancreatic cancer in 2010, I had to smile through your entire story. What a blessing that she was able to share such a wonderful spirit with her children and the rest of the world! What a gift that she was able to pass with very minimal discomfort.

    I, too, look on my time with my Mother in her last days with much fondness.

    Know it! Fight it! End it!

    • Retired Spook June 29, 2012 / 12:42 pm

      Kelly,

      The combination of radiation and chemo halted the growth of the pancreatic tumor, and actually shrunk it enough that it eased the pressure on an adjacent nerve cluster that was causing her severe pain in the very beginning. The cancer did eventually spread to her lungs, which is what killed her. She actually stopped breathing a minute or two before her heart stopped. Her oncologist told me privately that, if the pancreatic tumor started growing again, we could expect an incredibly nasty and agonizing end. We (and she) were very fortunate. I have no scientific proof that prayer does any good, but she had lots of people praying for her to have a peaceful end. IMO, the proof is in the pudding.

  5. Canuckguy June 29, 2012 / 6:17 pm

    My sincere condolences Spook. Your story made me tear up as I just lost my sainted mother 6 weeks ago. She was like your mother in spirit. My mother was almost 95 and an WWII war vet who served in Europe as an CND army nurse. I (and her) was blessed in that she died quietly in her sleep of heart failure, taking me by surprise.

  6. Count d'Haricots June 29, 2012 / 6:39 pm

    Spook,

    I believe your mother’s final wish has been granted, you think of her often and smile when you do.

    Who could ask for more of a life?

  7. Concerned Dad June 29, 2012 / 7:54 pm

    Awesome story Spook.
    I lost my dad nine years ago. He suffered but was peaceful in the end. The chemo is what was most painful and heart breaking for me. My wife and I had found out we were going to have a child 2 days before he passed. It was the last time I saw him smile. It is amazing what the power of prayer can do. Passing does put many things into perspective. You and your family are in our prayers

  8. casper June 29, 2012 / 8:30 pm

    Spook,
    Great Story. My sincere condolences. We lost my Mother-in-law a few years rather suddenly and miss her a great deal. Both my parents are in their late 80s and neither are in great health. I expect I won’t have them around much longer. Your family is in my prayers.

  9. Retired Spook June 29, 2012 / 9:25 pm

    Thanks to all of you for your kind comments.

    • NEOCON1 June 30, 2012 / 1:05 pm

      SPOOK

      CONDOLENCES MY FRIEND

      I have always said if the Good Lord granted my one thing in my life I would not seek fame, fortune, power etc.
      I would ask him for the cure of cancer.

      you will see her again in due time …….

  10. bozo July 3, 2012 / 12:09 am

    Heartfelt condolences to your family and those who loved your mother, and, judging by the love and support of those who cared for her to the end, congrats to your mother for a life well lived.

  11. Leo Pusateri July 4, 2012 / 9:49 pm

    Sorry for your loss– always difficult to lose a parent– no matter when it happens. From your description, I can see that the apple didn’t fall far from the tree, sir.

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