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.