I didn’t really mind it and now when I look back on it I’m grateful for the moments… But I was just trying to do my best when I really had no idea what on earth I was doing. An expectant mother who was preparing her own mother for death. A child seeking answers and solace so her own child wouldn’t one day have to live through what she was living.
A human being wanting to remove the suffering for another human being.
We brought mum home to die. It was her choice. As it should have been.
While I completely supported her choice, the way in which we were left to ‘manage’ her death has bruised me from the inside out. Where no one can see the extent of the bleeding but where I feel it pushing on my organs. Every. Single. Day. It damaged me irreversibly. Even after all this time, I still wonder if I did things right, made the right choices, did enough for her. I wonder if I should have ignored her wishes and left her at the hospital where the care would have been better.
The last month of my mum’s life was in equal parts perhaps the most horrendous and the most spiritual of my life.
I remember laying with her in bed when the early rays of the sun would come through the windows after another restless night. I’d hold her hand under the sheets and feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and when she woke she would always seem at peace. The first seconds of consciousness, before the memories flooded back in, before the cancer became real again, were always my favourite moments of the day and we’d lie together before she couldn’t tolerate it anymore and I’d get the first lot of medicine in her for the day.
The roles were quite literally reversed – she became the dependent and I was the person who would kiss her on the forehead and whisper ‘sleep well’ each night. I’d tuck her in tightly. I’d watch her until she drifted off in her slumber. I’d wake to soothe her when she whimpered in her sleep from the pain. I’d just simply be there for her, so she knew she was never alone.
They were the wonderful moments. The moments I want to remember.
The other moments are cruel reminders of not only my helplessness as a carer, but of the things I couldn’t protect her from.
Bathing her, helping her go to the toilet, giving her needles, giving her drugs, monitoring her colostomy bag, rolling her (against her wishes) so she wouldn’t get bedsores. And then begging the Silver Chain nurses to increase her medication, to hasten the end.
It had taken me a while – I don’t think I’m stupid, I’d rather think I am just the kind of person who doesn’t simply give up when things seem impossible – but once I’d realised there was no ‘fixing’ Mum, all I wanted was to take away her pain.
Sit in that for a while. I effectively was choosing to kill my Mum.
My greatest supporter. My closest friend. My guide. My measure. My spirit. The one person in this entire world I wished could live forever. I wanted her to die, and quickly.
The reality of the situation was she didn’t want to be here anymore. The final months of her life were spent in and out of hospital, countless tests, bruised and bloodied because her veins wouldn’t cooperate for more bloodwork, more surgeries, time spent in the critical care unit, time spent in the ICU, time spent enduring fits due to the brain metastases…
I knew she was done way before I truly wanted to believe it. That was the moment my heart began to shatter. It was also the moment I promised I would not let her be hurt unnecessarily again. Seeing her like that was brutal, in every sense of the word.
When we wheeled her out of that hospital for the last time, she waved to all the nurses on the cancer ward. She smiled, and she waved. Like the god damn queen. She was finally going home.
It was a hot summer the February that she died. So much sunshine to play on her face. So much warmth outside when inside things were so bleak. We watched as she wasted away and eventually fell into an unresponsive coma. We exhausted ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically until her heart gave up and let her go.
Ever since that day I’ve had one question that remains unanswered.
After five years of battling, why couldn’t she have peace in the end, on her terms?
We should have been able to have ‘the conversation’ with her while she was of sound mind. We knew she wasn’t scared of death; of course she was sad about dying, but she was not scared. She should have been given the option to choose when, as well as where, she took her final breath.
My Mum lived her life with grace and dignity. She should have had the right to die the same way.
“I love you every day. And now I will miss you every day.” – For One More Day, Mitch Albom