Thursday, July 01, 2010

Me making sense of the jumble that is the last six months...

The last five months have been the most emotionally draining time of my life, I think.  In February, my mom was diagnosed with stage four cancer.  They had found it before Christmas, but she and my dad had chosen not to tell us until after Christmas when the biopsy results came in. She had a sizable mass in her lung, too close to a vein to be operated on, some small spots on her liver and kidney, and another very problematic mass around her L-4 vertebrae.  In the course of three months, she did three rounds of chemo and a two-week-long round of radiation. The chemo was shrinking the cancer, but it changed her significantly.

In early May, my dad took her to the ER for abdominal pain.  For a day she was in a temporary bed because three different hospitals couldn't find space for her.  At one point, they thought she'd have to be admitted in Lansing, a 45-minute drive away from their home.  Finally, she was admitted at their local hospital.  It took them four days to x-ray her abdomin, five days for them to discover she had a blockage in her intestine, a week to do surgery to remove the blockage-a kink and collapse of a five inch area in her intestine, two weeks and a day for her to get home again.

Through May, April, and the beginning of June, I made the the 2.5 hour trip home five or six times times, twice by myself. My family and I got to watch as our mother, wife, grandma, mother-in-law wasted away before our eyes.  There was nothing to be done for it aside from continuing the chemo therapy, which her determined she was too weak to continue.   The chemo isn't a cure for the cancer it merely kills the the cancer a little faster than it kills the person.

On June 15th, my dad was able to have her admitted to a Hospice Care Home. This was a huge burden lifted from my dad, who was her primary care-giver.   Mom had not been able to regain her strength after returning home from the hospital after her intestinal surgery.  A week previous to admission into the hospice home, Mom had started hallucinating. She talked to her parents, both long since passed, and me as an eight-year -old child.  On one occasion, she voiced her concern that we weren't really a family, that we weren't okay, because we hadn't been together for Labor Day weekend (although Memorial Day had just passed). I got the feeling that she was reliving old troubles from when I was a teenager.  I assured her we were all okay, but it was a difficult conversation, nonetheless.

We all thought the cancer had moved to her brain, but after a clean MRI, nurses concluded that she'd probably had a small stroke.  Dad couldn't leave her in a room by herself, because she kept trying to get out of bed, but was too weak to walk by herself.  My sister and brother and I were all worried about the toll it was taking on my dad's health; we were relieved when he didn't have to worry about her non-stop anymore, and that he was happy with the hospice home where mom had been admitted.

We had taken the kids to see her in early June, but wanted to make another trip without the kids, so we made plans to stay in a nearby town with Terry's dad and step-mom the weekend after she was admitted into hospice.  That Friday morning I fell going down some stairs at our church while holding Simon, and in my effort to avoid falling down the stairs on top of Simon, threw myself backwards.  In doing that, I managed to break both my tibia and fibula and needed surgery, complete with screws and plates, to correct the breaks.  We went to see my mom anyway, since the surgery wasn't for another five days.

At that point, the nurses were thinking mom had around another month to live.  She was down to 80lbs, and losing weight each day.  The Monday, June 21st, the morning after we got back, Dad called to tell me that Mom's  body was showing signs of shutting down, and that he was told she had about a week.  Two hours later he called to say the process was happening faster rather than slower and the nurses had only given her a few days. By 3:15pm, Mom had passed, with Dad sitting beside her, holding her hand.  She was resting and at peace, and finally in pain no more.

Surgery on my foot had to be postponed of course, while we made plans to turn around and head back to my dad's house.  My sister and brother went with my dad to make arrangements on Tuesday, while Terry and I with the kids made the trek back across the state.  Visitations were Thursday and funeral and burial were Friday-both spent in a wheelchair for me.  A good friend of Terry and mine, our pastor when we had lived in the area, did the service for my mom: she had requested him. Pastor Leo did a fantastic job of combining stories of my mom's particular idiosyncrasies with a wonderful description of the hope she had in Christ and what it really means to be a Christian.  We laughed and we cried-it was a good celebration of my mom's life.  My husband sang two hymns- Amazing Grace and Abide With Me during the service, doing an exceptional job considering the short time he had to prepare. 

We are all doing well, considering.  My dad is not one to sit around and brood, so I think in the long run, he'll be better than most.  My siblings and I, along with our dad, all have had time to come to terms with my mom's death.  Unlike many, we don't have to work through shock along with our grief, and for that I'm thankful.  I'm also thankful that in the scheme of things, my mom didn't have to suffer long.  Explaining the whole situation to our kids was definitely the hardest part for me.  They still have questions that surface here and there, and probably will for quite a while.  My recent trip to the hospital and current residence on the recliner have brought up some.

In my effort to remember this time in our lives, along with the fond and funny memories we have of my mom, I'm going to try to write small pieces about  her through out the summer.  I'll be stuck in this chair for a lot of the time, so I might as well make good use of it.

Abide with me; fast falls the eventide; 
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide. 
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness.
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes; 
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies. 
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; 
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

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