The world lost my badass momma one year ago today.
She had been diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma about 15 years before. Most of the 15 ensuing years were high quality. Mom experienced several remissions and used that time to enjoy life to the fullest with her second husband, who she met at a grief class about a year after Dad died. They travelled and camped, and generally enjoyed retired life together.
But eventually the cancer came back with a vengeance and Mom got sicker and sicker.
In the summer of 2015 the doctor advised that we move up the date of my sister’s wedding and host it closer to home, to ensure Mom could attend.
So I volunteered to host the wedding at my building and what a joyous occasion it was!
Shortly after this Mom made the decision to not proceed with any more chemotherapy. She had had enough, and it was only making her sicker at this point anyway.
Soon she was too ill for her husband to manage so I offered for her to come to stay with me. My newlywed sister made arrangements to take compassionate leave, to be with Mom while I worked and did homework (yes, I was still plugging away at my MBA that fall). And my far flung sister was ready to board a plane and come as soon as she was called, which was a short while later.
All parties agreed to the new plan for Mom and thus we made it happen. A stair lift was installed so Mom could get into and out of my second-floor abode, and we transferred her medical care to my city. Bedding arrangements (and bedrooms) were created to accommodate everyone.
Mom worried about getting into hospice care in a new city. This was something she was considering when living with my stepdad. When I asked if she really wanted to go to hospice when the time came the truthful answer was no. I told her she didn’t ever have to go there – she could die at her new home, my place. She said she would like that, so that is how we proceeded.
What a wonderful, awful fall that was – the fall of 2015. The fall of our mom’s dying. Mom had a typical Dutch practical attitude about her impending death. It didn’t bother her and she didn’t want to be a bother to anybody else. She hoped her death happened at a “convenient” time for everyone, so as not to interfere with any Christmas or vacation plans. We joked a lot with her about these wishes. It was freeing for Mom to be able to speak and joke about her dying with us. It was not something her husband could bear to hear, understandably so.
Mom’s sister, My Tante T asked to come over from the Netherlands for a last visit with her sister. This visit was welcomed by all, especially Mom of course.
We took the ladies out shopping. Mom had an ultralight collapsible wheelchair at this point which made it possible for her to get out more easily. They had a lot of fun looking for cute clothes at the local mall. This was tiring but also joyful for Mom. She loved getting out while still able, and picked up a couple of pretty tops to wear for hospital appointments and when receiving visitors.
I had bought tickets to take Mom to see a live performance of the Jersey Boys many months back, and we were able to get an extra ticket for her sister at the last moment. Seating had to be changed to accommodate the wheelchair. Tante T also had to change her flight so she could attend the show. A lot of changes but we were so glad it all came together. Mom had wanted to see this show for many, many years.
Tante T went backstage at intermission and somehow convinced the Jersey Boys cast to come out to say hi to Mom after the performance. What a woman!
During all this time, Stepdad faithfully visited his wife every day.
We treated Mom to pedicures and massages and accompanied her to her cancer clinic appointments. We tried to tempt her with all her favourite foods but her once hearty appetite was quite diminished. Palliative care nurses and personal workers visited many times and provided Mom with a hospital bed and special equipment to assist with bathing. Spiritual care was provided as well, at Mom’s request. We were trained to give Mom her medication intravenously, as the end drew near and her discomfort increased.
Mom loved having visitors and all were welcome to come whenever they wanted to see her.
Death and dying are not easy for anybody. By the 17th of December we were all exhausted as Mom was very restless, day and night. A night nurse was brought in to allow us some shuteye. Mom passed away in the wee hours of the 18th, partway through his shift. We were all at her bedside when it happened.
I was grateful for all of the resources and comforts provided to Mom, and for so many visits from friends and family. It was a blessing to be able to keep her at home as she wanted.
My favourite memory of this time is of being called into Mom’s bedroom one night by my sister. Mom was crying and wanted to talk to me. I asked her why she was crying and she said, “I am so happy and I can’t stop crying. It is wonderful to be here surrounded by my family. I feel so completely loved, like I have never felt in my whole life. I’m not crying because I am sad or afraid to be dying. I’m crying from happiness.”
I think of that night almost daily. If there is a way to “do” death and dying correctly, I think that as we came together as a family during that horrible, wonderful fall of 2015, we just might have nailed it.