Mom’s Got Cancer – Entry 8 – Circle of Life
The hospice nurse came to drop off some meds for my mom and found her lying down in between the coffee table and couch. I had just seen my mom a week ago and although she was walking slowly, she was somewhat self sufficient. The nurse called me and said my mom was ok but somewhat confused. I called Scott, left work, picked up the kids from school and the four of us drove down to Bellingham. I was not panicking as she was ok and had fallen a few times before. She was previously able to pick herself back up though.
I didn’t know what to expect. When we got there, her dear friend (we’ll call her “Laverne”) was sitting by her bed. My mom was confused. She hadn’t remembered falling. I had called her that morning around 9 and woke her. We spoke for a few minutes and I said I’d call back later. She did not mention that she was lying on the floor unable to get up.
“Laverne” said, “I need to talk to you.” We stepped outside the door and I was anticipating she was going to tell me about the fall or about my mom’s condition. Instead she said with her positive voice “Your mom has accepted the Lord as her saviour!” I wasn’t sure how to respond. So I listened. She started to tell me about how my mom had forgiven her dad and my dad and told “Laverne” how light she felt after letting that go. This woman knew my life’s story. Who was I to have judgements on any religion? I stood there wearing an amulet of a Hindu deity around my neck that I knew shit about. I gave her a big hug and thanked her for being such a beautiful friend. Amen!
It was clear that my mom was not able to live alone anymore and needed some help. Scott and the girls stayed with us for a couple of nights. One evening, I left my mom alone in bed to grab some dinner. She told me she was fine and to take my time. When we got back, she was lying on the floor. She wore a big smile and bright eyes and said, “I didn’t fall. I didn’t fall.”, while continuing to lay on her back unable to get up.
My mom would wake up twice in the night wanting to use the bathroom. The first night after her fall, she looked over at our girls and said in Japanese, “Which one is Masaru?” Masaru was my uncle; my mom’s youngest brother who died of stomach cancer when he was 39.
She wanted to use the actual bathroom rather than the bedside commode. I respected that and helped her out of bed, using her walker, supporting her to the bathroom. I remember looking at the clock and it was 2am. She has a small bachelor apartment in a retirement home. It’s about 8-10 small steps to her bathroom. The doctor thought that her cancer had progressed to the brain and so she was having trouble with motor skills. I could tell she wanted to move. She was able to put some weight onto her feet but had a lot of difficulty picking them up. Her knees would bend back and forth but taking a step, took forever. We finally made it to the toilet. She peed. I wiped. We made for the journey back to bed. By the time, I got back into bed, the clock said 2:25am. I was wide awake by this point contemplating for another hour, what choices we had. The cost of dying in the States is pretty fucking high unless you’re impoverished. Can’t health care be a right instead of a privilege? She slept through until 6am and I suggested the bedside commode. She agreed.
Scott and the girls left after the second night. I stayed to care for my mom. I’m not sure where all this patience came from but I became the loving caregiver. Even at 2am, my words were encouraging and supportive of each step my mom could barely take. She didn’t like the cold wipes even though I’d warm them in my hands so I’d get a bucket of hot water, ring out a washcloth and clean her. By the third night, she wasn’t able to bear weight onto her feet. Thankfully, my mom is only 90 pounds, which is still a lot when they’re not helping you. I was able to lift her out of bed and right onto the commode. She was on a fast decline though. It’s true about life being a full circle. You start off in this world sleeping most of the day, unable to walk or sit up on your own or even hold the weight of your big head.
I put her in her wheelchair and took her out to the grandparents’ event where we had our faces painted and got to pet two ponies. My mom enjoyed the company of the ponies. I was Debbie Downer. I thought I was keeping my shit together until, I pushed her through the wheelchair friendly door to the event. Her dormmates were excited to see her. There was an older man, most likely a resident, playing the guitar. Popcorn, pink lemonade and ice cream were being served. Grandkids were getting ice cream all over their faces and shirts while their grandparents smiled. A wave of emotion hit me and I couldn’t contain myself. Tears were streaming down my face as I pushed my mom in her wheelchair to say hi to her friends. She wasn’t speaking and was having trouble keeping her head up but her friends were talking to her and kissing her. Sweet “Shirley’s” granddaughter was the face painting artist. Her friends carried along a conversation or perhaps more of a monologue with my mom. “Shirley” looked at me and said “Oh dear, I just want to hold you.” My mom wasn’t able to speak but was crying. She had a moment of frustration earlier when she was lying in bed looking out her window at everyone who was able to walk. My mom has always had a competitive, ambitious drive. This power of will is probably what has kept her alive for four years with metastasized lung cancer.
Her mind is still somewhat clear but more often she looks like she’s somewhere else. The other day, she said “It’s time to die.” I sat with her holding her hand and told her it was ok if she decided to let go. I then asked if she thought she was going to die that morning because I was going to go get some supplies. She smiled and said, “No, I don’t think I’ll die today.”
With each day, she has lost more mobility. I got her out of her pajamas yesterday and it was challenging. Because she couldn’t hold herself up in a seated position, I had to use my left arm to hold her upright, my right arm to keep her elbow bent and somehow direct her hand into the sleeve. Putting her pants on was just as challenging as she wouldn’t point or flex her ankles and she couldn’t lift her bum up.
I’ve been brushing, flossing (she only has 5 bottom teeth so it’s not that time consuming) and using a tongue scraper to clean her mouth but last night, she didn’t understand she had to spit into the bucket I was holding for her. I eventually had to stick my fingers into her mouth, pry her jaw open and place a washcloth in her mouth so it would absorb the water. My patience for my mom is abundant but not for anyone else. When my daughters were here, Gabby complained about being bored and I spanked her butt and told her to stop being a spoiled brat. Her baba was dying. It was good they left.
This morning my mom started complaining about pain. I had been giving her a low dose of morphine every few hours. She would only complain of pain whenever I had to lift her on and off the bed or commode. This morning however, she had a soft cry as I touched her left leg. She had so much pain that I couldn’t even move it. My mom wanted to use the commode but I knew she would be in excruciating pain if I tried to move her leg or even bend it. I told her to pee in her diaper and I’d change it immediately. She frowned but agreed.
I’ve been living here at the Willows with my mom for 5 nights now and each day she declines. It may sound like it’s all doom and gloom but I am so content being in her presence and the presence of her friends. I keep the door unlocked and her friends visit all the time. They have become my friends. I’ve invited them for cocktail hour at my mom’s but so far no one has taken me up on that offer. They just like to come and visit. “Joannie”, who uses a walker, brings up biscotti from the bakery every other day and tells my mom “Remember, I love you”, “Lorie Beth”, who uses a cane watched over my mom so I could go out for lunch. “Shirley” lives on the first floor with a grey yorky. “Marion”, who came to the Willows several years ago with cancer to be close to the cancer clinic, has been living well without treatment. “Laverne”, who brings fresh smoothies, sits for hours with my mom helping her let go of that anger. She has other friends who drop by but this is her core crew. Yes, I named them all from the cast of Laverne and Shirley and Happy Days.
I’m not sure how many more days or weeks my mom has but it’s not much. She is barely eating or drinking which I was told is normal during this end of life phase. Her body is starving itself and dehydrated but she’s not uncomfortable. She sleeps about 20 hours a day and falls asleep when I’m feeding her. She’s peaceful and I am at peace to let her go.