Monday, June 9, 2014

A Cancer Journey: Letting Go

Day 27

At 5:30 am, Mom took her last breath.  Monkey Toes and I were each holding one of her hands. Mom's Bible was sitting on her night stand, so I picked it up and read Psalm 23 through tears that were blurring my vision and spilling over, onto my cheeks.  I repeated, "I love you Mom", over and over again.

Mom's suffering was over and her life's journey, on this earth, had come to an end.

I kissed her.  I hugged her.  I immediately longed for more time with her; just one more minute; one more moment.

Monkey woke the kids and we all gathered in our living room.  We asked if any of them wanted to see Grandma, and all but Sweet Potato and Gummi said yes.  One by one we brought them into her room, watching them closely as they tried to understand and make sense of the finality of this most precious life.

Today our white lilacs bloomed.  Lilacs were Mom's favorite flower.

Day 31

Today was Mom's funeral.  It was beautiful and so very touching, especially knowing that she planned every detail.  One of our cousins even commented that it felt jubilant.  I loved hearing that!  It was exactly the feeling that Mom would have wanted to impart.  The church was full of our family, our church family and many friends who loved Mom and love us.

Today is the Feast of the Visitation.  Mom cherished and loved Marian Feast Days.


From day one of our month long journey, Mom was dignified.  She showed dignity in how she dealt with her illness, knowing exactly how she wanted to live her final days.

Mom showed dignity though her suffering.  She affirmed the Catholic Churches teaching on Redemptive Suffering.  Her suffering had value.  She offered it for three specific intentions. 1)  To end abortion and that all may see and embrace the sanctity of life from the moment of conception until natural death.  2)  She offered her suffering for an increase in vocations, especially the priesthood. Mom prayed for our priests everyday.  She loved them, she prayed for them, and she taught us to do the same.  3)  She offered her suffering for the intention of those who have left the Church, that they would return home again to sit at the Eucharistic Table once more.

Life without my Mom is going to take awhile to get used to.  I feel uneasy as I walk past her empty room each day.  There is still apart of me that thinks I may see her sitting in her rocking chair, watching EWTN or Fox News, or playing cards on her bed with one of the Love Bugs.  A few times, the little ones have already forgotten that Grandma has passed, and they talk of things to do with her. Pumpkin asked me yesterday if she could go with Grandma to get her hair done at the end of the week. Sweet Pea asked if Grandma will be coming with us on vacation this summer.  Reality then sets in and our hearts ache in her absence.  We miss her everyday!

I am forever grateful for the gift of faith my parents instilled within my siblings and I.  Without it, I don't know how we would get through this or make sense of life.  We find peace and we find hope in a God who so intimately knows every fiber of our being and is holding us near.  We have a Savior who knows and understands our pain.  And we have the promise and the hope of the Resurrection, where Jesus has prepared a place for us.  He has prepared a place for Mom.

And so, we have yet one more saint who is loving us and praying for us on the other side.  Mom will forever be held close in our hearts.

Thank you Mom, for the woman you are, the lessons you taught, and the faith you shared.  I love you!


Friday, June 6, 2014

A Cancer Journey: Part 2

Week 2

I have learned the basics of ostimy care.  Although emptying the bag is no problem, changing it has me second guessing every step.  Between Sissy and I, we have emptied Mom's ostimy bag 14 times in a 24 hour period.  Mom is exhausted.  We are exhausted.  By mid-week, her stool has turned almost black.  We have been told that she may have an upper GI bleed.  If that is the case, we should be prepared that she will go quickly.

Overall, this has been a good week for Mom.  She has been very lucid and has a good appetite.  She has requested scrambled eggs a few times and reminds me how she likes them!  At 5 am on Wednesday, she looked at me and said, "Please get a piece of paper and a pen.  I want to plan my funeral."  She then proceeded to pick the readings and music and shared who she wanted to do what for the Mass.  She does not want a lot of flowers, because she doesn't want to be "showboated" (those were her exact words).  For that same reason, she does not want picture boards.  Instead, she is o.k. with a few family photos and she wants memorials to be used toward the Mary Garden at our church.

What was believed to be a GI bleed has corrected itself by weeks end.  Her stoma has now become infected and the skin around it is raised and red and hot to the touch.

Aside from funeral planning, the week was filled with lots of stories and much laughter.  It was as though we had our Mom back, and yet the harsh reality is that our time together is fleeting.  I am very much aware that each day, each moment is gift.

Week 3

The week began with Mother's Day.  Sissy came and stayed with Mom, while our family attended Mass.  I knew today would be bittersweet, but I didn't expect Mass to be so emotional for me.  From the music, to the prayers and culminating at the Eucharist, I cried.  I cried not only for the beauty of this celebration, but also for the heaviness weighing on my heart.  This would be the last Mother's Day that we would be spending with Mom.

My Brother-in-law planned a brunch at our house for all the family.  Mom had a few bites of egg bake, cinnamon roll and fruit.  She felt up to visiting for most of the afternoon.  Today was the last great day that Mom had.

Mom is now sleeping more than she is awake.  She groans when we move her to change her sheets or chuck or to reposition her pillow.  She reaches out in front of her for something or someone only she can see.  She has stopped eating and only takes a few sips of water with her medication.

In a way, the dying process has slowed time.  We can close the door to the outside world and simply just "be" with Mom.  Every touch, every care, every breath has become holy.  Her room has become a sanctuary of prayer and reflection.  Upon entering, there is an immediate sense of this being a sacred place; a place where life and death are merging.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Cancer Journey: Part 1

The following is a journal I have kept for the last few weeks.  I share this in complete reverence and love. 

Day 1:  April 30

Mom hadn't been feeling well the past few weeks.  She was experiencing some tenderness in her side and mentioned that she felt full.  She went to the doctor today and he ordered a scan for Friday morning.  At 8:30 PM this evening, Mom said something was wrong and she wanted to go to the ER.   Sissy #2 and I took her in to Emergency at 9:00 PM.  At 11:30 PM, Mom had a scan.

Day 2:  May 1

At 12:30 AM, my sister and I were asked to follow the nurse to a room where the doctor was sitting at a computer.  On the screen was my Mom's scan.  I heard the doctor say something about a mass and using the word "metastasized."  Sissy began crying and reaching for me.  I didn't understand what I was looking at, nor what I was hearing.  I kept asking for everyone to please slow down and explain what was happening.  The doctor said that the scan showed a large mass in her colon and there were dark spots on her liver and lungs.

Mom has cancer.

The doctor asked if we wanted him to tell Mom.  Sissy said no, she would do it.

After telling Mom and then making phone calls to the immediate family, we went back to Mom's side.  I held her hand, not knowing what to say.  Mom spoke first.

Mom:  Please don't worry Shelly.  I'm going to be o.k.  I prayed for this.  I prayed that I would suffer.  Jesus loves me so much that He suffered and died for me.  I want to show Jesus how much I love Him and offer my suffering with His.

A few moments later, as the doctor was speaking to Mom, I looked around the room and felt the urge to smash things.  I wanted to tear the T.V. off the wall.  I wanted to turn over the cart that held the computer.  I wanted to take my arm and sweep everything off the counter.  I was angry and wanted to throw things.

 I didn't.

At 1:30 AM, Mom was in a regular hospital room for the night.  At this point, she was confused and agitated.  Leaving her that night was difficult.

Mom was scheduled for surgery shortly after 10 AM.  We were thankful that our Deacon came before then to anoint, pray over and give Mom communion.  Before wheeling her away, everyone present was able to kiss and tell Mom they loved her. 

We prayed the Rosary.

The phone in the room where we were waiting rang.  It was the O.R. telling us that they were going to begin surgery. 

What seemed like only minutes later, the surgeon entered our room and said she didn't have good news.  They opened Mom up and discovered she was full of cancer.  They would be unable to remove any of the mass.  They were going to do a double loop ileostomy and then close her up.  The doctor said Mom would maybe have 2 months to live.

At that moment, everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.

May 1st is the feast day of St. Peregrine.  He is the patron saint of cancer patients.

Day 3:  May 2

Mom's surgeon visited her early this morning.  She explained to Mom how the surgery had gone the previous day.  Mom didn't say much as she listened.  She just shook her head in understanding.  Mom, very clearly stated, that she did not want to spend her days in and out of chemo and going to doctor appointments.  She wanted to go home, be comfortable, and live out her days peacefully.  Later in the day, Mom said, "Everyone has something to bear.  This is mine."

Day 4:  May 3

I arrived to the hospital early and found the nurses helping Mom to sit up in a chair.  Once settled, I asked Mom if I could give her a foot massage, using lavender oil.  One of the nurses brought in an instrumental CD.  As I began to rub her feet, the song, "On Eagle's Wings" played.  Mom put her head back, closed her eyes and sang along.  This will forever be one of my most treasured memories with my Mom.

Day 5:  May 4

Judy, one of Mom's dearest friends, came for a visit today.  She held Mom's hand and in her poetic way, shared how much their friendship means.  She not only had Mom in tears, but me, Sissy and my brother, as well.  Before leaving, Judy sang, "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."  Again, tears flowed.

Day 6:  May 5

Mom came home from the hospital today.  She was in good spirits and very appreciative of her "new" room (hospital bed, table and commode).  The day was spent getting Mom settled in and comfortable.

Day 7:  May 6

Mom's dear friend, Jan, came over and gave Mom a haircut.  While up in the wheelchair, the Love Bugs put on a musical concert for Grandma.  Honey Bunches played, "I'll Fly Away" and "Amazing Grace" on his guitar.  On the piano, "Walking on Sunshine", "Edelweiss", and "Ode to Joy" was played by Sweet Potato, Gummi and Cucumber respectively.  Mom clapped after each performance and the Love Bugs all gave her a hug and kiss.

The first week of this journey has been quite emotional.  Mom has been a pillar of strength and grace, all while I feel the walls are closing in on me.  Some days I find it hard to take a deep breath.  Some days, my body aches for no apparent reason.  I am tired, but I can't sleep.  I pray, but am not always sure of what it is I am praying for.  I am thankful for our memorized Catholic prayers, as they fill a void that I cannot fill on my own.  Each night at 7:00, we gather in Mom's room to pray the Rosary.  It is Mom's favorite prayer and it brings peace to all of us.