“My mother told me that fear was not an option.
I was always told that women are stronger, so I believed it.”
Gmamma didn’t even flinch when we got the news of her imminent demise.
“Everyone’s gotta go sometime,” she said with a shrug.
Don’t mistake her casual reply for a cavalier attitude. It’s just that my mother doesn’t fear death. She has a quiet and steadfast faith. A lifelong Presbyterian, she’s at peace with her own mortality. Someone once asked her if she’d been born again, and she answered that there was no need, because she’d gotten it right the first time.
Over the last week we’ve cried, my father, my siblings and I. My friends who have lost their parents and those who are currently caring for elderly loved ones feel my pain – a visceral intensity that takes your breath away and cuts your knees out from under you. But it’s nothing compared to what my mother is feeling.
I’ve had several Shirley MacLaine “Terms of Endearment” moments when Gmamma is in excruciating pain from the tumors pressing on the nerves in her neck, slowing choking her, and there’s nothing I can do to help. These evil masses are only the tip of the malignant iceberg. The monster has metastasized. It lurks elsewhere in her body. We ‘re not sure where, because she didn’t want the PET scan. So when Long’s Drug Store said on Friday it would be Wednesday before they could get her meds, I lost it right there at the candy counter.
Later as I lay crumpled on the floor at my mother’s feet, my head in her lap, weeping for the loss of her and helpless to stop her suffering, she stroked my hair and told me not to cry. That everything would be ok.
Enter Wonder Woman, Mother Teresa, Xena the Warrior Princess in a white lab coat – Dr. Punam Bhandari. There are no words for what this tiny yet formidable physician has done for my mother.
Easter morning Gmamma awoke, made her bed and padded softly out to the living room to sit in her favorite chair. She was still in her nightgown. She didn’t move all day. Didn’t eat. Didn’t drink. Didn’t speak. The monster was fierce, and we fought it with morphine. But it was like throwing a Dixie cup of water on a forest fire.
“Where is your pain on a scale of one to ten?” my brother asked her every two hours, before administering the dropper of liquid relief. We had become the parents and she the child, obediently opening her mouth, her eyes full of trust.
She did not ask for help. Did not cry out. Just sat perfectly still with her frail, blue-veined hand on her neck, cradling the hornet’s nest of tumors.
Shannondale won’t allow hospice in the retirement community. Gmamma doesn’t want to go to The Other Side where wheelchair zombies roam the halls and moan all night. Her only wish is to close her eyes, lean back in her chair and die peacefully surrounded by family. I don’t think that’s asking too much, do you?