Thursday, December 15, 2011


For the past 21 months, my life has been consumed, and I haven't felt at liberty to discuss any of it on this blog, until now.

In February 2010, my mother was diagnosed with stage 3C endometrial cancer. We almost lost her then. I brought her home to live with me in Idaho, where she began aggressive treatment. By the summer, her cancer had metastasized. Stage 4. Still, the treatment was effective in containing and killing her cancer, and hormone treatments kept the tumors in her liver from growing. Unfortunately, that treatment was so aggressive that it finally killed her as well as her disease. She passed away November 30th.

My mom was a good, kind, hard working, faithful woman. Yet she and I had a complicated relationship ... at least from my perspective. We weren't very alike, we two, and those differences in our personalities and even, ironically, our upbringings made it difficult for us to really communicate or connect about anything deeply significant. Add to this having to take on the role of caregiver, and I spent two years in emotional conflict. I frequently had less than kind feelings toward my mother, and that always then made me also feel guilty. What kind of daughter, after all, would be angry at a mother who was suffering the way that she was? To cope, I became emotionally detached at a time when my mother needed emotional support more than ever.

The last two months of her life I was able to let go. It wasn't very noble of me. My mom had become so weakened, so sick, so dependent, so frankly pitiful, that it was now impossible to continue to harbor resentments. She'd had surgery and was in the hospital for a total of 7 1/2 weeks. She then came home with hospice care and was only home for 3 weeks before she was gone. The last week, she wasn't able to speak to me. Saturday and Sunday she'd been more alert, and though unable to answer back, she was looking at me with an intensity that I was certain she understood what I was saying. I told her how much I loved her, what a great mom she'd been. I told her about the things I admired about how she'd lived her life. The great teacher she was, the kind neighbor, the caring daughter. Without actually saying the words, I was able to say goodbye. That Sunday night she fell asleep and never woke up. On Wednesday morning she passed away.

It's been two weeks. Two weeks and one day as of this publishing. It's funny, I find myself counting the time as I did the ages of my newborns. I don't plan to, it's just how I am thinking about this. In some ways don't miss her yet, as if she's not really dead but only away. I'm used to being without my mother. For years we lived 3,000 miles apart and only saw each other for 10 days every year. But for the past nearly two, she's been right in my home, needing attention and care. So in other ways I feel a little lost, like I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to be doing.

I assume that after the holidays, when the kids are back in school, my time will fill back up with whatever it is my time gets filled with. In the meantime, it's hard to go to bed when I should, and it's hard to want to stay awake during the day. It's hard to try to wrap my brain around this new motherless reality of mine, especially since, to be honest, I'm trying to avoid thinking of it as much as I can. There is a holiday to put on for my kids, and I can't seem to manage preparing for that and thinking about my mom at the same time. Processing may need to wait.

I keep thinking of the original lyrics to "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas:"

Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow.
Until then we'll have to muddle through somehow,
And have ourselves a merry little Christmas now.

Clearly, the fates didn't allow for one last Christmas with my mother. But I assume that as time passes that fact will seem less tragic. Perhaps even next year I won't feel like I'm muddling through. It may take longer.

Merry Christmas, dear friends.

6 fishy comments:

Kristina P. said...

I'm so sorry to hear about the passing of your mom. I have a complicated/difficult relationship with my mom too, and I've often thought about how things would be if she were to get sick or something were to happen.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing this very honest post.

I was not certain one ever truly deals with the loss of a parent - whatever that means - before this moment. (I wrote this last sentence after composing this response).

I hope as time passes you are able to figure it all out (well at least some of it). Give yourself time to do it (lots of time) and believe that getting on with a 'normal' life that will include both happy and sad times is what you need to do to survive. No behaviour (holidays, parties, ...) are wrong.

Funny as it is, in my case, I think the learning from my father has been greater in the 15 years since his passing than the 33 years I shared with him. And some of the learning was as a result of what he seemed incapable of doing as opposed to doing.

He was a challenging person to have a close relationship with, but he was staunchly supportive and protective of his creations. But he was equally as hard on them. Often his actions were, at the time, unfathomable and hard to like. But he was a man to admire, the way he went about things was often annoying and grossly individual. But if you watched, it turns out you could learn and if you watched, it was hard not to be impressed.

I have continued to have a relationship with him. What I observed, that I now see were instantiations of his beliefs, regularly appear in my mind as I am faced with situations I have to deal with. I critique them, accept or reject them (or something in between). His weaknesses (or what I now tag as weaknesses) help to make me a better person, I strive to do the things I thought he should have and did not (particularly with me as a child) and so I think my children are in some ways better off than I was. His strengths, I try to emulate. I have come to understand that for me his death was not at all the end of him in my life, just the end of being able to discuss things. Perhaps lucky for me he was not a good discusser and also lucky for me I was a good observer. I understand now, for whatever reason, I was intrigued by him. I watched and I watched and I watched, just waiting for the day he would ask me to do. The doing days were rare. So I had to go off and find my own fields to do stuff in. Oh how I wish he had have asked me to do stuff in his fields, but he did not. Nevermind, I learned from watching and was amused as well. I learned things that I could apply in my fields - mainly to be inquisitive and that figuring stuff out was a way of life.

Some years after his death (maybe before too?) I began trying to figure him out. 15 years later I am still figuring him out and making inferences about why he did what he did. Maybe I will never know if my inferences are correct, but they are certainly making my life, and the life of those around me, a whole lot better than it might have been. So in a very real way he has not left my life. His death has, I think, resulted in me learning more from him than I could have when he was alive. Or maybe his death made me realise I was learning from him?

Often I have have wondered if I would ever deal with his death. Writing this response to your 'Lost' has made me realise I have been 'dealing' with it for 15 years and the outcome of that dealing has been pretty positive.

Good luck with the adventure ahead.

Dawn said...

What a beautiful post. How wonderful for you to provide a soft place to land for your mother at the end of her time here. You will be blessed and I know you're mom is at peace.

Just SO said...

Beautiful honesty. I watched as my mother and her sister took turns caring for my grandmother. My aunt did most of the care giving and lived with my grandma but my mom would take her a couple of days a week when she could until she wasn't able to travel to my moms house.

I stayed with my grandma one weekend so my aunt could go to visit her daughter for Thanksgiving. It was hard work...and I'm sure she was in much better shape than your mom.

I have a feeling that when it comes to care giving for my mom things will fall to me. And even with a good relationship that can be a very difficult thing.

My heart goes out to you. May you find peace and comfort.

Renn @ The Big C and Me said...

I am so sorry to read about your mother's passing and some of what you have been dealing with the past 2 years. Be kind and gentle with yourself. The loss of a parent is a lifelong process; it takes the rest of our lives to process both their living and their dying.

Thank you for writing so honestly about your relationship with your mother. I often feel that my relationships are more complicated than some of my friends. But i think we all have complicated relationships.

Sending you peaceful thoughts and a hug!


Aamirah Nyazee said...

You are truly blessed to have been able to say goodbye to your mother like that. You took care of her at the end of her time here, regardless of how you felt inside. She suffered but in the comfort of her daughter's home, rather than some strange place.

A lot of people have a difficult relationship with at least one parent, but not everyone gets to let go of their hurt (at least in part) and make peace with a loved one, before death comes in and takes charge.

You are a lovely person and I'm sure you made your mother very proud. Stay blessed!