I don’t know how many of you out there have endured caring for a loved one in their last stages of life. All I do know is that it is never easy. My sister, a handful of friends, and I stayed at my mother’s side for months as she battled pancreatic cancer. She had surgery to remove the tumor, but there was some lingering, pernicious poison inside that the doctors could not find. Her “cancer markers” kept going up and her strength kept declining.
This is not a post to talk about her dying. This is a post about love. I wrote it about a week after she had a mass of blood clots in her lungs that resembled an inverse photo of The Tree of Life. She should have died that night. But, the quick thinking of our friend and the “magic” of modern medicine allowed her a few more months with us.
She was stronger after they flushed the clots, but her mind was “fogged” by medicines and a lack of chemo sessions while in recovery. This made caring for her needs more difficult for all concerned. She had always been a “I’m fine, don’t worry about me” kind of person. But, we were constantly trying to find a comfort balance with her medications. Not all of them were mandatory; some were for conditions that arise as side effects of other medications, and of course the chemo.
Deciphering her needs after her brain became foggy became an hourly contest of wills. We did not want to give her a acid reflux med if she wasn’t having that because it would make her more nauseated, or we had to juggle which nausea med she was having to go with whether she was sleepy or headachey or just in general pain. So, it was a puzzle.
Before they stopped her chemo, she could tell us precisely what med she needed. She had been a nurse and understood these things. But, when her faculties slipped (we didn’t know if this was another side effect and might go away with time or if it was the way things would be from now on. On many of the prescription pamphlets, the side effect of confusion or delirium was listed. ), it became exponentially harder to extract information for a proper Needs solution.
I’m not sure if it was her personality slipping or if one a deep level, she knew she couldn’t think of the right thing to say or ask. She would continue to give us the assessment of “I’m fine. ..”, but we could tell by her body language that she was not. She was in some kind of discomfort that the regular dose of pain meds were not alleviating. So, a game of 20 questions would begin. And her answers would differ with each caretaker. The more we asked her for specifics and she could not communicate the answers, the more frustrated she (and we) would get. I think this frustration is what would cause her to shut down and snap at us with rants like, “Oh, never mind! I’m bothering you! I’m being a bother. I’m sorry, I’ll just shut up. Leave me alone and stop fussing at me.”
I tell you all this to explain the post below. In order to deal with her uncharacteristic outbursts, I had to resort to Therapy-writing because if I was able to piece the right words together verbally, I would probably start crying before I was able to say them all. I’m going to share them with you. I don’t know if anyone else needs to hear this; but, I hope that if someone does, that the words might help.
A Note to Mama:
Chemotherapy is hard on your body.
You are fighting, on your interior, a battle that is uncomfortable at best and gut-wrenchingly painful at worst. We who care for you and about you understand this. We admire your strength. I admire your strength. But, we do not expect you to stand alone in this battle.
We do not want you to suffer in silence. When we see the signs of pain and we ask you if your pain is too much, you don’t have to say you are “FINE” for our benefit, because doing so will not benefit YOU. It is YOU we care about. It is YOU we do not want to see suffering or in pain. When we ask if you are in pain, it is not because you are bothering us. It is because we see the chemo bothering you and we wish dearly to alleviate your suffering.
We will not punish you for saying, “I don’t know what it is, but I’m not comfortable.” You are not expected to know. We probably will not know. But, we want to know if you are hurting, not to scold you for showing signs of your pain. We want to know if you are hurting, not to fuss at you for withholding knowledge of your pain. We want to know so that we can help stop it. I am not trying to scold you for being in pain.
What we, and I, want is to see you NOT in pain. Not because the pain inconveniences us or annoys us, but because we do not want you to suffer. So, please, accept my apologies for asking over and over if you are in pain in order to offer the proper medicine or medical solution that will relieve that pain.
It is only because we LOVE you that we ask.