I took her for granted, I thought mom would always be here.
Life. It’s black, white and somewhere in-between. It’s the in-between we take for granted. White is youthful, full of life and longevity. In-between is aging, getting up there in years, growing old gracefully and dying of old age. Then there’s black. Black is the sooner than later when disease, accident or disability rob you of what should be those long-lasting in-between years.
Cancer and dementia hijacked mom from the back side of her in-between. I think dementia began earlier than what we realized. My auntie would tell me about the goofy things mom was doing. Many times we chalked it up on mom wanting attention, dismissing the warning signs of trouble ahead. Perhaps it started soon after the death of dad in the years adjusting to being a widow, too much time alone. Could I have seen it better had I not been focusing on helping her become more independent rather than supporting her through grief?
It progressed slowly. Then there was a fall resulting in a broken ankle. Knee replacement of not one but both knees. Could it have been the dependence on pain medication that caused forgetfulness? Was it truly pain or wanting to dull the daily loneliness she felt after losing dad? We’ll never know.
Dementia has many faces and you don’t know which one you’re going to encounter from day-to-day. Some days you see sadness, others euphoric or forgetfulness, while other days are lucid with few symptoms of the disease. You hold on to hope that maybe, just maybe she’s been over-medicated for a misdiagnosis and she’ll be just fine.
Some days the confusion is comical; a cheap sort of entertainment after hours of answering the same questions over and over and over, finding ways to change-up the same version of the answer in hopes of not sounding repetitive. Other days were heartbreaking when she recognized that she couldn’t remember yesterday or even an hour ago and asks why, what’s wrong with me?
Then the toothaches began, followed by two teeth being extracted, end of the story right? Wrong. Pain. tongue pain, jaw pain, pain swallowing, with difficulty eating and sleeping because it hurt so bad. Additional trips to the dentist uncovered an underlying cause. Tongue cancer. I honestly had never heard of such a thing. Now what? Surgery was an option but after a second opinion it was determined that radiation was a less invasive solution. A cure? a 50-50 chance. The goal was to alleviate the extreme pain she was experiencing and while it did reduce the size of the tumor, it depleted mom of what little energy she did have and she lost her short battle with cancer on May 20, 2016. Mom put up a good fight and was brave and upbeat to the very end.
I did what I could to fight the battle right along side her. It took every ounce of energy I had to be by her side as much as I possibly could, along with juggling career and time with my precious grandchildren. And then there was the three-hour drive. I drove in white-out conditions, rain and winds so powerful I wondered if my windshield would explode. I avoided friends in fear they would invite me to do things and I was going to have to say no. I cancelled flights and meetings to be by her side. I never wanted mom to feel like she was alone. Mom never really feared cancer, she said she was ready to die and that she’d had a good life. But what she did fear was being alone. Some nights she would ask if I would sleep next to her and I did, holding her in my arms. I felt her loneliness ease as I comforted her, realizing it had been almost 18 years since she’d been held at night.
The evening before she died I called her at our usual check-in time to tell her I’d see her on Saturday and that Kate and The Hurricane were coming along too. She said she couldn’t wait to see me and said honey you know what I could really go for? A root beer, can you bring me a root beer? Sure mom, I’ll bring you a root beer followed by our several minute ritual of I love you’s, I love you more and sending big hugs.
I woke up unusually early Friday morning, May 20th, feeling anxious, the same feeling I had the morning we got the call that dad passed away. I busied myself for a while and then decided I’d try to shake it off by going for a walk. I was a good mile away from home when I realized I’d missed my brother’s call at 6 a.m. I called him back to hear the news that mom’s condition had taken a turn overnight and hospice asked that we gather the family together. My daughter joined me on what would be our final drive to mom’s.
Mom passed away peacefully that afternoon surrounded by her family, she got her wish, she wasn’t alone.
She never did get to have that root beer. Nor was she able to spend a weekend at my house like she had wanted to do. And we didn’t get to go on the picnic she’d hoped for this summer.
In celebration of mom’s life we fulfilled her wishes by having a gathering at my home with a picnic theme and served 1919 root beer made in our hometown. I could feel the presence of mom and dad at her party, dad watching proudly and mom glowing while she enjoyed being in the spotlight. Mom is no longer lingering in-between, waiting for the inevitable black. She’s on the other-side. Call it heaven, call it being in the light or whatever your belief might be. I just know mom’s in a peaceful place, a place that makes her happy, where her eyes sparkle and she’s always wearing a smile as she watches over us.
Rest in peace mom, we love you and miss you everyday.
Sending big hugs,