Thursday, February 26, 2009

And so it goes.

Mom, with a friend of the family who gave her away.

My mother is on the verge of dying after a week and a half in hospice. She has cancer throughout her body, including breast cancer with metastization, liver, and lungs. I'm very glad she made the choice to enter hospice once it was clear she would not win the fight. She has had outstanding care, and the hospice nurses have all made sure she did not feel pain. She had a very nice room with a big window, and a view of a lake with ducks.

Mom has had a hard life, much of it by her own choosing. She abused alcohol and prescription drugs for decades, culminating in her dismissal from nursing after stealing the narcotic Demerol and shooting it into her thigh while on shift.

For the last four years, mom lived in a halfway house for recovering addicts, and she loved it. There was a pool right outside her window, and she was largely left alone, which was always goal number one for her; the sure way of getting mom not to do something was to try to tell her to do it.

Mom was also codependent, and until the last few years of her life could not stand to be alone. She avoided conflict to the point of complete passivity, and is technically still married to a man she hasn't seen for 15 years. She just couldn't deal with going through the process of divorcing him, which she thought would have made her a three-time loser in marriage. I don't buy too much into Freud, but mom lost her dad to a heart attack when she was a teenager, and I know that she had loved him very much and always missed him. Whether that connected her to whatever men stuck around, I don't know.

Mom and Dad on their wedding day.

I don't outline these problems to diss mom, but rather to establish how tough she had it. The thing is, an addict is sometimes incapable of making healthy decisions. So when I would ask her to get the divorce so she could get her half of the house she co-owned with this guy (she needed the money), and she wouldn't, I realize that she was running as fast as she could just to stay in place: staying sober and paying her rent and bills on time was a triumph for her. The idea of going down to the county courthouse and dealing with bureaucracy was just more than she could take on.

I spent a week in hospice with mom. I stayed overnight in her room on a sofabed, spending time by her side holding her hand, stroking her hair, telling her it was going to be ok even after she became unresponsive. The cancer was horrific even with the regular morphine and drugs used to help with the secretions her lungs were producing. She had a deep persistent cough, and since she stopped taking fluids and had said she didn't want an IV, the only thing to do was wait for the coughing reflex to end. I spent several hours one night fighting the instinct to pick her up, take her away from the hospital, and nurse her back to health.

What was magic about the week was how many people made it clear they cared for my mom and me. Mom's friends from the halfway house visited, bringing flowers and her favorite stuffed animals. The hospice nurses had all been through the same experiences themselves, and so were called to the work much like priests. Every one of them had chosen to work there. When one nurse had to leave because she had the following three days off, she kissed her forehead and said "I have to go now, Mary. Say hi to my Mom."

While mom was still lucid and able to talk, she was also able to deal with longtime guilt. A staff chaplain gave her a blessing and said a prayer for her, and also had an Episcopalian priest come in to give communion, which mom was able to keep down. She had been worried about being a bad mom to me, and I was able to put that out of her mind, letting her know she did the best she could.

Mom maintained her sense of humor while she was still awake, even after she couldn't talk. When I told the nurses my mom had also been a nurse, and that she liked working most with babies in Ob/Gyn, one of them said "Well, babies are easier to deal with than some of the adults." Mom raised an eyebrow as if to say "You got that right." After a nurse cut her hair mid-length and brushed it, I told her it looked better. Mom put her index finger to her chin as if to say "Duh!"

Mom loved being goofy and laughing to the point of tears. She hated having her picture taken, but loved to capture funny reactions by snapping ambush pics. She loved using funny voices. She loved needlepoint and cats and calm. She loved me.

When I had to go, I told mom that I loved her and that I knew she loved me. I told her everything would be better soon. And I told her I hoped she saw her daddy.

Mom and Dad leave for their honeymoon.