The title of this post is meant as a bit of a warning.
My mother is dying (well, we’re ALL dying, of course, but my mother is doing it with a bit more haste than most), and I suspect that this process is going to be something that occupies a great deal of my thinking and energy until she finishes (and, if I may point out the obvious, probably for a while afterward, too). Some of my musings – like today’s I hope – will be at least marginally coherent; I’m not making you any promises about all of them, mind, because while people I love have passed on, no one who has been so instrumental in my life has yet to make that step. I can wax philosophical about how I’ll handle my mother’s death, but I won’t know for sure until it actually happens. When it does, all bets are off.
For starters – as I suspect this will be a series of posts that I’ll link together with a couple of categories so that I (and my children and, if they would like, my readers) can refer back to the whole story after it’s over – I should probably do a little bit of background. My mother did not give birth to me. I came to her as a result of having fallen deeply in love with her son when I was about 14 (our romantic relationship lasted through my four years of high school; our friendship has endured to this day. For the sake of clarity, I will refer to him as my brother).
Mom took me in whole-heartedly and matter-of-factly even before she understood how deeply damaged my home life was (and even after my relationship with her son ended). What I know about independence and self-reliance, pragmatism and the rules of fighting fairly, spirituality and faith, I learned from her. She manages to walk the line between compassion and drill sargent with a consistency that astounds me, and though I’ve often used the bossy-and-stubborn that she taught me against her (lest you think that our relationship was all daisies and sunshine), we have settled into a sympathy of spirit that really defies my ability to describe it.
So, back to the point of this post. Mom is dying. She’s been ill for a while; she’s always had some mobility issues (which she stubbornly refused to have diagnosed for decades), and last year she was treated for throat cancer. Until recently, she was able to hobble around with the aid of a walker but now, due to what we think is an attack of MS, she can’t even sit up witout assistance.
This new and disturbing development lead to a series of tests which have revealed a bunch of bad news. The MS was confirmed (though, to be honest, those of us around her have suspected for years that MS was behind her mobility problems), and some of the tests have indicated that there may be more cancer. Because of the treatments for the throat cancer last year, Mom’s nutrition has been sketchy for a while now (swallowing was impossible for a period, and she got her sustenance from a feeding tube. That’s been removed, but she still can’t eat most foods without the risk of choking). The lack of nutrition, combined with her inability to get any meaningful exercise, has left her extremely weak physically. If the cancer diagnosis is correct, I’m not certain that she’d be strong enough to endure the treatments.
My brother called me today to ask if we can get together to discuss some of the things that have to happen in anticipation of Mom’s death. We want to get her estate in order and we’d like to sell off some things (like her car, which she’s never driven – and never will) to help pay for some of her (astronomical) medical expenses. We need to find out from her, on no uncertain terms, what she wants to happen in the event that she is rendered incapable of making decisions for herself, along with how she wants her final ceremonies to be handled and what she’d like done with her body once she leaves it.
He’s coming to the house for dinner on Tuesday.
Right now, I’m handling all of this with a strange sort of detached clarity. I’ve known for a while that my mother has been gravely ill, and I’ve watched as her physical health has deteriorated, markedly, over the past few years. She taught me, more than anyone else, that death is not an ending, and I believe with something approaching certainty that I will still feel her around me long after she departs this plane.
What is making me most uneasy isn’t that she’s dying; it’s that she’s still capable of putting up a great deal of resistence to things that she knows have to happen, but that she may not want to face on a practical level. My brother has asked that *I* be the one to confront her about these things; he understands that my personality is far better suited than his to do that” march-in-and-take-the-lead” thing, and he concedes – correctly – that my relationship with her is more conducive to having those kinds of conversations. I guess what I’m fearing is that the end of my earthly relationship with Mom will be marked with confrontation and strife, and I’m trying to figure out how I can walk that line of compassion and drill sargent that my mother modeled for me for so many years.