“Erica, it’s time to let go, and tell your family that you love them. No more fighting.”
Delivered by her long time doctor, those words started a conversation I will never forget. Mum’s condition had deteriorated rapidly in the few weeks prior and we’d all flown in from our respective parts of the world to be with her and Dad. We were all sitting on her bed, her doctor looking us each in the eye, patiently and truthfully answering our questions.
Looking back on that day, a sunny September afternoon, what stays with me is how brave Mum was in the face of this definitive statement. She looked at all of us, tears in her eyes and a little smile on her face. She didn’t say anything. I don’t think she could. I certainly couldn’t. We sat quietly for a few minutes, absorbing our new reality until Mum said she needed to rest and shooed us away.
How do you carry on with your day when someone tells you that the matriarch of your family is dying and that you only have days left together? I don’t know… you just do. I remember that we all retreated into ourselves for a few hours. I think I went for a run and cried my way through it. I may have punched a tree and howled. I was terribly sad. And furious. And also a little bit relieved that finally, Mum wouldn’t have to suffer anymore and that our lives would no longer be dictated by cancer markers, medications and the fear of not knowing. That may seem selfish and yet it’s true. Anyone who has been through this will know just how honest that is.
The next few days were a blur. Preparations were underway to move her and time both sped and dragged. In her typical fashion, my stubborn mother declared that she wanted to go to hospice care RIGHT NOW. Not in a few days, or even a few hours. NOW. We did what we could for her and each other. I slept next to her every night. She was in pain and I learned how to administer her morphine so as to take the load off her nurses. I remember asking Dr. Barakett “What if I give her too much?” He said something like: “And? So what. Go for it”. I guess at that point, it didn’t make much of a difference. She was so fragile by then that she broke her shoulder by rolling over in bed.
Situations like this brought on a certain kind of dark humour and morbidity that some would think crass… unless you’ve lived it. We had to tell her that she’d have to wait a few days before being transferred. We all then joked that the hospice “has a high rate of turnover”… It’s a terrible thing to say… but in the moment it was the perfect thing to say.
What a weird dichotomy her hospice was… I couldn’t reconcile this setting. My brothers and I sat in beautiful, lush country gardens, watching sunrises and sunsets. We had beers and talked. We cried and we laughed. Inside, the most gentle and caring volunteers and nurses took care of Mum with a kindness that cannot be measured.
I will forever be thankful for these days we spent together. It’s an odd thing to say, being thankful for being with someone as they die. But it’s the truth. We didn’t exchange many words, as Mum slipped into a coma the day after her birthday. We sat with her. Held her hand. I spent a lot of time just watching her. I know in my heart of hearts that she knew we were with her. And I think that is what made it ok for her to finally let go, to stop fighting after almost 10 years of constant battle.
3 years has gone by so quickly… and sometimes time drags. Not a day goes by that a thought of Mum doesn’t cross my mind. I’m sometimes caught off guard by a powerful longing or a need to reach out to her, even if she is no longer there. The further we get away from her passing, the memories of her illness fade a little bit and my memories of her when we were all younger seem to prevail a little bit more. I don’t know why. But I like it and I’m grateful for those thoughts.
I miss you, Mum. When I grow up, I want to be as brave as you were.