This past weekend, my mom hosted her last Open House. She has been a jewelry designer for the past 15 years, and every year she has held an Open House by invitation only. Generally, she puts out 100 necklace and earring sets, as well as bracelets and Christmas earrings. This year it was just the necklace and earring sets, all beautiful, unique and gorgeous. Usually she does this in November, but this year it was in August. She has always told me how much she hated to charge dear friends for her work, but if she gave everything away, she wouldn’t have a business.
But this past weekend was a dream come true for her, and she said she felt as if it was Christmas Day. She let her friends pick out what they wanted, and as they checked out, she would total everything up, and say that the last one was a gift from her. Of course, there were the usual protests of “Oh, I couldn’t let you do that,” and “Oh, no–that’s too much!” and tears, hugs and kisses.
Just about everyone knows Mom’s situation by now. She has metastatic breast cancer, and there is no cure. She had breast cancer resulting in a *mastectomy in 1985, and ten years laser, lost the other breast as well. A few years back, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer.
Her amazing and wonderful PA, Paula, of course went through all the options with her, including chemo. The last option was to ‘let nature take its course’ (with appropriate drugs for pain, sleep, etc.) She said that she preferred letting nature take its course, for her quality of life is far more important than quantity of life, and I couldn’t agree more. Her cancer is in her spine (which accounts for her rib, shoulder and back pain) and is heading for her liver. Her attitude is good and Dad and I support her fully. Right now, my soon-to-be 91 year old dad (in excellent health, BTW) is doing everything for her. She is going to have Hospice care soon, though, which will be a huge help and a great assist for Dad.
The steroid she is taking is greatly helping her energy and appetite; in fact, her appetite is back with a vengeance, and she is enjoying her meals and snacks, which she refers to as her “hourly feedings.” Friends and neighbors bring wonderful meals over during the week, and ever other week I bring homemade meals up with me, plus any fresh vegetables from our gardens. She says that each night before she goes to sleep she thinks, “ooh, what can I EAT tomorrow?”
For years she and Dad have followed the Cancer Diet, which is basically fresh organic fruits and vegetables, lean protein (and not much of that), multigrains, and NO sugar, preservatives or most animal protein. When they did have it, it was organic local farm-raised chicken, or fresh wild fish. But these days, she enjoys “eating whatever the hell I want to.” I have been turning out **chocolate pudding as fast as I can to supply Mom with her chocoholic addiction, and I am more than happy to do so.
Best of all is Mom’s attitude toward her eventual “sell by” date. She announced how glad she was that she didn’t need to schedule her cataract surgery now, or go to the dentist, or this, that and the other thing.
Despite the prognosis, there can be humor in a situation like this. In fact, we have all been enjoying absolutely horrible “gallows humor” these days. You simply would not believe how many funny things there are to joke about. Talk about being between laughter and tears! Do you remember the movie starring Robin Williams, “Patch Adams?” There was a scene in it where Patch was working with possibly the most negative, nasty and awful patient ever. They finally had a contest of metaphors for death, that still cracks me up:
“Death: to expire. To pass on. To perish. To peg out. To push up daisies. To push up posies. To become extinct. Curtains, deceased, demised, departed and defunct. Dead as a doornail. Dead as a herring. The last breath. Paying a debt to nature. The big sleep. God’s way of saying, “slow down.” To check out. To shuffle off this mortal coil. To head for the happy hunting ground. To blink for an exceptionally long period of time. To find oneself without breath. To take the big dirt nap. Kick the bucket. Buy the farm. Cash in your chips.”
..and the best one of all from Patch Adams: “..when you die, I’m going to bury you ass-up so I’ll have a place to park my bike!”
Love is a strange and amazing thing: it has no form or size, yet there is always room for it. It has no shape, but we all feel it in our hearts. It has an infinite ability to stretch and include many people in it, and it can focus laser-like on just one person. Love softens you and yet shapes you, and you find yourself doing things that could be a chore, but aren’t. You find yourself thinking, ‘now what else can I do to make her comfortable, happy, etc.?’ You also find that you just can’t help helping–that it is a pure pleasure to do all you can for this wonderful, amazing, incredible, beautiful and so-much-loved person.
My best friend and also my sister-in-law, Jan, and her husband (the Crankee Yankee’s younger brother), are caring for Jan’s 97-year old mother in their home. Jan was a nurse for many years, and is her mom’s main caretaker. Her love, courage, strength, intelligence and compassion are a huge example for me, and she has helped me more than she knows. Although our mothers’ circumstances are different, I benefit so greatly from what she teaches me, and the example she sets.
This time of daughters tending to mothers is a mix of emotions, and I am extremely lucky to be able to hash over issues with Jan. She teaches me daily what love, comfort and care does to ease physical, mental and spiritual pain. We are all teachers in our way, and the gifts we give and receive enrich us all.
Will I miss my mother when she is gone? Absolutely and deeply. Do I know who I will be afterward? Yes–I am and will always be my mother’s daughter. Death does not stop love, nor does it stop relationships. I am who I am because of my mother and father. I have become more than I thought I would ever be because of these two people, my parents. And having shown me the way and all the tools I will ever need, I know I can go on afterwards. Best of all, I have a mental and emotional storehouse of memories to keep with me, and friends and family who love Mom nearly as dearly as I do.
It isn’t given to us to know absolutely what happens once we take our last breath on Earth. But here’s what I have always believed: ***everyone (including pets) is there on the other side, welcoming you with open arms, hugs and kisses. We will know instantly that this is our real home and that our earth life was our school time. There is love so constant, so strong and so everlasting that no one will ever feel anything but pure love for all eternity.
My main message today is this: Love. Act. Do. Speak your love again and again and again and again. Don’t have regrets. Say what you need to now; don’t wait. Laugh often and cry when you need to. Let the person who is dying speak; they have things they need to say, and you need to listen. If ever there was a time to listen, this is it. Remember this as long as you live: although a person dies, their spirit and their love NEVER do. They are gifts that lodge themselves so firmly in your heart that you will have them with you forever. Don’t hold grudges–they hurt no one but you, and you don’t need that. Forgive, forget (because forgiving without forgetting is like cake without the ice cream) and most of all, LOVE.
*It amused the very hell out of my mom when she was in the hospital with the last mastectomy. She said, “Jeez, I’ve gotten 17 flower arrangements for this! Breasts aren’t all that important. It’s not like you walk on them or see out of them!”
**Try this out: on the highest shelf in the peanut butter aisle, some stores carry peanut butter powder (think it’s called “PB2). It can be mixed with water to create peanut butter, OR you can add a few heaping tablespoons to chocolate pudding and viola–you now have peanut butter chocolate pudding! This is Mom’s current favorite.
***Read Dr. Kubler Ross’s books on death and dying. It will change your life and actually cheer you up!