Mom. She was a feisty 100 percent Italian, straight from New Jersey. Her dad, straight from Italy, was a tailor and made the finest suits for New York and New Jersey businessmen. Mom learned this trade well. She could sew some of the most beautiful tailored suits for herself. She loved to cook and every night was a banquet, a feast which required up to 2 hours of clean-up time by us kids. The food was always delicious; the clean-up was always dreadful.
Mom loved the dinner parties she gave for Dad’s fellow businessmen from IBM. And she adored Jackie Kennedy. She wore her hair like her, dressed like her, as many women across the USA did in the 1960s.
Mom went back to school in her 50s and earned a bachelor degree in teaching. Soon to quit that job after her junior high school kids climbed out the windows when the end of the year dismissal bell rang.
Mom was pretty healthy, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, but always manageable. When she turned 60, she started to have rectal bleeding and abdominal pain. And her once “well nourished” body soon started to lose weight. After a visit and a colonoscopy from her physician, the biopsy showed cancerous colon cells. Soon after that, she was diagnosed with colon cancer.
A colectomy was performed. A segment of her colon was surgically removed. And the surgeon triumphantly announced, “we got all of the cancer.”
One year later, the abdominal pain returned. The liver was suspected. And with a CT scan, a large tumor in the liver was found. She went to a large hospital Institute. The best of the best. The experts. And the surgeon told her there was nothing they could do for her. The tumor was so large it was not operable. What about the “we got all of the cancer?”
Unpredictable, those cancer cells. No one ever really knows when they got it all. A sad truth. The surgeon said, “Get your house in order.”
My father and mother drove home in disbelief. Mom entered a support group therapy called the Can Care Cancer. Unfortunately, she was not alone. She saw small children, young mothers smiling and laughing and bald headed. Each day they had learned to come to grips with their destiny.
Mom did some rounds of chemotherapy but to no avail. The tumor just got bigger. And so after a week admitted to the hospital, she asked to go home. She wanted her bed at home. She made herself a DNR. She requested hospice, and she requested comfort care.
We got Mom home, and she would go into comas, and then wake up. She saw two angels standing behind my one sister. She’d wake up and look out her window and proclaimed, “oh those beautiful dogwood trees” and she’d slip back into a coma. We had to clean mom up; she was unaware of the need for a bathroom. The oncologist told us that if we fed her, we would feed the tumor. The tumor would get even larger and cause excruciating pain. So as a nurse, I understood “don’t feed the tumor.”
But as a daughter, it tore me apart. How hard it is to separate nurse role and daughter role. We three daughters would take turns taking care of mom, along with the assistance of hospice.
Mom woke up one more time and told us of the beautiful angels that were floating around her. I would have never imagined this passageway of death could be so beautiful. Her last words to us were of the angels she saw. And I was comforted by that. She let out a final breath as her arm dropped off the bed. Her once plump body, now very thin. And the wedding ring that she had worn for 43 years … fell off her finger and hit the hardwood floor.
The loudest sound I have ever heard. But I knew mom had landed. Landed into her hereafter.
Peacefully. In comfort. And pain free.
Debbie Moore-Black is a nurse who blogs at Do Not Resuscitate.
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