One of the many incredibly cruel aspects of lung cancer is its ability to spread fast from its original source, and to do so with no regard for it’s host.
This is a lesson I learned as I walked my mother down a three year long road from her diagnosis to her last breath. It was a horrid road filled with what, in retrospect, was nothing more than heartless and intentional twists and turns formed by the disease that had no purpose other than to increase the emotional pain of dying.
As if the act of death is not the most painful process a human body can endure (or as is the fact, not endure but succumb to) this disease steals hope, joy and anything we could ever wish for during those last months, weeks, and days. It seems to have a personality and a plan to wreak as much destruction as it can, evolution has made it quite adept at it’s work.
That preface out of the way, my mother was in September living under the false belief she was in a year’s remission after losing most of one lung to surgery, radiation treatments and chemotherapy. This story takes place about 2 months after she went from the hope of remission to the reality of death in months during an appointment with her Dr. that lasted 15 minutes. He was a kind man, clearly knew the depth of the words he spoke to her that afternoon. No matter how angry I was to hear the death sentence, my heart was split between my sweet mother sobbing in my arms and knowing that this man was much too adept and practiced in saying those words.
How much easier it would have been to sit in anger at this person who was charged with curing my mother of this early death, but life often time is what it is and we have no control over it. He deserved compassion not anger, leaving me to hold the rage I felt to the account of some faceless malady that would soon become a force that no person could ever battle with success.
Things went as they were supposed to for a few weeks as we mourned together, and often in deep silence sitting next to one another my hand over hers as we watched her favorite TV shows and the “Sound of Music” over and over again. To this day, I cannot bear the thought of seeing that most favored movie of my mothers.
Mom had decided early on with her stage 4 diagnosis to not aggressively treat the disease, but rather take the treatments that would help her be more comfortable rather than those that could extend her life months. It was not worth the pain to her at that point, her sweet soul was tired.
We had very little family close by and for the most part I was her sole caregiver, both of her beloved grandchildren were deployed overseas with the Marine Corps. Her sweet granddaughter and her stoic grandson who in her own odd way she totally adored. I say in her odd way in such that she was not very good at showing emotions but if you paid even the least amount of attention you would know, simply because you are supposed to know. This was not due to some trauma, she was a swede … I am the same, seems its genetic.
I have a multitude of memories of that time, and they often catch me by surprise but his is one of the many that never fully leave my daily thoughts and after almost 5 years post losing her it clearly means that these will always stay with me.
This one night she had been admitted to the hospital a couple of days before due to her sudden loss of her mental faculties, it was then that we found out that the cancer had spread in her brain.
As had been the course of each day, I left work to sit with her until the early hours until I knew she was asleep and comfortable before heading home to catch two or three hours of sleep, shower and head back to see her in the morning before heading into my office. This night was not that out of the ordinary until well after midnight when I suddenly felt her hand squeeze mine with three slow squeezes which I had known all my life. It was her way of saying “I Love You” in a discrete and quiet manner, only to be heard between the two of us. Then she suddenly was awake and said “I have changed my mind honey! I am going to fight this and be alive to see Tilor and Trevor so we can all travel together!” She was filled with such incredible hope and excitement as we talked about the traveling she and I had done during the days after my father died, my travels all over Europe and China, and hers throughout England. Then we talked about where we will go with the kids and all that we would see and do, how we would make memories together that they could keep with themselves forever.
I spoke the words, I played the game of hope, I sat there and never let my voice crack as each idea was met with the lies that came out of my mouth as I knew this would never ever happen and before the kids were even back in the states she would be long gone. So we talked, she laughed, and I lied until the sun started to come up while I was doing exactly what a son should do for his mother, comforting her with words and unspoken love in her final days.
Then it was silent and I sat there next to her as I had every night, my hand over hers and I awaited sleep to overcome her so I could slip away to my house, to shower and start another day of walking down this road as a tourist along side her in a final journey.
In the silence I heard her quietly say “Honey, I know all that will never happen.” to which I could only answer “I know mom” and we sat in silence still until I heard her whisper “I love you son, your father would be proud of you”
I kissed her forehead, whispered “I love you mom” and crept out of the room, it was during the walk to my truck in the parking ramp as I was watching others walking in to start their day that she and I were on a journey together and that journey made me a tourist in my beloved mother’s death.
That was our true trip, those were the memories formed, and life is what it is.