My mom passed away 70 hours ago. I still cannot comprehend that I will never see her again.
The first cancer attacked her body fourteen years ago and she fought it off after a few weeks of intensive radiotherapy. I’m not actually sure how long it took now, but it seemed an eternity to me back then. She also had the lymph nodes in her right arm removed as well as part of her breast. She spent the next few years taking various pills and had regular scans—all was well in the world. After ten years her doctor told her that the chances for her cancer returning were practically zero.
He was wrong.
She received the bad news eleven months ago, a few days before Easter in 2014. It was the exact same cancer that she had in her breast, only this time it attacked her lungs. I vaguely remember her being absolutely certain that she would once again receive radiotherapy, but it was not so. She had her first chemo in May. After six sessions her doctor ordered all the necessary scans—it wasn’t helping, and it weakened her body greatly . She was switched to some sort of obscenely expensive chemotherapy. The second dose caused a cardiac arrest which resulted in a highly irregular heartbeat. She was directed to another hospital whose doctors had no idea what was wrong. She was given medication which was supposed to sort all the problems out, but her heartbeat was still irregular and she started to be constantly tired and short of breath. One day, while waiting for her appointment in the hospital, she was discussing her symptoms with her friend—they were overheard by a young doctor walking past. She suggested to get her lungs X-rayed because they most probably filled up with (some sort of) fluid after the cardiac arrest. A few minutes later at her appointment, her “specialist” told her that he did not believe this could be possible, but she strong-armed him into getting the X-ray. Her right lung had filled up with close to two litres of the aforementioned fluid (I still have no clue what it was exactly). Two weeks of barely being able to function because “he was sure” that could not be the case. She was admitted to yet another hospital a few days later and her lung was drained, which brought immediate relief and stabilised her heart. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to her skull, bones, stomach and spine while the doctors were busy trying to fix her heart. She was also too weak to accept another dose of chemo—it would have killed her immediately.
My wife and I spent the next few weeks visiting her in hospital—her lungs were still filling up regularly and the doctors could not fix this. Or did not know how to. They instead attached a tube to the bottom of her right lung and it drained by itself. These weeks are too painful to write about. Her health deteriorated rapidly and then came the pain. Intense, scream-inducing pain which could not be controlled. I won’t even mention the appalling behaviour of the nurses in that hospital—they could not (and did not want to try to) understand the pain she was in. They often yelled at her, complained that she would not cooperate and worse. I still remember actually considering harming them physically—I could barely contain my anger. My mom also started losing consciousness for short periods of time—these fits were most probably induced by the cancer in her skull. One night, while trying to go to the bathroom, she didn’t call the nurses for help—she was afraid they would yell at her again.
She blacked out, fell over and broke her leg.
From then on she was confined to bed. She wasn’t strong enough to survive a complex operation, which was the only solution to fix her broken thigh. The only consolation was that she started receiving appropriate amounts of medication for her pain.
In the meantime the doctors were keen to get rid of her from their ward—there was nothing more that they could (or perhaps wanted) to do to help her. I had to endure two weeks of them asking me to take her home each and every day. She was taking up a bed. She was a problem. My wife and I finally found a medical centre which actually had a clue how to take proper care of her. The problem was that we had to wait a few days as all the beds were taken. One day her doctor was talking to her brother (again suggesting that we should move her to another hospital) and misunderstood him. From that moment on for the next few days at least two different doctors—they same ones who said they could not help her—suggested they might be able to do something if they were properly motivated.
I don’t take well to being asked for bribes, especially when someone’s life is on the line.
We moved my mom to the new medical centre on Monday and she was feeling visibly worse every single day. I still cannot fathom the changes that I observed in her over the course of a single day could be so swift—I had assumed weeks were needed. Days at the least. She barely ate. She was confined to her bed, too weak to move. In pain if the medication wore off. She spent the next few days on regular doses of morphine, which helped.
She lost consciousness on Friday and there was no contact with her whatsoever. The doctor told us that she could most probably hear everything that we said. So we talked to her. About anything and everything. We talked with each other. Her best friend came to visit. All we did was talk. Perhaps she heard something. Perhaps our voices comforted her. I hope they did.
She died on Saturday, 14/03/2015 at 00:20.
Sunday, 15/03/2015, 23:55
I thought my life had been turned upside down before Saturday, but now I don’t know how to function properly anymore. I’m constantly sad. I cannot focus on anything. I get distracted while trying to do any amount of work. My mind wanders while watching a movie. Even sleep evades me. All I want to do is… nothing.
And I still have my mom’s funeral to organise. My wife was wonderful help—couldn’t have done it without her.
Monday, 16/03/2015, 21:50
My wife and I spent the whole day organising the funeral, getting the necessary paperwork done, informing her family and friends about all the details and many other things which I have already forgotten. The day was a blur of activity.
I cannot believe it’s been only two days since my mom’s passing. At my age (36) the days usually fly past extremely quickly. This has now changed—every hour is an eternity.
An eternity of sadness.
Sunday, 21/03/2015, 21:10
The last few days have been a blur—a mixture of sadness and grief, interwoven with a few meetings with her friends to share stories. A few of them even made us all laugh briefly.
After the funeral (which took place on Thursday, 18/03/2015), a few of my mom’s friends asked me to post some photos of her online, so I spent a few hours looking for them in my photo archives today—just seeing the times when she was happy, laughing, enjoying a trip or spending time with our dog made me sad and brought back so many memories.
Life is so unfair and cruel at times.
Today was also the day where hundreds of questions just popped into my head. Seemingly out of thing air. Questions which only my mom could answer.
Why didn’t I think to ask the right questions before?
I’ve always loved Harry Chapin’s song “Cats in the Cradle”, although I prefer Ugly Kid Joe’s cover.
I’ve long since retired and my son’s moved away.
I called him up just the other day.
I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind.”
He said, “I’d love to, dad, if I could find the time.
You see, my new job’s a hassle, and the kid’s got the flu,
But it’s sure nice talking to you, dad.
It’s been sure nice talking to you.”
And as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me,
He’d grown up just like me.
My boy was just like me.
I’ve been that son for the past decade or so, focusing on my work more than my parents. Calling them only occasionally. I thought about them every day, but I never could get around to picking the phone up or just simply getting into my car and driving over for a chat. Granted, we were separated by close to 400 kilometres, but that’s not a valid excuse. I was lazy. I preferred to get some rest over the weekend instead of spending a few hours driving.
And now she’s gone.
I now have to live with those regrets.
Pick up the phone and call your parents. Trust me, you’ll wish you had.