More Death

Greetings, loyal minions. Once again, your Maximum Leader is going to have to dump the 3rd person schtick for this post.

My last post was predominantly about death. The death of my friend Jennifer. Learning of Jennifer’s death filled me with melancholy. Her death was made more emotional for me given what I was going through at that moment. I mentioned at the end of that last post, back in June, that some family issues were going badly and that if you could spare a prayer for my mom and dad to do so. Well here’s that story.

To begin at the beginning, about 30 years ago my mother was diagnosed with a malignant melanoma cancer on her left hand. She had a series of surgeries to remove the cancer, and then many of the lymph nodes on her left side. The result of the surgeries was that they got the cancer, but mom suffered from many other problems as a result. These problems led to pain, infections, and a host of other circulatory issues.

Fast forward to 2016… Mom and I were on the phone just before Thanksgiving. She mentioned, offhandedly, that she felt a small lump in her left hand. She described it as smaller than a pea, but hard. I suggested that she see her doctor right away as that lump was bound to be bad. Mom agreed that it probably wasn’t good, and said she’d see a doctor. Without going into details, because they aren’t all that exciting and pertinent to this narrative, she didn’t see her doctor. She didn’t see her doctor about the lump for nearly a year. When she did see her doctor about the lumps, the doctor immediately recommended surgery and chemotherapy. Mom dragged her feet and didn’t get surgery until late March 2018. This is, as you can no doubt calculate on your own, over a year after she discovered the lump. When she finally had the surgery, two lumps were removed. One was slightly larger than a golf ball. The second a bit smaller than a ping-pong ball. Both tumors were malignant. Both had extensive blood supplies. Both were very brittle. After surgery, mom declined chemotherapy. Her stated reason was that it would negatively affect her quality of life. I told her that her quality of life hadn’t been great with all the suffering she’d had as a result of her delay in treatment. She didn’t have much to say about my comments.

As an aside here, if it seems like my role in this narrative is mostly observational, you’d be reasonably close on that. Over the past 30 years I’ve learned that my mom wouldn’t take advice on medical matters from anyone. It got to the point where I learned that it was better for both of us for me to not offer opinions more than once. She learned that if she wanted a sympathetic ear to listen to her complain about her health, when she’d chosen not to do anything about it, I was not the one to call. If she brought up a health issue our conversations would fall into a pattern. The pattern was: mom would bring up health issue, I would listen, I would ask if she wanted my opinion on the matter, if she did I’d give her my opinion, if she didn’t we’d move on. Then after an opinion or no opinion was given that would be the end of it. If either of us brought it up again the response from the other was “We’ve talked about this already. Has anything changed?” If nothing changed, there was nothing to talk about and we moved on.

After the surgery, mom got an infection in her hand. It was treated, and I thought it was under control. Little did I know.

A few days after Mother’s Day, I got a panicked call from my sister. Mom was in the hospital. She was unconscious, and no one was sure what was going on. To shorten this part of the story, it turned out mom’s infection was not under control and was widespread and caused swelling around her brain. She was in a medically induced coma for about 5 days while they treated her infection. Once it was under control they brought her out of the coma and started additional treatments to get her vitals back to the normal range.

After about 10 days in the hospital she was moved to a rehab facility to help her regain her mobility. This is where she was in early June when I last wrote. While she was at the rehab facility she had a visit from her regular doctor. We were told then that after studying the various imagery that was done during her hospital stay, her doctor had noticed that her lungs were filled with small spots of cancer. No doubt this cancer was started by bits that had broken off during the surgery on her hand in March and had now settled in and metastasized into lung cancer. After some discussion with her doctor, mom decided that she would begin a regimen of immuno-therapy drugs (which she described as not being chemo to me) to try and treat the cancer in her lungs.

But that day I knew that the end was coming soon. I knew in my heart and mind that the time for treatment was long past and that this was the confirmation of a death sentence that had been written out months before.

Mom stayed in the rehab facility until mid-June. She went home for a single night. The day after going home, she went into a hospice. She was conscious and alert for a time in hospice, but soon the opiates came into play and she faded into that drug-induced sleep that would lead to her death on July 4th*.

I suspect that I am writing this to do some mourning and some soul-cleansing. I am beginning to develop more of a detachment to the course of the end of my mom’s life that makes it possible to type this. As I think back over what happened over the course of these months I’ve come to conclude that when the cancer came back, in 2016, mom had just had enough and didn’t want to continue. There isn’t really another explanation. She knew, and frankly we all knew, that by not getting treatment at the onset of this that it would only end one way. Death. And it was only a question of how long it would take to reach the end. In mom’s case I would say that the real physical suffering was from January to her death. The cancer had grown so much and was so painful before the surgery that it was a burden. Then the infection, hospitalization, and then hospice. None of that was good. But it was inevitable based on her choices.

I am not bitter about her choices. Truly I am not. People have free will to exercise as they want. We can disagree with them. We can think they are making bad choices. But the choices are theirs to make. The only judgement that counts in this is Divine judgement.

(NB: Intellectually, I should ask my priest about this. Perhaps some of my more theologically trained readers – if I have readers still – could educate me on this point. Does refusal of treatment that had a reasonable chance of success constitute suicide of a type? I wonder.)

I am not divine in any sense, Christian, Buddhist, Pagan… So, my judgement, such as it is, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But I feel sad that, in my judgement, my mom decided that she didn’t have any reason to continue in life. Intellectually, I can see how she came to her conclusion. But it still saddens me. At some level one can’t help but personalize thoughts like this. If I had been less detached from her (as I described above) would she have made the same decisions? I’m really of two minds about it. If I had done more to engage her and try to convince her of a different path, perhaps she would have made different choices. But on the other hand, years of experience brought my mom and I to the point where we had a “system” for dealing with health concerns that satisfied both of us.

Who knows?

I have prayed for my mom and will continue to do so. Although she left the Catholic church decades ago (and Christianity and “organized religion” for that matter), I am having a Mass offered up for her at my church. (Sunday, December 2, 2018, 7 am, St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Fredericksburg, VA if you are inclined.) To do so is definitely a comfort for me, and I hope a comfort for her soul as well.

By way of a postscript to this tale of dying, my father is living with me now (not quite full-time) at the Villainschloss. This is a problem mainly because he has mental illness issues that make life with him difficult. (And to be honest, I can’t help but think my father’s condition may have informed my mother’s choices…) Also, my mother, in a fit of pique years ago, set up her estate in a way that satisfied her wishes at the time, but have now placed significant burdens on my father and sister. So, there is that too…

And that, loyal minions, is how my summer has gone… Pretty crappy by the by.

I hope your summer has been better than mine. And I hope you have a good Labor Day weekend.

Carry on.

* – For what it is worth, the Fourth of July is, even in light of my loss, the greatest of all holidays in the US calendar. If I must enumerate the reasons behind my thinking again they are: 1) Good Weather, 2) Secular, 3) No gift giving, 4) Outdoor grilling, 5) Fireworks, 6) Girls in swimsuits.

1 Comment »
Robbo said:

Prayers, Brother, and don’t beat yourself up: Your closeness or otherwise to your mom has nothing to do with it.

As you know from being a regular at my place, my mother and I were extremely tight. I picked up on her creeping dementia early on and urged her to take steps. She refused to admit there was a problem, not because I was the messenger but out of sheer pride. (It was the same pride that caused her to hide from me the falls she started taking, the last of which carried her off.)

OTOH, the Old Gentleman battled prostate cancer for something over ten years or so. In the end, I think he just got tired of the fight and said the hell with it. Again, no connection to any advice anybody gave him.

People just reach that point, I guess. Indeed, I’m 53 now and have for the most part sent the next generation on their way. I sometimes begin to wonder how vigorously I will fight when Death taps me on the shoulder and says “Your turn”.



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