Watching the light extinguish from someone you love…. your first true love, is truly one of the hardest things. My mum had terminal cancer. Breast cancer 2 years prior had returned in the duodenum. Back pain thought to be sciatica. Told by the breast surgeon who’d performed a mastectomy 2 years earlier, “It’s not cancer Barb, put that at the bottom of the list”. Well it was cancer… the big C. This time terminal.
This time mum needed chemo. She didn’t want to. I remember almost begging her to do it. I wasn’t ready to lose my mum. I was only 29, newly married to my first husband. I needed her. She was like my best friend who I could confide in. My first husband wasn’t the easiest bloke to live with so at times being able to talk to mum was all I needed.
This diagnosis in February 2003. Chemo started not long after. She didn’t lose her hair but she lost her taste buds and I suspect her joy of living a few months down the track. This wasn’t going to cure her, just give her more time. But is it worth watching someone you love not want to eat any longer as they no longer enjoy their food? We did introduce mum to wedges with sweet chili sauce and sour cream as it was in vogue then. She did get some taste sensation from that. But I suspect not a lot of other enjoyment from food and at times a lot of sustagen. Just to give her some sustenance.
In between chemo every 3 weeks we’d try to get out and do things with mum. In August, I planned a trip to Perth so we could tick that off her list but she wasn’t well enough. So, Chris my brother and I went instead. We did have a good trip but not to the original plan. I was looking forward to some good quality girl time with my mum.
Things went downhill after that as mum spent the last few months in hospital. I think she didn’t want to put anyone out by being at home. She needed to go in to hospital to beat a bug… but never came home.
Leading up to the end was tough. When your mum decides that she needs to let you know her funeral arrangements, you know the end is near. I recall a few weeks before she died one of my besties was going overseas for a year but I couldn’t muster the emotional energy to go to her farewell. I was on the couch in the foetal position. I couldn’t face people. I was actively grieving for her before she left. How would I cope without her? I couldn’t imagine my life without her in it. She’d carried me when pregnant so effectively she’d known me longer than anyone.
She was in hospital when I turned 30. I celebrated with dinner out with friends. She was still in hospital and had been for a while. I realise now that must have been a lonely time for her. Being on your own with your own thoughts, when a nurse or family member wasn’t visiting, would have been hard. Dealing with your imminent death. I can’t fathom what that would be like. Knowing my Mum though, she was no doubt thinking of others first by staying at hospital where she would get the right care and not lay the burden on her family. That was her way.
When she gave me her wedding ring to wear the week before she passed, I wasn’t ready for it. When things like that happen, you know that the end is near and she’s getting things in order. Dad’s birthday was approaching so she’d asked me to buy a card. I remember the weekend before helping mum write in the card. Her writing not looking anything like it usually did. Was this pain she was experiencing or the slow demise of her body? That weekend was the last time I was to have a conversation with Mum.
The next Monday I received a call at work from Dad. Mum was unresponsive. I left work and rushed to her hospital room. She was indeed still alive but not responding to us. The next day, Tuesday was Dad’s birthday. There was no way I would let him spend the day with mum solo. So, the next day Dad and I spent a lot of time with mum. Reminiscing about lots of good times. Telling stories. I looked up at mum at one point and there were tears flowing down her face. She hadn’t left yet but I suspected it was close.
At the end of that day, we left but knew it wasn’t far away. The nurses had our contact details. I remember getting a call not long after midnight from the hospital to say her breathing had changed. We rushed to the hospital and she died within the hour with all of us surrounding her with our love.
She was only 66 years old. She had a beautiful soul and was now with her beloved parents resting peacefully. My mother always putting others first had waited until the day after my Dad’s birthday to leave us. I don’t know how she knew but I believe she did. The always thoughtful Barbara Anne. Always loved and always missed.