My mom didn’t want to talk about dying. She was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma the Thursday after Mother’s Day 2005 and was dead the Wednesday before Father’s Day. I was in a whirlwind - just focused on caring for her. We didn’t have the conversations of missing each other, or sharing the sadness of what was happening. I longed to talk with her, but I couldn’t. She didn’t want to. She had always been a very private person with her emotions.
We did have two brief conversations that acknowledged what was happening. During one, she asked if ‘it’ was going to hurt. ‘It’, I understood, was her dying. I told her that it wouldn’t, that I would make sure of it. She asked me if she was going to have a hard time breathing. I told her no, because I would be there by her side during the whole time. She then turned her head and I knew the conversation was over. As painful and shocking to me as this conversation was, it gave me comfort to know she knew what was happening and that she trusted me with her dying.
In the next few weeks much happened: alternative therapies sought, doctor’s visits, family visiting, and her fast decline. About 10 days before her death, as we were coming back from an incredibly frustrating doctor’s visit, she said when we got in the car, “he’s uncomfortable with dying, isn’t he?” I told her yes. She asked me if she’d be here in three months. I said no. She asked if it’d be two months. I told her no, that I’d be surprised if she would still be alive in two weeks. She told me then that she would start hospice.
I thought my heart was being ripped out of me. Those two conversations were the extent of our talking about her dying. There were no beautiful goodbyes like the ones I have seen and heard in other families. There was loving caring for her though. We loved on her, fed her, soothed her, and made her room beautiful with sound, smells, and lighting. We were always at her side, lying with her, sitting next to her, making sure she had everything she needed. My goodbye to her was in my caring for her.
I guess my thoughts today are on all the ways we can acknowledge our goodbyes or the expressions of saying goodbye. It may not look like the wonderful stories we hear, but that is OK because there are people who are not able to share in that particular way. Another thing to remember is most of our communication is nonverbal, especially during this time. My hope is we can accept what goodbyes we do experience and know that it is the best that can be had at the time.
School of Accompanying the Dying
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