Transitions Part I: Saying Goodbye

It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything with this space, I know. In my defense, the last year and a half have been challenging, to say the least. I’ll fill you in, but I’m going to start at the end and work backward through subsequent blogs.

My last blog entry was posted on Mother’s Day last year, celebrating the strong, intelligent, capable woman my mother was, highlighting the challenges she had been through and the battles she’d had to fight, including multiple recurrences of breast cancer.

Today is the one-month anniversary of her passing. After 18 years, the cancer finally won.

The end came sooner and quicker than expected — at least in part because her cancer was further advanced than we knew (we knew about the mets to the bone, but not those to the brain or the liver involvement. She had recently found out but hadn’t told anyone). Still, even though her passing was ultimately expected, it didn’t make it easier to say goodbye to one of the most important and influential people in my life and one of my main role models.

I mean, seriously, I wouldn’t be on this earth without her. She was a part of my daily life.  She was there for all of my successes and many of my failures. She got me through some of the most difficult times of my life. And now she’s gone. Just…gone.

This isn’t meant to be a pity party, rather an introspection. Because it’s been a month and I feel like I’m doing better than I should be. Likely, this has at least something to do with the relief that the long hike toward the inevitable is over and that she’s no longer in pain (for the last couple of years, she had severe neuropathy in her legs from both the chemo and the bone metastasis, which made it extremely difficult for her to do much of anything, including walking) and knowing that she’s in a better place.

Possibly it has to do with the fact that I was forced to go through all the stages of grief in the week before she passed (boy, that was ugly), up to and including the acceptance stage.

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that my wife, step-father, and step-sister were going through it with me and that I had some really amazing friends to lean on, some of whom had also laid parents to rest, including a couple of good friends who had also lost their mothers to cancer. They did an absolutely amazing job escorting me through my own personal transition, just as the hospice facility did an excellent job escorting my mother through her final transition.

And maybe that’s another part of it. From the moment she entered the hospital on Tuesday, September 6th, until the time she passed the following Tuesday, Mom was in outstanding hands. She spent most of her final week at Hospice of Dayton and they took exceptional care of her. Even though she was all but unresponsive, they still maintained her privacy and dignity (by shutting the blinds in her room whenever they moved or cleaned her, for example) and still announced themselves and talked to her, telling her what they were going to do before they did it if it involved personal contact.

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Mom gets love from Poohbear, Disney World, 2011

Because Mom was a nurse — even having worked home hospice early in her career – the facility held an honor guard ceremony for her, honoring her work and thanking her for her service. I had been told early that morning by the nurse leading the ceremony that due to a scheduling mix-up on her end, it would likely be only her and one other nurse performing the ceremony. I told her that was fine, as long as we were still able to do it. I was shocked, however, when she came into my mother’s room in full traditional nursing regalia — think Florence Nightingale, complete with nursing hat and cape — trailed by no less than eight nurses. Between me, my wife, my step-father and his brother, my step-sister, and one of Mom’s nursing friends who was able to make it, the room was packed.

The ceremony was brief, but beautiful. Several of those performing it, including the nurse leading it, got choked up. They recited Mom’s successes, accolades, and the impact she had on her patients, nurses, family, and friends, after which they recited the poem She Was There, by Duane Jaeger, RN, MSN, followed by the nursing pledge. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room at the end. I just wish Mom could have seen.

She passed away peacefully around 5:30 that same evening.

Like I said, that was a month ago today. It’s strange for me to think that I haven’t seen or spoken to my mom in the last month, when we used to talk on the phone several times a week. It seems like I just spoke to her a few days ago.

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Mom with Sarah, who’s wearing the Dorothy dress Mom made for her, 2008

I’ve been told that the months following the passing of someone close can be harder than the period of time immediately after. While I’m not looking forward to that if it happens, it is nice to know because I can be ready for it and recognize it if and when I experience it.

That’s not to say that I don’t miss Mom, because I absolutely do. There are little moments that sneak in, when I get home from doing a 5K or something, where I briefly think “I need to call Mom and tell her about this” and then immediately realize I can’t. Or when my wife and I are making plans and I have the thought that it’s something Mom would enjoy doing…except she can’t. Little moments like that are tough, but pass quickly. Not like the raging, screaming, crying fits when I realized that Mom wasn’t coming home from the hospital this time.

And I’m not looking forward to the upcoming holidays, Christmas in particular – that was always her favorite and remains my favorite holiday. It’s just not going to be the same. Thanksgiving, Easter, Mother’s Day, her birthday. Even my birthday because no longer will I get that phone call at 10:54 in the morning – the time I was born – with her singing “happy birthday” to me on the other end of the line. I used to give her a hard time about it, but I secretly enjoyed it. And I know she knew I did.

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Mom and my daughter Kaitlyn with T-Time of the Harlem Globetrotters

I know the next year is going to be rough. But for now, I’m doing okay. If that changes, I’ll let you know. I think experiences like this warrant sharing, especially if one person who’s going through something similar happens to stumble upon this and finds it helpful.

Below is the full text of She Was There, by Duane Jaeger, RN, MSN, which perfectly suits my mom:

When a calming, quiet presence was all that was needed, She was there.

In the excitement and miracle of birth or in the mystery and loss of life, She was there.

When a silent glance could uplift a patient, family member or friend, She was there.

At those times when the unexplainable needed explained, She was there.

When the situation demanded a swift foot and sharp mind, She was there.

When a gentle touch, a firm push, or an encouraging word was needed, She was there.

In choosing the best one from a family’s “thank you box of chocolates,” She was there.

To witness humanity – its beauty, in good times and bad, without judgement, She was there.

And now that it is time to be at the Greater One’s side She is there!

If you can, call your mom, tell her you love her. Call your dad, your sisters, your brothers. Hug tight your husband or wife, your children. Take a moment to appreciate all they’ve done — and continue to do — for you and what they mean in your life and let them know how important they are. It only takes a moment, but makes all the difference.

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Me and Mom at my wedding in May
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