“I think it would be a good idea to pick you up on Thursday instead of Friday since it’s going to rain on Friday and that will make it a pain to move out of your dorm,” said my Dad through the other end of the phone, making plans for the end of the Spring 2014 Semester.
The idea jabbed me. It wasn’t about being selfish. The thought of packing and moving out of my dorm was overwhelming because a sense of urgency existed about my Dad wanting to pick me up one day early. It was just one of those ideas I couldn’t fully articulate in words even if an uneasy feeling lurked in the back of my mind.
“We also have to focus on keeping her comfortable,” he added.
With every passing second after my phone call with my Dad, the red flag got brighter since focusing on comfort indicated a shift instead of general conversation about how my Mom was doing.
I might not know everything. But when I get an intuitive instinct I know I can’t run away from it even if I don’t like it. Not only did my Mom stop chemo after one last attempt on my first day back home from college, but also, “comfort” is the main goal of hospice.
It was Friday May 23, 2014.
I had been home from Fairleigh Dickinson University for over a week, and my Dad and I sat in chairs in my Mom’s hospital room at the moment.
Her latest visit to hell was due to a combination of factors related to her declining health. For example, low blood pressure was one of the problems.
A woman in a white lab coat shuffled into the room, and I knew who it was immediately.
After a minute or two of general conversation about how my Mom felt that day, it was time for my Mom’s oncologist to have “the talk.”
“I think it’s time to stop treatment,” she said. “You’re getting all of the nasty side effects of the chemo but none of the benefits. It’s time to focus on getting you home and having hospice.”
There was no denying it. It was almost as if I had been shot in the stomach as I was left gasping for air.
I suppressed the urge to burst out into a hysterical fit of sobs even if there was no shame in crying because it would be mortifying if I lost it right then and there.
The most tragic aspect about what my Mom’s oncologist said was that I wasn’t surprised even if I was absent for a lot of the daily details of my Mom’s struggle with Lymphoma since I was away at college a lot. My intuition still tugged at me tighter than any game of tug a war though because the feeling of doom never escaped my mind.
Her eyes remained focused on my Mom. “I have no regrets. We gave it the Big Augusta.”
It was true. My Mom fought her Lymphoma with 1000 percent since she battled it on and off for the last 18 months in addition to her oncologist exhausting every possible treatment.
Her oncologist turned to face me before zipping out of the room. “Your parents are so proud of you.”
Her words wouldn’t take away the suffocated feeling of agony that swept through my entire body at that point. However, even the smallest actions expose human nature since she could have left the room without a word to me. But she didn’t. She cared about providing me with some form of comfort.
And she didn’t just say it once, as my Mom’s oncologist uttered that sentiment to me several times before my Mom left the hospital.
I strutted into the TV room (which was now my Mom’s bedroom) as I went to go say goodnight to my Mom one night while she was on hospice at home.
I leaned in as she gave me a hug while a lump formed in my throat. There was no escaping it. I wasn’t an idiot. There was nothing I could do to change her prognosis. But the thought of finding out she passed away when I first went to greet her in the morning plagued my thoughts because there was something morbid about knowing a person would never wake up.
Knowing my Mom was going to die wasn’t even the worst part of this hell. It was the fact I felt like I was watching a car crash before it happened that stung the most.
By having a relative that is terminally ill, you are forced into a devastating situation because you have no choice but to watch since a person sees the inevitable creeping closer.
That’s the nature of decline. The situation plummets until there is nowhere left to go. But the feeling of being part of a situation that would someday have nowhere left to go was terrifying because it wouldn’t help me, or my parents.
I hated that the clock was still ticking.
But I had numerous positive memories with my Mom, and that was one thing cancer couldn’t ruin even if I would never have enough time with her.
The clock was still there. Maybe, just maybe, it would click a little less loudly someday. Although if I were being honest, this wouldn’t bring me closer to religion as making someone live the majority of life without having a Mom surpassed cruel. People aren’t dolls to be played with only to add as many stressors as possible to see how much can be endured until the breaking point is reached. And the argument that tragedy is part of God’s plan didn’t matter since it would never make my Mom’s impending absence from the rest of my life okay.
July 4, 2014.
I stood in the shower as the water flowed out, splashing onto my body like the comfort of a breeze on a summer day. Then it hit me. This eerie feeling that was death. It just hung there.
I finished dressing myself twenty minutes later before plowing out of the bathroom.
The door to the TV room opened, revealing my Dad.
Red flashed across his face. “I think she might have died.”
Wow. I couldn’t believe it. My intuitive feeling during my shower was right despite the lack of a logical basis for it.
My Father explained to me that my Mom had been unresponsive for some time, and we rushed into the TV room before hovering on each side of her bed.
Opaque blobs trickled down his face. “Come on Donna. We love you. Wake up.”
I just stood there.
He shot me a glance a moment later. “Say something to your Mom.”
A scorching sensation twisted through my stomach. “I love you Mom.”
My dad expelled more sobs. “Come on Donna. Wake up.”
I continued to just stand there, as there was nothing to prepare me for the “actual” moment even if I knew my Mom was going to die.
More tears crashed down his face. “There’s a big place in Heaven for you Donna.”
The hospice nurse arrived at my house over an hour later.
I shot her a gaze after she undid her stethoscope. “So, just to be clear, my Mom is dead?”
She nodded. “Yes. She’s dead.”
A local funeral home took away my Mom in a body bag an hour or two later, leaving my Dad and I to sift through the emotional rubble.
It has now been over a year since my Mom died.
I fake productivity, fake moving on, exercise on occasion, write, go to class. A makeshift hopeful ending to a period in my life I would never be able to forget.
The truth is, I’m still in hell and I have no idea how to come back.
My Mom and I will never see each other again. Never talk, share stories late at night. Those nights, towards the end, when I heard her aching and didn’t know how to help haunt my every waking moment. I could only think to look at her, a look of desperation across my face and apologize. Maybe offer her some morphine the hospice provided just in case.
But even though the mantra “life isn’t fair” might be true, it doesn’t make it right, as no nineteen-year-old should ever have to see his or her parent being carried away in a body bag.
The biggest catch of all is I might not want to forget about my Mom, but if I think about her that almost guarantees sadness because we were just getting past the turbulent teen years before cancer stole her from me.
So yeah, I’m still a little haunted. Might improve someday. Just not today.
Chris Bedell’s essays have been published in the online magazine,Thought Catalog. He has also had several stories published in online literary magazines, which include ‘Surface Tension’ on Crab Fat Literary Magazine, ‘A Little Accident’ and ‘The House That Never Was’ on Quail Bell Magazine, and ‘The Wrong Murder’ and ‘Game Over’ on Short-story.me. Furthermore, Pidgeonholes Magazine will publish one of his stories in December.