Monday, June 11, 2007

Mommies Get Sick and Die

I don't think I've quite moved past the part in life where I believe that my mom and dad will live forever. Sure, I'm beyond putting them on a pedestal and making them my super-heroes, but I think I still want to believe that they will always, always be there for me.

Which has given this test-run of crisis without my mom and dad available to call at every scary turn more meaning and importance than you'd think.

Sure, I'm 32 years old, but I can't tell you how many times in the last month I've thought, "I want my mommy!"

Justin's mom died on Wednesday, June 6.

In reality, though, he's been grieving her loss for seven years; ever since he got that phone call telling him she had brain cancer. Ever since she came home in a wheelchair and couldn't move or speak or eat the way she used to do. Ever since she couldn't cook anymore. Ever since she became the care-needer and the rest of the family became her caregivers.

We did her hospice care together and were there when she died. We bathed her afterward. We watched the white van take her to the mortuary for cremation. We picked out the urn. We cleaned her house. We left her husband to take care of his mother and sister in return for the care his mother (and sister... kinda) offered his wife over the years.

When we finally got home--fourteen days after going north to care for her--we did some work, ate some food and slept some hours. Now, we're all waiting to see how our San Diego lives will weave us back into the fabric: Justin is at a meeting with the director of his clerkship program to find out what happens when a student misses two of the four weeks of inpatient pediatrics rotation; I am waiting for the new schedule from Mo's to see how many shifts I get now that some people have left and some people have been hired to fill the holes.

In the meantime, our dear friend Oakley who gave us an escape hatch when we were in LA has been listening to stories of her own mother's decline in Thailand while getting a preview of the experience through Justin. Now, she writes that she has to cancel her road trip to New Mexico with us so that she can go home to be with her mother, who has been given a six month prognosis. Six months, though she has been fed only through an NG tube (nose to stomach) because she stopped eating and stopped talking about the same time Toni did.

And, today, June 11, Oakley sent me this message with an article from the LA Times:

Well, here.,0,4267023.story?coll=la-home-middleright

Oh, and I haven't gotten around to call you guys. But I will have to ditch you to go home after all. Prognosis is less than 6 months.

Have we already reached that time in our lives? The day Justin's mom went into the ICU my friend gave birth to her first child. In the span of these four weeks, Justin's mother died, we have two weddings to attend, and another one of my friends will have a baby boy. We will celebrate Father's Day alone with Justin's step-father while my dad continues to travel with my mother on their dream retirement vacation. We will have a wake for Toni the day before Justin's 33rd birthday. Oakley will travel halfway around the world to see her dying mother. These words were all I had to offer her:

Read the article. Ain't that a bitch. Justin and I just got home this morning at 7:30ish so I could walk the dogs and go to my psychiatrist appt. By the time we left Mark's last night we were way too exhausted to drive so we decided to sleep--which didn't seem better at 5 a.m. when we woke up to leave my parents' house.

Sorry we weren't able to call/see you the last few days in LA after Toni died. There was so much to do in the house, plus we couldn't bear the thought of leaving Mark with his family without Toni. You guys rocked at taking care of us though. I wish we could do the same for you.

I am so sorry to hear about your mother's prognosis. From a spousal point of view, I can only say that I understand a little bit the pain and sorrow you must be feeling--especially so far away. I know Justin was always frustrated that he couldn't be there more, except for when he was relieved that he couldn't be there more. It's a Catch-22 if ever there was one. There's no good way to be the child of a dying mother. But I also know that it was important for both of us to be there as much as possible at the end, and that your time at home will be helpful to you and your family.

For Justin, his mom's death was sad but also a relief because he knew she wasn't suffering anymore. It's been such a long road of illness and fear; to have finally switched paths is a little scary (what do we do out here without his mommy?) but maybe also a little like the first-day-of-school scary--it's new, it's scary, but it's where we're supposed to be and mommy would be proud.

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