Four Years Ago, I Made The Toughest Decision Of My Life
When my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she was very honest with us about the journey she was about to take. Having been an Oncology nurse, she was well educated on what Stage 4 meant and the fate that would most likely await her.
It used to make me so angry when she would talk about her plan. I’m not talking about her treatment plan, although she was very much a part of that, I’m talking about her end-of-life plan. The plan for her finances and business, for Dad, her funeral, and a decision that she said only I could make.
From the beginning of her battle with ovarian cancer, she told me that there would come a day when it would be necessary to stop any medical treatments. She said at that time, I would have to sign a paper that would allow her to die without any more suffering. My mom had put me in charge of all of her and my dad’s medical decisions. What that meant was that I would have to make the decision to help each of them die.
I couldn't believe she put that burden on me. Sure, I’m the oldest, but why not just Power of Attorney? Why this? I told her I wouldn’t be able to do it, that I wasn’t a good choice. My heart hurt just thinking of the day when I would be faced with that decision. Why would she trust me to do what she wanted me to do? I never really did it before. She would always say that I was the only one who would be able to follow her wishes. My dad, brother, and sister, she was afraid would not be able to put their feelings first because they would be too sad to think straight and rationally. She told me this was my duty, that I must be brave, and that she knew I would come through for her when she needed me the most.
How would I know when that time came? If she couldn’t tell me, how I would be able to know it was the right time and I was making the right decision? She would hold my hands, kiss them and say that I would know when the time had come. I needed to trust my instincts.
Mom and I had many long talks leading up to that day. She even told me on Thanksgiving 2015 that she would not be here for the next holiday season. She then reminded me of my promise and assured me I could do it. I recall that I got mad and walked out of the room so I could cry in private. I wasn’t mad at her, I was scared and mad at myself for not being braver. But, I wasn’t ready to think about letting her go.
I knew that it was important to her to have a good quality of life. She and my dad loved to travel, visit grandkids, go on adventures, be involved in church, and help at the soup kitchen. She also loved playing Bunco and going out to eat with her lady squad of 40+ years. As time went on, it got to the point, where she could not do the things she loved. Mom was just too weak and so tired. But, she kept fighting. I could see it in her eyes, she wasn’t done yet.
There came a time when I could see her eyes were changing. Maybe, I was looking for signs of what she meant by, you will know. Once the personality lit up the room, she now became quiet and just observed the room. I was still unsure and nervous about the decision that seemed to be edging closer and closer, and I felt that time was running out.
The day that I had to make the decision for her treatment came four years ago, this month. The night before, she had mustered up the strength to have dinner at Olive Garden with her friends. She looked beautiful, but not entirely herself through the eyes.
The next morning, she had a small stroke and was taken to the hospital. While I was on my way, she had a couple more strokes. After I got to the hospital, held her hand, and looked into her eyes, which couldn't really focus on me very well, I knew that this could be the day I had to make the toughest decision of my life.
The doctor came in to talk to me, my dad, and my sister. My brother was standing by in California. The doctor told us that there was another experimental chemotherapy drug he could try and alleviate some of the pressure on her brain from the strokes, and he could do a spinal tap. My heart almost stopped beating.
I stepped outside the room with my sister, the doctor, and her intensive care nurse and I asked them to bring me the living will paper to sign. While they went to get the proper documents, I looked in the room at my dad and sister sitting beside Mom's bed. They were rubbing lotion on her hands and arms.
At that moment, I knew why mom had put me in charge of her last wish. When I saw her, I thought about what she has asked me to do. I thought about her future after the stroke, the extensive rehab, the painful spinal tap, the experimental drugs and I thought, NO! No, this is not what she wants. At that moment, I knew she had been right, I knew it was the right time. I knew this was the end. It was time to start letting her go, and the first step was signing the papers, and taking her home to die peacefully in the arms of those she loved.
Looking back, I am so thankful that my mom trusted me to make that important decision for her. By her asking me to do the unthinkable, me promising to sign the papers, and then signing them when the time was right, we each gave the other a priceless gift. The gift of peace.
Her final days were glorious and beautiful. She was surrounded by family and friends. Her days were filled with music, singing, laughter, hugs, kisses, and so much love. When she took her final breath, I had no regrets. She honored me by asking me to act on her behalf, to be her voice and I did. Mom died on July 31st, 2016.
The nurse that took care of her in Intensive care, knew Mom when she was a nurse. She came to the funeral. At the visitation, she came up to me and told me that I had made the right decision, that she was proud of me, and that I remind her of my mom. She said that I have my mother’s smile, mannerisms, and bravery. Her words meant everything to me. Being anything like the most wonderful woman I have ever met, is a huge compliment that I carry with me to this day.
Mothers of the Tristate