A Tough Question
Dear Aunt Bossy,
My mom has just recently been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She is 85 and lost my dad (married 65 years) about a year and a half ago. Then COVID hit and she basically was isolated from damn near everyone for a year. Now that she has a terminal illness and is not a candidate for surgery and does not want nor probably could tolerate any extensive radiation or chemotherapy, she has basically “thrown in the towel.” Which I get. But, she has lost all of her motivation to do anything, or go anywhere. Which I guess I get that also… but what am I supposed to do? It tears me up inside when I am with her and she says things like “god I am so ready for this to be over.” Or “I just want to be done.” My inclination is to push back and tell her that she needs to stop being so negative and try to enjoy and cherish every minute that we have left. But she doesn’t want to hear that. She’s “just so tired.” But other than getting easily winded and moving a little slow since recovering from a recent fall she is not currently having any symptoms. How do I 1). motivate her to take advantage of the short time she has left (could be 3 months or could be 3 years)? Or 2). Adjust myself and my feelings and just stand by and let her just fade out…?
A True Momma’s Boy
Dear, dear Momma’s boy,
This really is a tough one, and I am totally unqualified – except as a fellow human – to answer this.
My first suggestion is to talk to some hospice people who most probably have lots of experience with this. Secondly, immediately order the book, “On Living” by Kerry Egan. Kerry is a hospice chaplain, and this book is earthshattering in its common sense and love. I am somewhat cynical about “caregivers” because, even though I know there are many, many who are giving and professional, I’ve run into too many who are on some kind of sick power trip. Kerry, and the people like her, are truly saints.
Here is what I would tell your mother, and I have no idea if it is a good idea. You know her, you decide. Because she is struggling and wants it to be “over,” I would remind her, gently, that it will be over soon, and not to struggle against it, but to think of some way to have some pleasure until it is her turn to go. One of the things I feel guilty about with the death of my husband is that I kept encouraging him to fight. I realized afterwards that he had always made it clear that he did not want to linger or suffer or be diminished physically, and was ready to go the minute he had a stroke. I am grateful that it was only three weeks, but I prolonged it out of grief and love and hope. In other words, I made it about me, clinging to his life.
Make a list of the things you know she loves: food, music, pieces of clothing, movies. Provide them, because she is most probably too demoralized to reach out and get them herself. Surround her with pictures of her loved ones and her life. If she is religious, reach out to your church and see if there is someone there who can visit her if she can’t attend services.
Most importantly, set up a team of people to be with her unless she makes it clear she does not want that. (Don’t ask her, figure it out. She won’t want to “bother “ people.)
The knee jerk reaction on your part, as it was on mine, was to assure her that she will be fine, that she can conquer this. That is doing her a dis-service. She wants to go. Let her know that is fine, but, in the meantime, she should treasure the life she has left.
She is a lucky woman to have a Momma’s Boy. Bless you.