I have gone around and around with myself whether or not I was going to write about my mom’s last days. I say to myself, “Tressa, the internet does not need to know about the details.” Then I remember how much googling I did trying to find some information about gallbladder cancer. There is very little out there. Because of the rarity of gallbladder cancer and the speed in which it claims the lives of those who are unlucky enough to get it, I just don’t think the resources are out there.
And so I ask myself, “Is it good for me to write this down here in this space, or should I journal it?” I honestly do not know. In any event, you can choose whether or not you want to read this. I am not going to tell you everything anyway because some things are better left unsaid.
My mother’s death changed me. Caring for her in her final weeks was the hardest thing I have ever done. I think back to those days and how often I cried out to the Lord, and how often I felt that he didn’t answer me. Where are you, O Lord? Why do you not answer my prayer? Looking back, I know He was there because I never would have been able to do what I did without His help. We were in the presence of incredible suffering. My mom never complained, but then, I think I did enough of that for all of us.
I do not look back at this time as a teachable moment for me. I do not think that God was trying to teach me anything. Instead, I just believe that He was there. Giving me strength when I needed it. Providing comfort when I cried. Now this is not to say that my faith didn’t change and grow. It did, but I don’t think that my mom suffered so that I could learn a lesson. Suffering is inevitable in this world, and God does help us in our suffering. I just choose not to look at it legalistically as if there is a law that I broke (because I all have broken them all), or some character flaw (I have one. It is called sin.) that God needed to fix in me. (He fixed it already, and His name is Jesus.)
Cancer is devastating. If I know anything about cancer now, I know that cancer will not take everyone in the same way. There is no check off box that will tell you what is going to happen. You can read the lists on Hospice websites that may give you some idea, but it may or may not happen that way. In my mom’s case, it did not. The not knowing is the hardest part.
My mother’s doctor didn’t give us much information. He just said, “I don’t know.” He wouldn’t give us a timeline. I see now why he wouldn’t do that, but it just drove us to Google anyway. He told us to stay away from Google, but if you give us nothing, what are our options? In the end, it didn’t matter anyway. My mom was not typical. Dr. Google ended up being a big, fat liar. I think my mom’s doctor wanted to avoid that for himself. How many times has cancer turned a doctor into a liar? Many.
I think what I struggled with the most is the length of time that she was very ill. My mom was doing fairly well when I arrived in Washington although the nurse had told us that death for my mom would be soon. We were still talking about the kids, about her funeral, and anything else that was on her mind. On Sunday, I dressed to go to church. Mom told me that I needed to add a scarf to my outfit because my sweater was very boring. That was my mom. Always dressing me. I found a scarf in her closet that met with her approval, and off to church I went. When dad and I returned home after church, my mom as I had known her was gone. It was the strangest thing.
You see, in Liver cancer, which my mom had as a secondary cancer, the liver quits working properly and toxins begin to build up in the body. They sometimes settle in the brain which cause confusion and all sorts of issues. When this happened, my mom remembered who we were, but she spent a majority of her time confused. We had bursts of normalcy, but she had to work hard at it, and so she usually saved it for company. This isn’t surprising because my mom had always put on a good face, and so why wouldn’t she do it when she was dying? But it made me look like a liar when people would tell me that she wasn’t that bad or that maybe she was pretending with us.
I think that this is my biggest struggle. As I sit here typing this out, I think I have decided that for now, I am not going to write anymore about the details. The truth is that yes, I want people to know what we went through because I am still hurting inside and I feel that maybe if people know how hard it was, I could stop pretending that I am OK. Maybe I am more like my mom than I thought, after all. I do have days that I am OK. In fact, they even seem normal, as if I didn’t just have the worst year ever. The truth is that the only people that know what we went through are those of us whowere there, and God, of course. Even if I tell you about it, you will never see my mom’s eyes. I will never be able to explain to you the depth of our agony as we waited and listened to her breathe in her last hours.
I tell people that I am so thankful that she is in heaven with Jesus, that she is no longer suffering, and that she has no memory of any suffering at all. I just think that it is highly unfair that I do.