August 12, 2015

In Cancer’s Wake: What I Learned as a Caregiver.


cancer woman art

Dear Cancer,

Today I went from denial to complete anger then ugly-cry face. You are taking her: a mother (my mother), a friend, an eventual grandmother, and part of what makes me who I am. You invaded her body only six months ago. “Ahhhh, I am not ready for this” keeps spinning through my head. I haven’t been able to do everything she wanted to do. She wanted to go to the beach. She loved the beach.

When we were young we’d wake up at the crack of dawn and drive two hours to the New Hampshire beaches. We did everything we could to convince the doctors and the oxygen companies that this was her true last wish. They weren’t having it because of you, Cancer.

Maybe I am supposed to feel some type of twisted gratitude toward you, Cancer. Do you want me to say “Thank you” for the time I did have? People keep saying, “At least you had time with your mom.” I’m not sure which is better, knowing or not knowing that Cancer is taking your loved one.

Cancer, your timeframe was very different than expected. We were told three to five years and, boy, did you speed up like you were winning a race? Within six months, you took her energy and ability to do what she wanted.

You took a lot of things, but you could never take her spirit or her sassy, no-nonsense wit and her ability to blurt out what everyone else is thinking but never saying.

I feel this messiness inside, but people only see a smile. Someone told me today that “denial” is bad. Oh really? Sometimes denial is what helps us get through some hard moments. It helps us until we are able to recover and heal. Loss is like a schizophrenic array of emotions like a hyper chihuahua.

Some emotions are hard, but every once in a while we need to look up remember our time is short with people we love. I will never forget the feeling of support of my family who circled her with life. I will always cherish the moment I thought could never happen, my mom and father, divorced since I was four, in a room alone, laughing and joking. Sneaking a peek I could see any anger or resentments melt away. Serenity and sincerity emerged.

Caregiving for parents is humbling beyond words and we take away lessons of humanity and how to meet the needs of others. Remembering to take care of yourself at the same time is truly a miracle however very important or you’ll burn out. “It takes a village” is a true statement when caring for others; my family takes shifts. Some of us know when we need a break and others (aka me) need to be told. Cancer, you are making me realize that I strive to stay in control but you don’t like to give it up.

My silver lining…Cancer, I am going to soak up everything I can. Cancer, I’ve found the silver lining in your wake. I’ve learned to soak up everything I can. I am going to ask all the questions I can; her hopes and dreams for us all. I want to know everything from her: “What would you tell me before my wedding?” “What would you want your grandchildren to be named?” (she loves the names Ruby and Madison, by the way), “What the hell am I supposed to do with all those damn pillow shams?” (Jesus, she loves a good pillow.)

Through the tears, lack of control, and pain comes beautiful moments. When we take care of others, we learn about ourselves.

I learned that holding onto anger is a huge waste of time. I spent years being angry and holding onto painful memories when truly my mom did the best she could with where she was in life.

We are all doing the best we can.

Even toward the end when she was convinced that we were all plotting against her (morphine and pain medications from hospice really changes perception), I tried to stay mindful of the circumstance. I didn’t want to hold on to a memory that my mom thought I was trying to kill her (I saw this with humor, by the way, it was a joke in the family after) and rather thought “Remember the days and weeks prior to this. Just keep loving her through this dying process.” I’ve heard a lot of stories of caregivers getting really mad and emotionally hurt by whoever they’re caring for, but if we really think about the bigger picture, that person is literally fighting for their life. Keeping perspective really helped me at this time.

Cancer, you may have brought on a lot of “ugly-cry face” moments and more pain than you care about but you will never be allowed to take away moments of love and serenity.

The Faithful Caregiver


Author: Michelle Gage

Apprentice Editor: Anet Kalpakciyan / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Alexander Braun/Flickr

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