Lasting Gifts

The best gifts I was ever given were ones I participated in..My mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer that had metastasized to her bones and liver. When the chemo treatments no longer worked, my tough five foot-two mother decided to spend her last days at home. The gift was taking care of my mother when she was in hospice.
Since she and I shared a house, I was to be the primary care giver, with my sisters and brother-in-law taking shifts to help out so I could work as long as possible. Mom and I learned how to take care of her through trial and error. While she was still mobile, I would cook for her and leave her meals in plastic containers so she could eat while I was away at work. When her hands got weaker she told me she couldn’t open the containers, we switched plastic wrap. I fed her until she couldn’t eat any more then I gave her protein drinks from a syringe so she wouldn’t be thirsty. When something changed, we adjusted.
As my Mom’s condition worsened, I had to stop working and take care of her full-time. As she neared the end, it was mostly her and I in an insular domain, with very little interference from the outside world. The longer she was sick the less people other than family came to visit her. Mom said they “just forget,” without bitterness. We listened to music together, holding hands in companionable silence and watched TV. All our differences disappeared, they weren’t important anymore. Time had no meaning; I slept when she slept, we would sleep in the afternoons, be awake at night, it didn’t matter.
We got to the basic level of caring. My focus became taking care of Mom and making her comfortable like she did for me when I was a child. Forgotten were the material things, it was the small physical things that made her happy now. Things like brushing her teeth, to make her mouth feel fresher, combing her hair—her favorite thing was when I would rub moisturizer on her back to soothe her dry skin. It wasn’t that this caretaking wasn’t hard, scary and at times downright ugly–like cleaning out bedsores because she couldn’t lay a certain way because of her tumors,– but with all the pain she was in it was rewarding to do something for her that gave her a little bit of pleasure.
When Mom made her decision to stop fighting her disease, I approached hospice care like a business transaction, it was just something I had to do. Watching my tough little Mom stick by her decision ~ knowing the outcome, but doing it on her own terms ~ melted my heart. The only thing she required of me was to help her.
Caring for Mom brought out parts of me I didn’t know existed. I didn’t know I could care for someone so completely, nor did I know I had the strength to deal with watching her fade before my eyes despite doing everything I could do to stop it. She gave me the strength to accept her decision, and respect her choice. Most of all she made me realize what is most important it life, not the things but the people in my life and the comforts you can give them. These are the gifts she gave to me.
Raye Snover is a co-editor of The Temple Bell, a Third Degree Witch in the Cabot Tradition and lives in Manhattan.

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