Thursday, August 17, 2006

Saying I Love You

There was no second thought about going to be with Gina when I got the call. My only dilemma was deciding when. I had to make that same decision in '93 when I learned my mother had bone cancer. It wasn't until I went to her first oncology appointment that I learned she also had cirrhosis of the liver. A little factoid my mother chose not to disclose but hey, I don't blame her, who wants to admit to causing such harm to their own and only body?

When I flew "home" to be with my mom for that appointment I knew it was a part of my coping mechanism. For me, diving into the academic aspects of disease and death is how I manage my pain. My brain kicks in and I have to learn about the issues at hand. It doesn't completely sedate the emotions that are stirring inside me, but it helps me make it through.

I spent a week with my mother on that visit and it was, in essence, my way of grieving before her death. By what I've learned, that's not too uncommon when we have a loved one with a terminal disease. I can't speak for my mother, but I like to believe that it was one of the best visits we'd ever had. It was raw, emotional, truthful... real. I said things to my mother that I'd harbored my entire life, some good, some bad. The overall message was that I loved her and respected her for the decisions she believed were right and just even if their consequences came at a cost. She was my mother and I'd always hold her dear to my heart, always.

My sister Gina lived near my mother and was therefore thrust into the role of caregiver. She took Mom to her chemo treatments and sadly was the one with her when she eventually passed away in the hospital. Mom's prognosis at that first oncology appointment was three months and it was three months to the day that she passed. Gina was with her and that pained me for many, many years. I felt an immense guilt because I wasn't there. I was here in Florida when an aunt called me at work with the latest update. I drove home from work at an unlawful speed to make my last call to my mother. I just wanted her to hear me say I love you and she did. I also heard her say she loved me and it was then she took her last difficult breath.

I know that experience is different for me and Gina, she was there, I wasn't. It wasn't until I was at Gina's bedside last week that I gained an understanding of what it's like to be with a dying person. My sister had an uncanny resemblance to my mother. Gina, merely a skeleton shroud in skin, had my mother's eyes and skin tone. At times I thought I was with my mother, it was eerie and in some way comforting. I was hoping that my mom WAS there so she could take Gina's hand and lead her toward calm.

Gina's condition changed daily. When I saw my mom in her eyes, she'd thrown up blood and had a procedure done in her esophagus to stop the bleeding. There was such a vacant look in her eyes and I wondered if I was looking into her soul. For the next two days I tried cleaning her mouth of the blood that continued to settle due to dehydration. I cried and asked someone why death isn't as beautiful as it is portrayed in the movies. There was no beauty in Gina's state. Her moaning and odor and dry tears weren't the gentle release into peace that I'd hoped for.

She hasn't let go yet. Her condition continues to fluctuate and for as long as she can hear me, I'll be telling her I love you.


Blogger Wildside Musing said...

Thank you for sharing all that... And sorry you've been through so much.

I've been there bedside caring for one who was dying. Didn't think I had it in me, but I do. And know it means the world to the person you are there for. Not to be alone in time of need, leaving this world...

At the time I did feel resentment towards those who couldn't bear the ugliness, the stress and so couldn't be there and left that responsibility to me. Expecting death to be a movie bedside scene where everything gets all wrapped up nice and pretty like. Guess I still do (feel resentment) somewhat -- and that's not right.

August 22, 2006 2:31 PM  

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