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March 06, 2008

How Do You Ever Cope When it's Mom?

HandsI have been so lucky in my life. I have been healthy. My family has been healthy. Both sets of grandparents are still alive. I have never had to deal with the sudden shock of illness, taking care of an older parent, a sick child or the possibility of death. That is until last August.

My mom had been dealing with a horrible cough for many months, possibily even closer to a year. She complained and saw doctors, and they pushed her off. Finally, one doctor listened to what she was saying, ran tests and found she had a two tumors on her liver and was stage 4 unknown cancer. No one ever asked how long she had, but we knew when they discussed chemo that they never wanted to plan past the 6-month treatment.

How did I cope? How does a daughter ever deal with the possible death of her mother? 

My reaction--which I attribute to my one-quarter Jewish, one-quarter Italian heritage--was to drink and cook and cook and drink. Sometimes even at the same time. I drove down to Richmond immediately to see my parents and cooked almost a month's worth of food, and probably consumed a month's worth of wine in that week as well.   

She has since made it through the six months of chemo and is facing a surgery this month which might help extend her life. They don't know if it will or for how long. They really have no idea about anything.

I've watched my father change into a fully self sufficant man. As a man of the earlier generation where women did it all for men, he is learning to cook and clean and keep up with the household and with her needs. I've changed as well by learning to appreicate my mother a bit more and all she's done for us as a family.

I have driven my kids down to see her in between chemo treatments and we've talked about grandma being sick. In my day-to-day when I'm not near her or she's not in chemo, I try to forget that she's sick. I become engrossed in my world of kids, playgroups, blogs, books, friends, husband and household duties and try not to think about her illness and pain. Or that of my father's pain. To possibly lose a spouse after 35 years of marriage (she's only 56) is the hardest to grasp.

I am not the one taking care of her, though I often feel I should be. She is the one who flew to the other side of the world to take care of me when I had my first baby in the Middle East. She is the one who took our whole family in between tours so I could have my second--that is three months living with mom. She is the one who takes care of all of us.

But with 120 miles between us, it's not the most practical since my two little ones only complicate the situation and her constant need for recovery between treatments. I'm not the one driving her to doctor's appointments or listening to the prognosis. I'm living up here in Northern Virginia, talking to my mom everyday and being her support when she needs it. I do what I can to help when it's needed.

But as far as coping? It's more of ignoring. I can't understand this cancer except that it's a horrible thing for the entire family. It comes on without warning and hits anyone. Before you know it, it's consumed everyone and everything in the immediate and extended family. So far my only answer has been to become consumed in everything except her illness. It's been the only way I can get through the days and nights without really thinking about it--hoping and praying that something will happen to keep mom here long enough to see her grandchildren grow and for them to know her. For now we're all living in the moment and cherishing the times together because we don't know if it will be the last.

Originial DC Metro Moms blog post.

Linda writes about her family at Monkey Business. 


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