Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A Death in the Family

When the third recurrence of breast cancer landed in her bones we all knew it was very bad news. Still, the radiation and hormone treatments seemed to have knocked it out, though at the price of serious damage to her hips and spine. She lived close by, and with a live-in helper she could manage well enough. But there came a fourth recurrence, and this one wasn't treatable.

Hospice did a wonderful job with her. They had to regularly retune her pain medications, and their advice on other matters was very helpful. They even have someone who goes the rounds to help the patients take showers at home. You aren't admitted to hospice services unless your doctor expects that you have less than six months to live. She lived two years more.

I lost track of how many close calls she went through. Six or seven times she was close to dying, but she was made of tough stuff. She'd be at the hospice center for a couple of days, and then home again.

Illness changed her. All her life she'd worried if she was good enough, and sometimes worry had spawned irritability. But when she could not get around without a wheelchair, and when pain would come knocking, she began to stop worrying. She accepted that Jesus accepted her, and we began to see a calmness in her that she'd not had before.

The hospice nurse told my wife that she was seeing signs that the end was near. So, of course, the very next day my mother-in-law rousted herself and was up and riding out in the countryside to see the Wisconsin fall colors and have a steak dinner. A few days later she was staring at catalogs, trying to keep herself in focus. When my wife asked her what she was doing, she answered that she was doing her Christmas shopping. “But that's six weeks away!” “I've only got a week to do it.” So my wife circled the items she pointed out, and her mother went to bed content.

That must have been the last business she wanted to attend to. Her sleep for the next day or so was occasionally troubled with pain, and so my wife would push the button for her on the pain med dispenser, but the last day was peaceful and apparently pain-free. My older two daughters were able to go over to sing to her (they are beautiful singers), and a few hours later she died quietly.

We miss her.

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