By: Debbie Moore-Black, RN
She lay listless in bed.
Only 63 years old.
Before stage 4 colon cancer totally claimed my mother, she chose to come home. Her bedroom. And she’d stare for one more time out her window, at her dogwood trees. That symbolized to her the petals with the blood of Jesus. So they said.
A once vibrant Italian Catholic and mother of 4. She was the perfect wife of an IBM executive.
But it was all for show. The large house, the lake house with a matching boat. The private Catholic school. But we the children faced years and years of neglect, verbal abuse and demands.
“You’re dumb and stupid and fat”.
“You will be a nurse.” “You can not go off to college.” “You will stay in this house while in nursing school.”.
As I literally watched my daddy, lose his executive jobs, lose his lake house, while becoming a non-functional alcoholic. Bumping into the walls at night after he drank his daily gallon of wine, intermittently splashed with a case of beer. Once I got my driver’s license, I had to retrieve that for him. Every other day. The cases of beer. Humiliating.
Mother had the finest clothes. Designer clothes. She didn’t work. She had a housekeeper. And unless us children could sew an outfit for public school (after we graduated from our uniformed private Catholic school), we were doomed.
I couldn’t sew.
I was that laughing stock.
The big house showed wealth and prosper. The truth was inside. Dark, curtains drawn and constant ridicule.
Somehow, maybe through our guardian angels, we became a masters degree level teacher, a CRNA, a critical care nurse, and a civil engineer. But we silently carried our wounds of childhood throughout our adult life.
We took turns taking care of our dying mother. It was my turn. And my 2 year old daughter would stand next to me as she watched me reposition my mother in bed. Clean my mother’s bowel movement in bed. Her urinated sheets, in bed.
I felt some type of obligation as a daughter. But any type of love for mother was gone.
I was just a functioning zombie.
Cleaning her bowel movements over and over again and revisiting in my mind, the neglect and ridicule and the constant degradation of my fragile ego.
Mother’s best friend came to visit her often. She was given permission to give mother the “last rites”. She slowly placed a half dollar size host in my mother’s mouth.
My one sister yelled, “Don’t do it, she’ll aspirate on the communion host!” But mom’s friend felt obligated to fulfill this ritual. So she gave mom, “the body of Christ”
And as predicted, mom coughed, and gagged and aspirated and spit out some of the host that lay on the sheets. Now…what do you do with the remainder of the host? The splattered out “body of Christ” spit out over the sheets.
The hospice nurse stood by.
Administering minute doses of subcutaneous morphine. Enough that would never be enough.
But my secret hero, my sister-like friend told mom, “you can’t die tomorrow. Tomorrow is Friday 13th. That’s bad luck. And you can’t die on Sunday, because that’s Easter Sunday and the Catholic Church won’t bury you on Easter Sunday. So if you don’t die today, Thursday, they’ll have to keep you in a refrigerated morgue until Monday.”
Therefore, today, is the day you’ll have to die. Which happened to be mom’s daughter’s birthday. The twins.
And so with the protest from the hospice nurse, mother was criss- crossed with Fentanyl patches. Because the subq morphine did nothing.
Her breathing became shallow and agonal.
Her once plump body wasting away, as her wedding ring fell off her finger onto the hard wood floors.
A deafening sound.
A sound of surrender.
A sound of no more pain.
A sound of never again: negligence and torment and verbal abuse…..
But the echoes of abuse live on….
The extinction of our lifelong sadness… of a pretend fairytale life….comes back to all of us randomly…when we least expect it.