On the eve of mother’s day 2016, my siblings and I admitted our mother to an inpatient hospice. What an odd thing to have to do. Hospice does not seem to be the best gift to give to your mother on mother’s day. And yet, in the situation she is in, it is the best kind of gift. Or is it? I am a mixed bag of emotions. I run the risk of sharing this post with you today, but I trust in the grace of anyone who reads this.
I cannot say what these days are like for my siblings. But for me, these last few days are laced with tears, anger, relief, laughter and hope. Let me unpack these words.
Tears. I am beyond sad. For nearly nine years I have lived with what is called ambiguous loss. Simply put, “ambiguous loss is a loss that is unclear; it has no resolution, no closure. This unique and devastating kind of loss can be physical or psychological, but in either case, a family member’s status as absent or present remains hazy.” Dementia creates such a loss. Your loved one is physically present but slowly, over time, your loved one’s psychological presence begins to change. Alzheimer’s stirred up a lot of questions, but primarily it caused me to ask “am I the daughter if I am now mothering my mother?”  This ambiguity has been odd. I’ve had to learn to embrace it over these last few years. And now, as we face the closeness of my mother’s death, I not only experience tears, I experience anger.
Anger. My mother has cancer. Two days ago we sent her back to surgery. Her gall bladder was full of stones. She’d been experiencing some pain for a couple of months. After the CT scan revealed the gall stones, I still wondered if something more was up. The surgeon couldn’t remove the gall bladder. My suspicions were confirmed. Her belly is full of cancer, and I am angry. Why? Well, for many reasons. But one is this: I want my mother’s death certificate to say that she died of Alzheimer’s. The cancer will most likely be relentless and swift. But the Alzheimer’s has been slow. It too is relentless, but relentless of a different kind.
I suspect that after I give my mother her final goodbye kiss, I will say that the Alzheimer’s sucked far worse than cancer did. I don’t know for sure. But I suspect I am correct. I’ve watched loved ones die of cancer. It’s horrendous! But there is something unique about Alzheimer’s that I want acknowledged. The loss of memory complicates EVERYTHING. Alzheimer’s is the 6th leading cause of death. Read about the statistics here. It’s appalling! And yet, it rarely is acknowledged on a death certificate. And this just makes me mad. As a nation, we are NOT recognizing Alzheimer’s as we need to. I’m really ticked off about that. And yet….
Relief. I am sensing some of that. How can I say this? It’s mother’s day weekend, and I just admitted my mother to hospice. Relief? Yes. Kind of. She has been experiencing a lot of physical pain. And now she will get some relief that inpatient hospice can provide. But I can’t forget; she has also been experiencing pain of another sort for nearly a decade. Without cancer, my mother may have lived with this disease another ten years. Alzheimer’s is long. And my mother’s journey with this horrendous disease is almost over. I a feel a sense of relief for her (and truthfully for me). And with this relief comes laugher. What?! Yep, laughter.
Laughter. As a family, we laugh a lot. My mother taught us this. She has ALWAYS been a goof ball. She loves to make people laugh. And, even with this surgery and the crap diagnosis of cancer, there has been a lot of laughter in the last 48 hours. With increased pain medication and a mother who thankfully came out of her surgery without too much anesthetic stupor, she still knows all of us. She knows me. She knows my siblings. She knows her grandchildren. She still loves to sing her old tunes. She still loves to poke fun at the nurses and doctors. She told her surgeon that he was handsome. He admitted that she made him blush, and she replied, “Oh it’s been a long time for you huh?” She is cracking us up! Laughter is such a gift. It helps one hope.
Hope. This thing called hope is so hard to explain. Hope is defined or experienced in all sorts of ways for people. For me, because I am a woman of the Christian faith, my hope is what I have coined, a rooted hope. Because of Christ, we can grieve with hope. While we will suffer in this life, because of Christ, we can experience a glory that far outweighs any other (see 2 Corinthians 4). My hope is rooted in Christ.
Tears, anger, relief, laughter and hope. I have always believed that lament and joy are NOT opposites. I learned long ago why the phrase “drown in your tears” was coined. The loss of my sister back in 2007 taught me why. You truly do feel as if you are drowning as you lament the loss of a loved one. And yet in the lament, in the near drowning, God brought amazing grace and new mercies. In the last 48 hours, there has been one grace and mercy after another. And each one has been for my mother. And because of that, my siblings and I are also receiving grace and mercy.
I might decide to share more of the details of these graces and mercies at a later time. For now, let me leave you with one of my favorite scriptures out of the book of Lamentations. But before I do let me give my mother a greeting here on my blog.
Happy mother’s day Mom. Happy? Geesh. Just know I love you. I believe I will cherish these last days with you. And, while we’ve already been experiencing a very long goodbye due to Alzheimer’s, I believe I will dread saying a final goodbye. And yet, it won’t be final. Our rooted hope in Christ tells me so.
And now here is that verse in Lamentations. Notice the word lament in Lamentations. Then, read the verse below. Lament and joy and NOT opposites. They are NOT!
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
A few concluding side notes:
While I have not been able to keep up with the writing about Alzheimers on my blog, there is an archive of what I have written. You can go here to access that archive.
Thank you for reading this haphazard post. It is written on a day that I am weary and exhausted. Excuse my bad writing. I really don’t care that it’s bad. Maybe it’s bothering you. I’ve never considered myself a writer. When I do write, I am operating in an adequacy, not a strength. But I’m learning to come here anyway and post stuff about life and hope after a long day at my “day job.”
Life and hope. Gardening helps with that. So do stories about Alzheimer’s. I love you. Please love me back and think nice thoughts as I grieve the loss of my mother in her last days on this earth and maybe write more haphazard posts about the journey. I’m being silly. I’m blabbing. I should stop writing now.
 Pauline Boss, Ambiguous Loss (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2011), 1.