When your Mom Dies

Bruce and Anna Babcock with 1956 Black Thunderbird, Gowanda, New York, June 1998 (2)

Mom and Dad in 1998

Next month – March 2020 – will be the second anniversary of my mom’s death. Her death has been extremely difficult to put into words, and I’ve purposely waited some time before really delving deeply into its meaning to me. Mom and I were not close, and I still have mixed feelings about her death. Of course, mom is my mother and she will always be my mother, no matter what. But, we never had a close bond. There are reasons for that, of course, that I won’t explain here. It’s something that cannot be changed.

Sometimes I miss Mom and sometimes, I don’t. I miss the things about her that I love, and I don’t miss the things about her that I dislike. What I’ve come to terms with is that it’s okay. Many years ago, I came to accept our relationship as it was. There’s no changing someone who won’t change, so I made little effort to convince her to see things another way. The lack of closeness and bond are losses enough in themselves. There is always that void and emptiness there that will not be fulfilled. I know that, I understand that, I accept that. That’s how it is.

What was so difficult for Mom to endure was all of the suffering that accompanied death. Mom battled cancers for two years before she died. I remember in early summer, one year, when she had flu-like symptoms, but didn’t have the flu. This went on for a week, and I told her to call her doctor. She didn’t. It went on for another week. She still hadn’t called her doctor. By the third week, things still hadn’t improved – and had worsened, and called her doctor and made an appointment for her.

Mom’s biggest fear about cancer was her fear. She watched her dad die from cancer long before I was born, and it was a fear that paralyzed her. But, by trying to avoid to fear and the truth, she was just making it worse. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer after many tests, and began chemotherapy. She didn’t want to have chemotherapy, but I told her she had to do it – she didn’t have a choice. She had to try. Mom had an oncologist in Atlanta who was nationally-renowned. She believed in him, she trusted him. He saved so many people’s lives. He became her god, in the hopes that he would save her, too. He didn’t.

I went with Mom to only a few of her appointments. It was my dad who religiously took her to her appointments, even when he was exhausted and felt ill, himself. My dad was available, and so, he took her. I would’ve had to change my schedule, take off work, or cancel commitments, including my son’s school commitments, if I took Mom to her appointments. So, Dad did it.

For nine months, Mom had regular chemotherapy appointments. She was sick, she couldn’t eat, she was hospitalized at times, she lost weight, and she eventually completed her treatments. The cancer and the chemotherapy changed Mom. She lived in fear. She still had difficulty eating. She wanted to be happy when her oncologists told her that her cancer was in remission, but I wasn’t so sure. If the cancer was gone, why did she still have difficulty eating? Why was she still sick?

I didn’t believe that Mom’s cancer was gone. While I wanted to be happy, I was cautiously optimistic. There was something about it all that wasn’t quite right. I told Mom and Dad, together, that Mom should get a second opinion. It wouldn’t hurt to see another oncologist. Again, Mom believed in her god-like oncologist. He knew what he was doing. He had decades of experience. After all, he said she was cancer-free. She wouldn’t seek a second opinion. I couldn’t tell her anything, and she wouldn’t listen. The chemotherapy also made her mind such that she couldn’t “hear” me. It was already too much of an ordeal of suffering and fear that was overwhelming to her.

Mom was to go to get checked, monthly, with lab work for her cancer cell count. Two months after she was supposedly “cured,” her cancer cell count was up, slightly. The next month, it was up significantly more. By four months after Mom was supposedly cured, she was diagnosed with another cancer. Unfortunately – and tragically – I believe this is the cancer she shouldn’t been diagnosed with the first time – peritoneal cancer – a type of intestinal cancer.

When Mom’s oncologist did her surgery to remove her cancerous ovary, he also found and removed cancers from the outside of her intestines. These were cancers he missed on the MRI. This nationally-renowned oncologist was so sure that Mom’s cancer was ovarian cancer that he failed to consider whether it could be something else. I believe that the intestinal cancer had spread to Mom’s ovary – in the beginning – and thus, her diagnosis of ovarian cancer. I believe the primary cancer – the peritoneal cancer – was totally missed…until it was too late. The oncologist, himself, also realized this, and cried with Mom when he was unable to tell her that he could save her.

Having been diagnosed with cancer a second time, Mom was in and out of the hospital for extended stays. She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. She was sad, angry, and afraid. She just wanted to die. Mom’s intestines were blocked. Fortunately, the doctors devised a way for her stomach to eliminate what little digested food she could eat by having inserted a tube in her stomach. For the last three months or so of her life, Mom ate only crackers, chicken soup, and homemade custard. She just loved that custard. I couldn’t make it as well as she did, but I did my best.

Once Mom’s oncologist couldn’t tell her there was any hope, Mom was discharged from the hospital to home hospice. She was given three months to live. She lived only for just over two more months. Mom apologized to us for putting us through what was about to come. How sad that she would apologize for something out of her control. We just wanted to take the burden away from her.

Dad and I wanted Mom to be as comfortable as she could be. We stayed with Mom in shifts, around the clock. When I worked, Dad had a double shift. We tried to shield my son from Mom’s decline as much as we could, but he also helped us care for her. He was a great help with her, especially because she wanted to get up out of bed, and we were afraid she would fall and break a leg or hip. That would just make things worse. My son made sure Mom stayed put when Dad and I couldn’t stay with her.

We made sure that Mom had an IV drip in her last weeks. A truly inhumane way for someone to die is for them not to have any liquid or nutrients, and we didn’t want for Mom to suffer any more, unnecessarily. We employed a home hospice company that was really good, for the most part. Mom had the meds she needed, and the CNA care was excellent. All but one of the nurses was great. The one that wasn’t great was no longer welcome in our home – as I informed the nursing manager. That nurse should never even be a nurse at all – she was horrific.

The last five days of Mom’s life were the worst. She no longer knew who she was. She no longer knew me and didn’t remember that she had a grandson. She wouldn’t listen to anything and couldn’t understand anything. She wasn’t herself and she was out of her head. I had to tell Mom that I was her sister, in order to comfort her. I later joked with my aunt that I impersonated her to Mom in order to help her feel better.

In Mom’s final two days of her life, the smell of death surrounded her. The hospice CNA told me it was only a matter of time before Mom died. I asked her how long – a day, two days, a week? I wanted to plan and prepare myself. What you discover with death is that you can’t plan anything. Death has its own timetable.

I called people and made appointments. I called and arranged for the hospice social worker to come by in a couple of days with the hospice pastor. I didn’t want for that to scare Mom because she had been terrified when I had earlier asked our church priest to visit her while she was in the hospital. At that time, he was only there to do a healing prayer, and she thought he was giving her last rites. She was unable to understand, and I didn’t want to scare her again.

I also called our church priest and asked him to come by. It was late on a Monday when I spoke with him. He said Tuesday is his day off. Couldn’t he ask another priest to come and visit? The other priest was already overwhelmed by his own responsibilities, I know. The soonest our priest could come was Wednesday. By then, Mom had already died. Father – people still die on your day off.

The day before Mom died, she was very stiff and catatonic. It appeared that she could no longer see. Her eyes were bloodshot and her vision was impaired. She wanted more pain medicine. Dad and I did our best to keep Mom on a regimented schedule with strict dosages, so she was getting enough, but not too much. On the morning of the day that Mom died, I couldn’t awaken her for her medicine. She was comatose. She was breathing, but she was no longer with us. I hadn’t realized it yet at the time.

Dad was sitting with Mom when she took her last breath. He and I had just changed shifts about a half an hour prior to that at lunchtime. Unbeknownst to me, Mom had died, and he sat with her for about a half an hour before coming to get me. She was gone. I couldn’t believe she was gone. For several weeks, Mom had already been using oxygen tubes for her breathing. I believe those helped her body not have to work as hard to breath; they were good for her. Her oxygen tubes were still circulating the oxygen to her nostrils; they seemed so awkward now that she had died.

Mom died at home, surrounded by family. Mom’s immediate death was felt most strongly by my dad – her husband of almost 55 years. Dad grieved very severely for about nine months before I noticed that he seemed to be feeling better. I believe it will always be somewhat lonely for him without his life partner. No one else can fulfill for him what my mom did. I love and miss you, Mom. I know you’re in a much better place, and I will see you again. Please save a place for me at The Table.

This Valentine’s Day, Practice Love and Understanding (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

Water Heart Design (from www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

Water Heart Design (from http://www.newevolutiondesigns.com, February 14, 2015)

It is St. Valentine’s Day, a day for love and romance, especially as reflected in our culture and history. Valentine’s Day is a day that is important for couples, though it is also important for everyone. On Valentine’s Day, everyone can show a little more love, respect, appreciation, and understanding toward each other.

I’ve already heard the national news today of a plot to kill people in a mall in Canada that was thwarted. Later today, I heard about a cartoonist in Denmark who was killed – an artist who apparently depicted Mohammed in a negative manner. There are also likely so many more countless tragedies, hate crimes, and killings that have occurred around the world.

Today – as every day – however, should be a day for spreading love, kindness, compassion, and understanding. Do not be the person who is ugly toward or who hurts others. Take the opportunity to do an act of kindness for another.

For those who are unable or unwilling to practice loving kindness and understanding, my heart and prayers go out to you. I understand that, sometimes, life experiences may make it more difficult to love, but it should not be an excuse to avoid doing so.

On this day of all days, we must open our hearts and practice loving kindness and forgiveness. Of course, that does not mean that we should fall victim to being hurt for doing so, however setting a good, positive example may be all a person needs for his or her spirit to be uplifted, even for one day.

How will you practice love, kindness, and understanding toward others today?

“What is a True Friend?” (By: Michele Babcock-Nice)

What is a true friend?  What makes a person be a true friend to another?  There are many qualities of a friend that people may categorize as causing someone to be a true friend, and some people’s characteristics of a true friend may differ from others.  There are many qualities of what makes a true friend for me that I would like to share.

Firstly, a true friend likes, respects, and appreciates you for who you are.  A true friend is supportive, understanding, encouraging, and honest, and is not unnecessarily led or influenced by others in their opinions, decisions, and judgments about you.  A true friend sees the whole picture, not just what’s on the surface.  A true friend seeks to know and understand you, to be sensitive to you.  A true friend is there for you, encouraging you to be true to yourself, to help and protect yourself, to be your best, to improve yourself – your inner self.  A true friend knows you, seeks to know you, and appreciates what they know about you.  A true friend is always a friend, regardless of the issue or situation.

Next, true friends are those who can listen to and hear you out on any subject.  Sometimes, in providing others with certain information about ourselves, we are seeking to know whether or not we can fully trust and confide in another person.  Most people are uncomfortable with information with which they cannot cope, whether it is information about a topic that causes discomfort to them, or whether it is just plain a topic that they cannot handle or put up a wall against.  A true friend can take in all information and remain supportive and understanding because such information may lead to something better, a deeper relationship and more trusting relationship, a confidence in the other person that one can share anything with them, any issue, any detail, without them shutting you out or turning you away.

Sometimes, just when you believe you have found a true friend, someone on whom you can count, confide, and trust, you discover completely the opposite about that person.  It is particularly painful in those for whom one cares or loves, such as family members, close friends, or those others with whom one has a close emotional and/or spiritual connection to discover that they are not a true friend.  One may discover that they are led or blinded by their own discomforts, biases, judgments, beliefs, and/or the pressures of others and even the institutions that they may represent.  They are incapable of being a true friend when they have sight, but cannot see; when they have eyes, but no vision; when they are bound to their own discomforts, and are unable and unwilling to see the bigger picture; when they are a puppet to the rules and policies of the institutions that they represent, yet they don’t realize it, and are being led astray.

At other times, however, one may discover that they indeed, have found and maintained a true friend.  There are at least a half-dozen people throughout my life whom I would consider as true friends, those with whom I can share anything, and time and time again, they have responded to me positively, supportively, and encouragingly.  They appreciate and support me for who I am.  They reflect the care about me that I would like to think that I similarly do for them.  They help me to realize and be myself.  They open doors for me rather than shut them.  They break down walls and barriers for me rather than create them.  They are those whose actions have continually and regularly surpassed those of others in wanting, doing, and assisting in the best for others.  They are true friends.

I am so appreciative of those people in my life who are true friends!  It seems that those people, similarly to myself, who are true friends and whom I consider to be true friends, have the same characteristics.  We are warm, kind, understanding, sensitive, honest, supportive, encouraging, intelligent, confident, and assertive.  We want the best for ourselves and others, and to bring out the best in ourselves and others.  We are people who are helpful, rather than harmful or destructive.  

True friends also bring and seek to bring important issues to others’ attention and awareness in order to effect positive change, improvement, and enhancement in our lives and those of others.  We are concerned for the welfare and well-being of ourselves and others, and we always seek and strive to achieve and accomplish that with our honesty, sincerity, and genuineness.  Leaders and public figures such as Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Mahatma Gandhi are those whom I would consider to be a true friend to others on an even greater level than a close, personal true friend.

Sadly, too often, however, many people feel threatened by those positive qualities and characteristics that I previously described.  They may feel threatened due to their own insecurities and/or discomforts, shut us out, and refuse to listen to or hear us.  There may be something much greater at stake for the good of many others, yet when we are shut out, overlooked, denied, disrespected, discredited, or worse, it is they who have shown themselves of being untrustworthy and perhaps lacking in character. 

In those situations, one cannot count on that person to be a true friend, and must either seek the support and consult of someone else or rely on oneself.  I think this reflects that many people see only what they want to see, and not necessarily what is reality.  Too often, people are content to see only what is on the surface, and not ask questions, not dig deeper, and thus, they miss out on enjoying more meaningful and satisfying relationships with each other.

By being followers, such people are also not being leaders.  Leaders must be open to all information, all sides of an issue, all sides of a situation that they may not have even considered.  They must ask questions and seek to discover, not necessarily believing all that they see on the surface as deeper issues may be discovered that end up being for everyone’s benefit.  It is so sad to me that so many shut themselves out to the deeper issues, close themselves off due to their own discomforts and insecurities, fall short of potentially making situations, policies, and understandings of issues better for others rather than potentially worse. 

It is especially sad and disappointing to me when individuals who represent organizations or institutions shut out others, particularly when it is part of their job to be open to others.  One cannot speak with others who will not listen.  One cannot convince others of a different perspective when they have already made a decision to shut you out.  If you cannot trust a person to be open about hearing or considering one serious issue, there is no sense in presenting other important issues.  They think they are right and you are wrong; they think their way is perfect and your way is flawed.  This situation is potentially damaging and diminishing for everyone, and they may not even realize it. 

For how many years, decades, and lifetimes do people maintain sensitive or personal information all due to the fact that someone shut them out and would not listen to them due to the discomforts and/or insecurities of the other?  This is a perfect example of how individuals such as Jerry Sandusky are able to continue their damage and destruction upon others, when people don’t ask enough questions, when too many people don’t listen, when people shut each other out, when people choose to be blind rather than use their vision, regardless of the consequences. 

There are other situations in which red flags appeared prior to particular tragedies, yet those individuals who may have potentially stopped the situations from occurring either did not act or did not behave in a way that protected and saved others from harm.  Regarding the recent tragedy of senseless killings and injuries at the Aurora, Colorado movie theater by James Holmes, here is another situation when potential blindness of others failed to protect and save lives.  And, further, in situations in which child sexual abuse – or similar abuses of power – by Catholic clergy is covered up by male church leaders such as Msgr. William Lynn of Philadelphia, one wonders what male leaders, if any, within the Catholic Church can be trusted?

A true friend, therefore, is also someone in whom one can confide their most sensitive issues (of course, as long as those issues are all legal, moral, and ethical), and will find that the friend keeps their confidence.  One finds that another is not a true friend in confiding their most sensitive and painful issues to another when that person shares those issues with others, especially to those who thereby unnecessarily misunderstand, misconstrue, and misjudge them because of it.

Someone is definitely your enemy if they do not have your best interests at heart.  Someone who incorrectly shares sensitive or confidential information without knowing the whole picture or all the facts, thereby damaging you, is definitely not a friend, but an enemy.  Those who are very direct about it are easy to identify, however there are also those whom I characterize as wolves in sheep’s clothing who take in sensitive information, twist it around, and use it to harm you.  We must all be especially cautious and aware of the wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Throughout my life, there have been many of those, from whom I still feel and experience some of the damaging effects today.

There are few people in one’s life, therefore, whom they may consider to be a true friend.  A true friend, after all, is extremely hard to find.  A true friend is even harder to maintain.  Even more difficult to experience is the friend who turns into an enemy, a friend who by their own discomforts, insecurities, or feelings of being threatened by information that they don’t want to hear – or which information may be biased or incorrect to begin with – puts up a wall against you and shuts you out.  I feel sympathy and pray for those people who are missing out on developing a richer and more full relationship with others, simply by refusing to be more open to and honest with others. 

Importantly therefore, one must be very thankful for those people in their lives who have truly shown themselves to be true friends.  It is also important to remember to show one’s appreciation for their true friends.  Don’t take them for granted as they may be few and far between.  Are you a true friend?  And, how have you behaved as a true friend toward someone lately?