Christmas Yet to Come


Twelfth Night: the final night of the Christmas season, and the more or less official end of the holidays. So ends another Christmas season. And I strongly suspect that Christmas of 2015 will be radically different from any other Christmas to date.

If you’re read any of my other articles about this holiday season, then you probably know that our big holiday road trip was cut short. Truth be told, there has been a cloud over my head throughout this holiday season, and it’s been hard to deal with.

A few days before we left for our trip, my mother was admitted to MedStar Medical Center in Montgomery County, Maryland, with something they could only describe as “very serious.” We came close to cancelling our trip because of this, but she talked us out of that. She didn’t want us to miss this chance to see family and friends that we haven’t seen in a long time, just because she was cooped up in a hospital.

At the time I asked her, flat out, if the Grim Reaper was at her door. She said no, but she’s pretty sure he’s only a few blocks away. The problem is, I know my mother well enough that I could tell she was apprehensive, if not worried, and she was probably holding something back.

Half way through our trip, Mom asked me to come home. That pretty much told me everything I needed to know.

She has stage four cancer. The cancer started in her uterus area, and spread to other parts of the body. Of particular interest was some swelling against the heart, which was causing shortness of breath and fatigue. That’s what caught the attentions of the doctors, actually. I remember at Thanksgiving she was complaining about shortness of breath. Apparently that was this strange growth, and it was moving fast. Radiation has brought this particular issue under control, but the original cancer remains a problem.

In all likelihood, Christmas of 2014 will turn out to be her last.

And that is what has me in a funk. My mother has always been a strong willed and determined woman. Sometimes she was like a force of nature. She was widowed at a fairly young age, and watched several members of her family succumb to a variety of maladies over the years. But it looked like she had beaten the odds on that front. Roughly 18 months ago she sold her long time house in Homer, New York, and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. She moved into a retirement community where she could be closer to her grandchildren, and the plan was that she would enjoy this relaxed, retirement lifestyle for several years.

Mom with her four grandchildren.

Fate apparently had other plans. She was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease just over a year ago, so her ability to do a lot of things had been stunted. But she was managing, and the disease was being controlled. This cancer took us by surprise, though in hindsight the signs had been there for quite some time. We just didn’t recognize them for what they were.

She is now in the process of moving out of the retirement community, and into a nursing home. In her case, the nursing home will be serving as a hospice. Instead of several years, she only has a few months. My brother, largely out of necessity, has been handling most of the logistics of this transition, and it’s weighing very heavily on him. The next steps will involve dealing with her apartment and her various belongings. That will probably involve getting a storage area; I can help him with that part, at least.

Mom with her two boys, me (left) and my brother, James (right).

I suspect I’m projecting and/or deflecting, because this is proving very difficult to address. This will sound cliche, but mom has become a shadow of the woman she used to be, and it’s painful to see. The idea of life without my mother being somewhere in this world is a difficult one to consider. It’s one of those things that we all know is likely to happen, but when faced with the reality of it, it’s hard to truly fathom.

If there is a silver lining in this, she isn’t in any lasting pain, and she still seems to have most of her mental faculties. They are greatly slowed, but still present. At this point, all I can do do is hope and pray that these last few months will be peaceful and comfortable for her, and that when the Grim Reaper does finally arrive he has the decency to arrive while she’s sleeping. As for how these months will treat my brother and I, our wives and our children, is another story entirely.

Photo credits: Lisa and Richard Pugh.

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