Seven weeks ago today my mother died.
I’m still feeling more than a bit shell-shocked. Everyday some little thing reminds me she is gone. Last night while I was picking up a few things at the grocery store, I found a reason in each and every aisle to get teary-eyed. Here is the produce department where I bought raspberries for her. There is the honey mustard she loved so much. Oh, look, that’s the raisin bread she liked and over there is the deli roasted chicken she craved. I could feel my lower lip start to tremble in the paper goods aisle when I got to the kleenex. I kept it together until I got out of the parking lot. Then I burst into tears.
For the last couple of years I was Mom’s primary caregiver. In the beginning it was just a couple days a week helping with her shopping and errands, going out to lunch now and then, and the occasional doctor visit. As time went on, she needed more help with cooking and personal care. Then, last summer, thin as she already was, she began to lose weight. And it was at one of those doctor visits early last fall that she told him she found a lump in her breast. Her doctor examined her and suggested a mammogram and some other tests for the following days. Mom agreed to those tests and then dropped her bomb shell. She had already made up her mind to refuse any sort of treatment. No surgery, no chemo, nothing. She was going to be a “Refusenik”. She’d been reading an old Time Magazine article about it and was adamant. No treatment. She refused.
It was the first I heard about the lump and the first I heard the term refusenik. She kept repeating it over and over at the same time insisting I not try and talk her out of it. My brain began wobbling, my throat closed up and my tongue went numb. All the while she sat there almost glaring at me and daring me to speak. I didn’t say a word. I recognized that look and knew better than to try.
Days later, back in his office, after the testing was done and she would go no further, Dr. H. suggested she let him make the call to get her on hospice. “I’ll think about it”, was her reply and we left. He had the office staff follow up several times over the next couple weeks for which I was truly grateful. No amount of begging, pleading, whining or wheedling on my part had any effect. But those women wore her down and she finally agreed to sign up for hospice. And that is another story for another day. Meanwhile, I’ll go dry my tears.