Memories – Painful but Cathartic

A few years ago, I lost my mom to cancer.  At least, that’s what I tell people.  She was diagnosed just before winter and passed away in the summer.   She knew she didn’t have long to live when she went into the hospital.  It was for a tracheotomy.  The tumor was creating a lot of pain in the neck area and slowly choking her.  All she wanted was just a few weeks – preferably at home.  I remember her laughing after the surgery. We tried to make the hospital room as comfortable as possible.  The nurses and staff let us use the second bed.  We brought in a CD player and her Chinese newspapers.   I would bring in my photography magazines so she could look at some of the wonderful outdoor & wildlife photography.  Everyday she would ask what day it was.  Eventually we would just tell her the date right once we showed up.  Her bed was too low and too far from the window.  All she saw was the sky.  We would describe the scenery to her. 

One day, my dad  said “listen to this”.  In her new guttural voice, she said “Happy Birthday” to my dad.  My dad laughed.  It was the first time both of them laughed in the hospital.  I had forgotten it was my dad’s birthday.  She started to talk cautiously about coming home and to see her garden.  I wondered how we were going to handle this but was glad that there was a chance of her coming home.

Then the cruel daggers of reality struck.  Several times a day, her throat had to be cleared of mucus.  It was a tube sucked the mucus out.  She struggled and it was a painful ordeal.  The nurses wanted teach us how to do it.  Both my sister and brother tried.  I didn’t.  I couldn’t bear to see her struggle as if she was being choked.  There was also a rotten smell from the opening.  My mom’s sense of smell was very keen and I don’t know how she coped with it. 

One day, my sister and I were with her.  She wanted to go to the bathroom.  I had done this before with my brother.  I held on to her while my brother wiped her.  I felt her shame.  This time my sister was there so I thought it might be a bit easier.  But as she went into the bathroom, she fainted.  I held on to her desperately and let her body leaned on mine.  I had the wall to support my back.  But my arms couldn’t hold on to her.  I slowly slid down the wall to the floor while holding on to her.   The nurses came in and took over.  I felt so useless.

When I spoke to my mom afterwards, she didn’t remember what happened.  A couple of days later, I got a call from my sister early in the morning.  My mom wanted to meet with all of us.  When we got there, she told us in that strange new voice “I want to die.”  I didn’t say anything.  I noticed my dad slowly walking out of the room.  He put his head to the wall and started to cry.  I walked over and just put my hand on his shoulder.  The next few moments are a blur.  A priest came in to give her the last rites.  I mumbled the Lord’s Prayer.  Later that day, a nurse removed the tube for her peritoneal dialysis.   Her doctor saw us afterwards and assured us the diabetic coma would be painless.  There was a part of me that was numb to all of this. One night, it was just me and her in the room.  She was asleep.  I started by rattling off the date.  Then slowly as I held her hand, I thanked her for being a wonderful mom and for raising me.  I struggled because I had to speak Cantonese.  I felt like a child again.  I told her she would see her mom, dad and sister.  Then I said she would see her beloved cats.  She suddenly smiled and held that for about a second.  I knew she heard me.   I just wanted her to know things would be ok. 

She passed away while my brother and I were in the funeral home making arrangements.  I realized then why she kept asking us for the date.  She hung on 1 day past her wedding anniversary.  I knew she didn’t want my dad to associate that day with her death.  The cancer didn’t beat her.  She was brave to the end and died on her terms.

To my readers, I’m sorry if all of my recent posts have been grim.  I need to slowly get this stuff out of me. 


19 thoughts on “Memories – Painful but Cathartic

  1. Those are painful memories, but good ones at the same time! I remember the Hospice people telling me over and over that people die on their own terms and everybody does it differently — your mom died on her own terms, while you were out of the room, and not until she was ready to go. I hope, for your sake, that your dad will be able to do the same. Meantime, you remain in my thoughts!

  2. Oh my, this made me a little teary. In a good way though because beneath all the suffering and pain, I can sense how much you loved your mom. I wish I could tell you there is a reason for all this pain. I don’t know if there is a reason but I do know it happens. Somehow we have to deal with it. Be strong!!

  3. I’m speechless…. and teary.

    I had no idea.

    This is such an intimate moment. Matt, thank you for sharing. This is extremely beautiful and there is a lot of love beneath your words. Your mother sounds like a beautiful person, and it was nice to hear of those moments where your parents laughed together and when you all (which definitely includes your mother) helped each other.

  4. this post got me very teary eyed matt. it’s ok, you are more than welcome in your sharing and i think i speak for many when i say that we are all supportive of you.

    life can be so overwhelming. do take care and do get as much rest as you can. i don’t know if there is such a thing as finding peace in these situations, but i do know that we’ll be here to check on you.

  5. there’s no need to apologize. your post is real, honest, and personal. if anything, we as readers feel privileged in reading your story, in hearing about your mom’s triumphs and struggles, in being invited into her life, your father’s life, and your life. if anything, i feel like as a reader should be thanking you for welcoming us readers to join you upon this journey, no matter how ‘grim’, difficult, hard it may be.

    i’m sad to hear about your mom’s final days. i have cared for trach patients before and yeah.. the choking when you suction out the secretions, it’s not pleasant for the both of us. i hate doing it, and the person with the trach hates the feeling too. but the same time, they need it to breathe. it’s awful. and awfully sad.

    as you reflect upon your time with your mom, may you remember all the good times and see how far God has carried you. may He meet you where you are, and bring you peace and comfort knowing that God is faithful and compassionate.

  6. My keyboard needs to be sealed for protection from tears. Instead of adding a lot of other comments, I’m going to just read your post again and absorb more of the layers of emotion.

  7. I’ve read that too but could never figure out how they can physically let go. It happened with my grandmother who waited until my mom flew back to Hong Kong before she passed away.

  8. I tell myself this will make me stronger and will help give me a sense of purpose too. Sometimes it takes moments like these to take stock of where I am in life and what I really want to do.

  9. I think it’s sometimes rather a matter of how they hang on — many times until the day after an anniversary/holiday/etc. — or even until one leaves the room. I think it’s important to let your parent know that it’s ok to let go, too (was my mother hanging on until I was ready for her to go?). It’s hard to know what to do, because everybody does it on their own terms and in their own way. My thoughts are with you!

  10. I’ve been wanting to write this but it could never come out. Then suddenly the words just appeared. I decided not to do too much proofreading. I’m always grateful for the support of my friends here.

  11. I appreciate your words of comfort. Sometimes I’m not sure how others will react when they read entries such as these. Some people can’t relate and others may not be ready to read this.

  12. You’re welcome Andrew and thank you for the hugs. I still miss my mom. This story has been bubbling for a long time but I just couldn’t put the words on paper. The other day, it just came out and aside from some typos, I just left it as is.

  13. I really work for Kleenex and my entries will help drive more sales. This entry just came out although I’ve been wanting to write about it for a long time. Aside from some corrections on typos, I decided to just leave it alone. I remember you suggesting this before and not to over polish blog entries.

  14. I guess digging through months and months of Xanga archives before I shut down was worth it. Hello, Matt. I emailed you.

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