Mom’s diagnosis came first, then Dad’s a few weeks later.
After Mom started chemo and lost her hair, I started a twitter account documenting the craziness. Going bald was quite traumatic for my mom, as was the process of getting a wig. The lovely people at American Cancer Society provide one for free, and there was a location in the suburban strip mall close to where my parents lived.
Within minutes, we found the perfect wig from the wall of mannequin heads. It looked just like her regular cut and color. She wore it proudly and often.
A couple weeks later, Mom and I were discussing wig care, and she did not believe me when I told her you could wash the wig. Needing a second opinion, she earnestly suggested “Let’s go to ‘The Cancer Store’ and ask them” (referring to the ACS location).
Hence my twitter handle @TheCancerStore (since deleted).
Dude, you have got to keep a sense of humor when this kind of situation is foisted upon you.
Both my parents were told — within weeks of each other — that they each had 6 months to live, give or take. I should say, that is what we gleaned from the information given to us by the doctors. They don’t give you numbers like that (or at least they didn’t to us).
So yeah, it was kinda crazy. And there’s no instruction manual for this stuff.
It wasn’t until one day when Mom was acting particularly unusual during one of her chemo treatments, that the nurse called and said something was different today. My mom had always been a bit wacky — but apparently it was exponentially worse that day.
Turns out, my 90-pound, bald mom was done with this whole chemo business.
Plus, she was pissed off that my brother took the car keys away from them both. I kept insisting that Mom only drives to the grocery store. But that was just me being the enabler of the family. Mom should not be driving, and neither should Dad. OK, OK!
Anyway, I asked the nurse “When does this chemo end?” That’s when we had our very first (and last) discussion about stopping treatment.
Pro Tip — The doctors don’t want it to stop.
We called in hospice, and Mom died 9 days later.
We had an awful hospice experience. People talk about how wonderful their hospice people were — ours, not so much. Basically, they were rarely there, and we were pretty much on our own to figure everything out.
I was standing in line at Walgreens, picking up some things for Dad when my sister called. I had only been gone for a couple minutes.
“Mom’s not breathing. I think she’s dead.” She went on to describe her condition in further detail.
“Uh, yeah, it sounds like she’s dead,”I said as the other people in line looked at me in horror. I paid for the stuff and was back at my parents’ home minutes later.
Dad was sleeping on the couch. Shit. Someone had to tell him.
“Dad, Mom’s gone,” I said to him.
“No, she’s in the bedroom,” he said, sleepily.
Fucking sad as fuck.
The funeral home came to pick her up. Later on, we brought them clothes and stuff for her to wear. Open casket.
The day of the wake I noticed a big stain on the dress she was wearing. Probably from the last time she wore it, and it was never cleaned. Shit. Sorry Mom.
I gave them one of her Alcoholics Anonymous coins to hold in her hands. She had 27 of them — one for each year of sobriety. It wasn’t until weeks later that I thought, “Oops, so much for the anonymous part.” Oh well. I was proud of her, and it really was no secret.
One of the very last things she said (that made any sense) was “Lord, help me stay sober today.” This was right after I administered the very first dose of liquid morphine to her. Ironic.
Now Dad, he had big dreams. I mean, without Mom cramping his style, he was gonna buy an RV and travel the country. We’d go to Old Country Buffet, his favorite restaurant, and discuss his future plans.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that he was headed to the same place Mom just went, sooner than later.
He hesitated to get the ice cream, because he was always watching his diet.
Um, Dad, get the damn ice cream.
He knew there would be no RV. And he got the ice cream.
But it was fun to dream — for both of us.
For lack of any better ideas, we kept the same crappy hospice for Dad — which he needed about 3 weeks after Mom was gone.
In the meantime, we went through several different caregivers, and finally found Alexandria — a robust and kind Polish lady. Sometimes her “cousin” would visit and help out (I suspected it was her lover though, not a relative).
They were a godsend.
Hospice was stepping up their game, too — due to my brother giving them a piece of his mind regarding subpar care for our mother.
So I suppose you could say we were better prepared for Dad’s death — even though the end result was the same.
Mom didn’t talk much toward the end, but Dad was a chatterbox. It was as if he was dreaming, but awake, as he recounted his entire life out loud.
Most of it made no sense to me, and I took notes to show my siblings, but they couldn’t make heads or tails out of anything either. From what I could figure, there was stuff from his childhood, from his service in WWII, and crazy shit that happened while on family vacations — like, when we almost died as he hauled a giant travel trailer through the mountains during a 6-week road trip they took us on when we were kids.
God Bless their freaking souls.
Dad passed as I sat at his bedside. My brother had stepped out for just a minute to go to the bathroom — when Dad took his last breath.
Just like how Mom died when I left for only a few minutes — after having slept at the foot of her bed all night, and holding vigil for days.
They say people choose the exact moment to die. I believe it.
Lather, rinse, repeat. We called the funeral home and the same people came to pick up Dad — just like Mom, weeks earlier.
Eyeing us suspiciously, we swore we were not killing people. OK, maybe that was just in my head.
Then we had to go back to that same funeral home and sit at that same big wooden table to discuss all that stuff you have to discuss.
And we were all a bit giddy from everything.
We weren’t super close with Dad’s side of the family, and we struggled to remember names — like those of his parents (our grandparents — who died young, before he met our mom).
“And what was the name of his sister who got eaten by the pig?” says my brother. And we fucking lost it — as the funeral home people stoically watched us laugh until we cried. No, really, my siblings and I were hysterically laughing our asses off.
And yes, we really did have an aunt (she was a baby when she died) who horrifically got eaten by a pig on the farm where Dad grew up.
God, we are assholes.
For the funeral, we had the same “Rent-A-Rev” that we had for Mom’s. We didn’t have any real religious affiliation, so decided to have a one-stop-shop — no church service. We’d have the wake and funeral at the same place.
The “Reverend” (I think I saw him parking cars before the service), gave a lovely, though canned (insert name of deceased here), speech for Mom.
There was a particularly cheesy bit about the “dash” — referring to the dash between the date of birth and date of death. Like, the dash is where all the important stuff happens — your life is in the dash, or some such.
So when the same guy stepped up and looked around to see essentially the same faces he saw weeks earlier, I thought maybe he’d change it up a bit. But no. In his defense, I suppose this scenario was unprecedented.
He got to the bit about the dash, and we all looked around at each other and started cracking up.
Yeah, we’re still assholes.
And that was that. They were both gone.
When they were both sick, a friend of mine said something like “It’s like when you have two kids in diapers at the same time. It’s easier that way — rather than having to do it years apart.” And I suppose she was right.
Mom and Died died together, like they lived together — for 57 years. I can’t for a minute imagine either of them living without the other. So there’s that.
Thanks for everything, Mom and Dad — especially for teaching us to make the most of our dash. OK, maybe that wasn’t you, but it was, kind of.
Love and miss you both.
But I know you’re up in Heaven. Laughing.