Death is a Part of Life but Little Comfort to the Griever

Guest post by: Kim Pace

Death is a Part of Life but Little Comfort to the Griever

Kim Pace & Mom

It has been almost three years since the death of my mother.  I fumble through day after day of waking up pretending I am okay living without her.   Yet, the truth is I lie every single day to myself with affirmations like “death is a part of life, she is in a better place, and she is no longer suffering”. You can rattle off all the inspirational quotes to me and my reaction is the same.   I will never be the same person I was before July 21, 2013.

How can I? The reminder she is gone is constant. There are days the emptiness inside of me is more of a background noise, and then there are the days where it leaves me feeling crippled, helpless, lost and really mad.

So very mad my Mom has died

I selfishly sulk, saying over and over in my head how “NOT FAIR” it is that she was taken so young. How my boys, who loved their Grandma, were robbed of her quirky, hilarious personality. My mom filled every room with smiles and a no-nonsense attitude.

My Mom was the center of my universe. She was a single Mom that raised three girls on her own with the help of my grandparents. We were in every sense of the word a dysfunctional family, but at the end of the day we knew we had each other. I knew no matter what my Mom would be there for me, and I would be there for her.

My Mom was exceptional at loving.

Breast cancer did not define her. She fought really hard the last four years of her life trying to outlive the death sentence of being Stage 4.

This next part of my story is hard. It is hard for me to write, but harder for me to share because I can’t get past the pain I feel for experiencing all I did, and the guilt of feeling that I could have done more.

It was Tuesday, July 16th 2013 when my Mom was discharged from the hospital and we were set up by her doctors to have hospice care come in to make her comfortable. The doctors and my Mom knew the end was coming. I was still not ready to accept reality.

The day before my Mom came home from the hospital, my baby sister and I decorated the bedroom she would eventually spend her last days in. We filled it with all of my Moms favorite items and paintings. My Moms face lit up when she walked in and saw what we did.

When the hospice nurse arrive she gave me very detailed instructions on how to administer the drugs that would evidentially help aide my Mother’s body in dying. I was the only one to administer them because I was her health care proxy.

My sister and I had no idea we only had less than 48 hours with my Mom once I started administering the drugs. Thursday, July 19th my mom’s last words to me were she was thirsty.

My family kept saying over and over again for me to step away, to take a break. But I insisted how I wanted to be there, how I needed to be there with my Mom during every moment. My sister and I set up a cot next to her hospice bed and we only left her side to go home and shower. I would drive home, spend an hour with the kids and my husband, making sure everything was and then I would give kisses head back to be with my Mom.

Here is the truth of it all, the night before my Mom passed, and I couldn’t do it anymore. I wanted to run away. I couldn’t give her another dose of pills because her jaw was clinched tight; her death rattle was so profound that it echoes in my head to this day. My sister and I were scared. Scared because we couldn’t do anything. Scared because we knew the end was coming.

Seeing death first hand never leaves you, ever.

But knowing you are the one aiding death haunts you. Forever.

It was early morning on Sunday, July 21st, and my sister and I had not slept again. We were making small talk with my Aunt in the kitchen. We decided to all go into Moms room to change the bedding and get her as comfortable as we could.

We all talked to her knowing she could hear us, and we told her we were making her look pretty by cleaning her up. After we were done, my aunt went to start a load of laundry, and my sister ran downstairs for a moment to get something.

As I had done every day, I sat on the cot next to my Mom, with her hand in mine and I was asking her what she wanted to watch on TV. She started to make the familiar moans, where I knew she was in pain, so I turned to her and said “I know Mom it hurts, but it’s not time for your meds yet”. I leaned in close to her, kissed her cheek, and then whispered in her ear “it is okay Mom; you know we love you, but you can go with Nanny and Poppy now. We will be okay.”

I didn’t mean it.

I knew I was not going to be okay. But I knew my Mom was done fighting. Cancer had ripped her down to the bone. She needed to be free from the pain.

I watched her gasp for air one last time as I held her hand. It was if she was going to get up and say something, but it was the last gasp of air she took before I felt her leave. I felt my Mom leave her body.

I knew she was finally free of what Cancer did to her. And for a moment I felt such peace. It was a gift she gave me, because she knew I was there until the end with her, she knew I wanted to be there. She knew my sister or my aunt did not. They both left the room because it was how it was suppose to be. My mom was supposed to pass with just me in the room. There is such purity in my heart for that last moment with her. It is what calms my demons when I get so mad that she is gone.

My Aunt and Sister both ran into the room seconds after she past and said she is gone right? She is gone? They felt her leave too.

I just nodded and we all fell apart.

It was as if her body went cold and hard within seconds. I put my head on her chest and held her hand until my sister had me get up. We both couldn’t believe she was gone.

My sister and my Aunt are the only two people who were there for those last days. They know the horror I replay in my mind. It is not what I choose to replay. Those are not the memories that flash through my mind when I think of the amazing women my mother was. The images that haunt me are only in my nightmares.

The guilt I carry that I could have done more to help her strangles me at times. That I hurt her because I was the one that gave her the medicine that shut her body down and killed her.

Life is life, and I understand our bodies are just a temporary place until we cross over. I cannot tell you the countless times I have heard “you knew this was coming, you can’t be shocked”. We knew at some point cancer would rip my mother from life. And I am in awe of people that handle death with grace and ease. They are stronger than I am.

There is no way to measure the toll my Moms death has taken on me. I thought I would be able to slap a smile on my face and move on and hide my pain. That only made my depression get deeper. My guilt stronger. Hiding what I was going through crippled me and crippled my rational thinking. It changed me.

Yet no one saw it.

No one saw it because I kept those closest to me far, far away from me. I blocked them all from knowing how I was falling apart. I wedged bridges between lifelong friends because it was easier than dealing with who I was now.

I was an optimist that lost all hope.

I lost me when my Mom died. She was so much a part of my everyday life. I spoke to my mom more than three times a day. I saw her at least four to five times a week. If we were not running around to doctors, or hospitals, my mom was at a ball game cheering on my kids or doing something with her 5 other grandkids.

My Mom never stopped living, no matter how hard cancer tried to make her stop.

I didn’t know how to live without her and I had the easy part. I was only her cheerleader. I held her hand during chemo, or transfusions. I was not the one going through it. I was not strong. I was there for her, to make her laugh, to distract her from the cancer. And that part I did well, I never let my know how I cried knowing how I saw her suffer. I never cried because I knew she was being strong for me, and the least I could do was be strong for her.

The reason why I chose to share my story is not for sympathy. Not for empathy. Not for the “time heals all wounds” encouragement. It is for others that think they are drowning in their own private sorrow after losing someone so close to them that they need to reach out to a friend or someone they love before it’s too late.

I didn’t.

I don’t blame anyone but me.

I lost touch with so many friends because I shut down so hard on what was real in my life and hurt so many people along the way.

Almost three years later what have I learned?

That cancers sucks, but my Mom fought until the end. Her strength gave me the tools to constantly pick myself up, dust myself off and deal with life. No matter what.

And more importantly, I have learned that I miss my mom so much.

I miss her sense of humor. I miss how exceptionally loved I always felt around her.

Author:  Kim Pace, KimPacePhotography.com

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2 Responses to Death is a Part of Life but Little Comfort to the Griever

  • My husband of 38 years passed March 16 of this year
    My life will never be the same. No kids, Mom & Dad gone, no close family here
    I miss him very much every day, we did everything together
    Death is a part of life but it really sucks, especially for those left behind.

  • I am not so sure that the route you took was totally wrong. Not very many people are fortunate enough to be so close to their mom’s when they are adults. I was exceptionally close to my husband- stayed with him continually. The words you use about emptiness (etc) ring very true for me. Because my grief was of such personality magnitude- like yours if I read you right- after 9 or 10 months or a year no one wanted to hear it anymore. Perhaps it was better to be separated than to be subject to trite answers and judgements. Joanne was a big help because inpart she could label what was going on. My husband died in my arms. He drilled us not to call an ambulance- to keep him OUT of hospitals. He had been sick more than 20 years and suffered greatly. In many ways when he died I died too. I am very different now. It was five years and I can sob at the drop of a hat- or lose the ability to breathe. Although I was/am angry- I have a great deal of respect for God and for the unknown. 3 years in- I was now violently ill because I really just wanted to die. Life was colorless without him. He was more me than I was. 3 years in my girlfriend took off my oxygen and took me to a little church down the road. My sister dad and mom now were all gone in a short period. But the gentle lady that spoke lost not just her parents, but her husband And Her 23 year old daughter. I managed to get up on the platform and with tears in my eyes I said I do not understand how you are still standing. We wrapped our arms around each other and wept for a few moments. Then she prayed a simple few sentences of a prayer. I would like to say everything became wonderful- but it is not true. What did happen is something poured into my wounded soul and spirit- it acted like warm caramel that was glue. In some way that I cannot describe I began to be able to get better. Eventually I realized I had to remake myself- and I would think about the peices of me that didnt get developed- and I learned to be comforted instead of that horrible emptiness. Everytime I took communion I became a little stronger. For me part of it was leaving who I was with him behind- and becoming different. It was terrifying. I rested and slept and did nothing until I was ready- 2 steps forward 3 back. I am still isolated- grief has made me reclusive and socially awkward. But I recently married a lovely gentle strong man who also lost everyone and everything (my house too). We hang on to each other- and it is getting a little easier. I discipline myself now to only “think forward”. When I think of him it is in the now- what he would say think or do- sometimes he whispers in my ear “no cries”- and I am grateful that the veil between heaven and earth is so thin. Death has not let up on me though- with the help of my husband I am out of bed. I Must work- the continual onslaught of grief of those around me dying threatens me. So I will pour myself out for others to heal the sick wounded lonely and greived. Perhaps then I will come fully back to life. I know God cries with us and holds our tears in a crystal bottle. Many times now I have felt a supernatural source of comfort. You sound as though you remained far more functional than I did. If or when our umbilical cord shifts to The God of Love, then memories do not hurt but can live beside the comforting flow of love from God as He puts us back together again. My husband died at 47. I have lost 8 children. But I do not argue with God. I will be with them again- it will be long for me- but a twinkling of an eye for them. And as I struggle to become whole I know that there is purpose and peace and angel wings around me. Someday I will laugh again. Right now? I am very grateful to have my new husbands tender arms around me at night. My prayers are with us all…we remember that the reason Jesus came was so that He would experience grief and sadness as we do- and we would have a comforter. Each beliefs are a bit different. I know that without His supernatural love I would be insane now or dead. Jesus says I hold the keys to life and death in my hand- chose you life. I had to actively chose life. Perhaps we all do.

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