Monday, July 20, 2015

Her child's pain is over, my friend begins the long journey of grief

I attended a funeral today. The service was for my dear friend's 50 year-old daughter. Although we have been friends for two decades, and I've heard much about her family, I didn't meet her daughter until a few weeks ago.

At the time, she was under Hospice care and living with her mother who was 24/7 caregiver. Although Penny was taking morphine for pain, still she had suggested to her mother that they begin having a friend over for a light meal once a week. I was the first friend invited. Sadly, as it turned out, I was also the last friend to come over for a meal with Penny and her mother.

But I will cherish that evening. The food was good and I always love being in my friend's house, but that night I really enjoyed getting to know Penny, the strongest and most determined person I have met in a long, long time. She had been fighting cancer for seven or eight years, working and raising two children. She also cared for her husband who is disabled until she could do no more. That was when her mother brought her home to live out the time she had left. 

What I learned about Penny that evening is that she had no qualms about talking about her illness and right away she made me comfortable. We discussed what she had been through in a matter of fact way with no emotion from her. She had endured some of the most embarrassing moments and periods of indignities, but she took it well.  She had a wry sense of humor and I am sure she kept the nurses on their toes when she was in the hospital. She had been dealing with this so long that she could tell them what she needed and when she needed it. Her doctor had told her she had a few months to live and she said she told him she would see him next year. That was the kind of attitude Penny had about living. 

She said she had the best Mom in the world and when I asked what growing up with her talented Mother was like, Penny said she was just an ordinary mom, who kept house, took care of the kids and was always there for them. "She didn't get into painting and all the other things she does now until after we were out of the house."

Seeing the struggle Penny had over the past few months and the heart-wrenching pain of a mother watching her child die, has affected me in many ways. How do you do that day after day, month after month? How do you sit with her and do something so mundane as play chess and then put her to bed and  try to make her comfortable with the morphine required to stop the "sawing pain in her legs?" 

How do you have any semblance of a normal life when your child is lying in the next room and any moment could be her last? You don't. But you have to find a way to live with it and continue to take care of her the very best you can. My friend said something I will never forget. She said she had stopped thinking "what can I do?" She stopped thinking of the sadness and pain and turned her mind to appreciating the joy of every moment they had left together. She tried to make each day as good as possible and to let herself think of how good it was to still have her there.

How do you ever rest when all night you wait for her movements that mean she needs more chemicals to block her senses. My dear friend cared for her husband until he passed away, and then her father who was diagnosed with cancer and died soon after with her lying on his bed beside him. Now her child is gone. Today at the funeral, which was such a loving and lovely service, it hit me so hard I could not talk to my grieving friend without breaking down. Within two years she lost three loved ones she had devoted herself to caring for. 

Within four years, I lost my husband and three siblings. All that pain came rushing back to me when I looked at her sad face as she walked down the aisle carrying her daughter's urn cradled in her arms as if it were a baby. Yes, it was her baby girl and the last time she would ever hold her. 

I pray for peace for my friend and all her family. They are loving people who will be there for each other. One day all this pain will lessen and one day she can smile and feel normal again, but it is a long journey and I hope that in some way I can be there and help her along the way

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DJan said...

How very sad for her to lose so many so quickly. I lost my son when he was forty, but it was quick, a heart attack. My mother died in hospice care, at 69, but she had been sick for a long time and heart disease is different than cancer. So sorry for your friend. Thank you for the beautifully written post about a difficult subject.

Glenda C. Beall said...

Death is never easy to talk about or write about, but it becomes a part of our lives almost daily as we get older. I was amazed that my friend could focus on the joy of each day they had left instead of grieving and mourning over what was surely coming. That takes super human strength, I believe. I had only a few days with Barry in Hospice, knowing he would never recover, and wanting him to go on so he would not suffer anymore as he had been doing for weeks. We all hope that the process of leaving this world is easy for us and our loved ones.

Abbie Taylor said...

Glenda, what a powerful and moving story.

Glenda C. Beall said...

Thank you, Abbie. You know the pain of losing a loved one so you can relate, I'm sure.

Joan Ellen Gage said...

Glenda, I'm glad that you got to visit and know her story. It is amazing what women can do when they have to. Many of us are care-givers multiple times.

It is sad for the mother. She will have to adjust and it will be difficult; she has probably forgotten to live for herself. She will need support from her friends. I know you will be one of those!

Glenda C. Beall said...

I received many emails from readers who appreciate this post and who relate to the story.
Thank you, Joan, for your comment. You are a supporter of women in your writing and in your personal life. Thank you.