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.
Another post you might want to read. It is the most popular post on this blog.