Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Isn't It Ironic

Two and a half years ago, my mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After two major surgeries, she was able to stay at home while she underwent chemotherapy. Ironically, I was newly pregnant with my first child - her first grandchild – and as I visited her each day, we commiserated over nausea and lack of appetite, and took our afternoon naps together. The cancer responded to the chemo very quickly, and by the time my son was born, Mom came to the hospital, not as a patient, but as a proud new grandma meeting her new grandson for the first time.

She was healthy for over a year, and during that time celebrated both my sister’s wedding and my son’s first birthday. But not long after that, she began experiencing all too-familiar symptoms. The cancer had returned.

Once again, she began chemotherapy. And once again, I was newly pregnant. But instead of laughing about our shared nausea in Mom’s living room, we were grimly ignoring it in her hospital room. She was much sicker this time, and it was quickly apparent that the cancer was not responding to the chemotherapy this time around. So it was no surprise when her doctor asked for the family to join Mom at her appointment a few weeks ago. And it was no surprise when the conversation began with the awful words, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing more we can do.”

Even though we all knew in our hearts that we had reached that point, hearing the words said out loud was both devastating and yet, somehow, a relief. The giant elephant in the room had finally been acknowledged. We all agreed that inpatient hospice care would be best for Mom, and the plans were set in motion to transfer her to a beautiful residential hospice facility near her hometown.

When the decision had been made that Mom would move to hospice, my husband gently suggested that we sign up for his company’s drop-in daycare program, so that when the time came that we needed to spend long days with Mom, we would have that resource available. We agreed we’d do a “test run” this week and signed him up for today. In yet another ironic twist, Mom was transferred into the hospice facility yesterday evening, so today, the day my son went to daycare for the first time, was my first visit to her there.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized how ironically parallel the situations were: handing over both my mother and my child into the care of others for the first time in my life; entrusting them to strangers who would care for them in the short term when I could not; feeling guilt that I wasn’t taking care of them myself 100% of the time yet knowing that was an unfair demand; feeling both grief and relief at releasing them into hands other than my own. I shed a few tears as I kissed my son goodbye on his way to daycare, and I shed a few more as I kissed Mom goodbye in her new home. I didn’t want either of them to need to be there, but I’m glad there is a safe place for them to be when they need it.

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