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In the Shadow of Death

There are just some things in life that one cannot prepare for. I have found recently that death is one of those things. And this is a significant struggle for me, since I am the queen of preparation.

When we realized that we would lose Mom to her cancer sooner rather than later I stepped into the most comfortable zone I knew: researcher-extraordinaire with a touch of emotional discernment thrown in to round off the icy edges. Not many people I know like to be caught with their life plans all in a shambles and their emotions laid bare.  

Since then I have tried to prepare for my mother’s passing, the most inevitable of current events, to no avail.

I have recycled the books and educational videos on fighting her cancer – ones she never wanted to read anyway – and made room for pamphlets and instructional manuals on death and dying.

I have attended “End of Life” conferences, consumed a few books on losing one’s parent and read interesting articles on the topic of medical futility – a term we as a culture are plainly struggling to become familiar with.

I have listened - and Facebook-shared - thought-provoking radio pieces on compassion, end-of-life choices and caring for elderly parents.

I have bent the ear, and cried on the shoulder of, supportive friends, family and the odd therapist, wondering the entire time if they would ever again ask me, “How is your Mom?”

I have stood by as others lost an elderly parent to cancer and voyeuristically hung on every reported detail of their ordeal in the vain hope that I might be better prepared to face my own mother’s passing.

I have prayed to God, spent time in His word, left it up to Him, taken it back from Him, and tried to climb into His shoes on more than one occasion in the last eleven months. Thankfully, I still have my faith, which in and of itself is a testament to His patience.

I have had countless conversations with my Mother – most of them in my mind, but bravely a few in person – about her death, her wishes, her needs, her comfort and her peace.

I have purchased clothes for her to wear at her funeral and then had to buy new ones when she lost even more weight instead of dying like we all thought she would. Likewise I have mentally perused my seasonal-wardrobe for what I would wear to her funeral, only to realize we are now in yet another season.

I have felt my mood lift as I thought she was at peace, that I was a good daughter and she a good mother; only to feel it plummeting a week later as self-doubt about my role, and yes, hers returned. The mind speaks and says, “You can do this. You are doing this.” Yet the heart cries and says, “I am scared. I am hurt. I need. I need. I need.”

But still I feel wholly unprepared to face what I have been anticipating since last winter. The loss of a woman who gave birth to me, who mothered me as best she knew, who simultaneously hurt me and helped me, who suffers so but doesn’t seem to want to go.

How much worse can her suffering get? How much more weight can she lose? How many more seconds can she go without taking in a breath? How many more “re-certifications” will Hospice have to give? How many more times will I think, “I am good, I can do this,” only to realize, “God, I am scared, I cannot do this.”