How can I survive my mother's death?
February 13, 2011 2:14 PM   Subscribe

How can I survive my mother's death?

My mom, who is only 56 has been diagnosed with terminal stage 4 lung cancer. She is a life long non-smoking, healthy, organic eating female and this is a horrible shock to our family. I am 34, have no children yet and feel like my life will end when her's does. Is this normal? Has anyone else been through this at a young age? How can I endure this. She is my best friend, and the heart of our family. She has survived 10 months so far, has done radiation and is on a clinical trial drug. She seems moderately ok and is happy, so I don't know if it that is good, or if it's going to turn tomorrow and we are going to lose her. I don't know anything. I just need to hear people's experiences, and I need hope that I can get through this.

Thank you.
posted by thelastgirl to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry.

I lost my father to melanoma last fall, and while I was not as close to him as it sounds like you are to your mother, it was a big shock to the system and is not an easy thing to get past. The thing is, it's a natural part of life to lose your parents. You may be losing your mother earlier than you were expecting to, and that is undoubtedly a tragedy, but you will get through it. Look at this as a gift, in a way: right now you can treasure every day, far beyond what you would think to in the absence of this diagnosis. You have time left with her. Make the most of it.

Looking back I would not trade those last months with my father for anything. We had conversations we should have had years ago, and I was aware every day of what his presence meant to me. You have a chance right now to build memories that will last you for the rest of your life. Don't miss out on them by worrying about how you will deal with the future. The future may be hard, but when it comes you'll deal with it then, put one foot in front of the other, and come out the other side.
posted by something something at 2:25 PM on February 13, 2011 [5 favorites]

I am so sorry about your mother's illness and wish her a good response on the clinical trial.

Losing a parent is a really hard passage in life. I lost my mum when I was 12 and my dad when I was 46 and both were difficult passages. Let me recommend the book How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies by Therese Rando.

If your mother chooses at some point to receive hospice services, those providers often also provide support for family members.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:31 PM on February 13, 2011

I haven't lost my mother yet, though I did lose my father and my grandparents, who were like parents to me, and been with my mother as she's battled cancer, too. Something that I think might help is to know that we all go through this, facing the loss of our parents. People have lost their parents at younger ages than you have, and with less time to prepare. That's not to minimize your loss--it's just to tell you that you are not alone.

She seems moderately ok and is happy, so I don't know if it that is good, or if it's going to turn tomorrow and we are going to lose her.

Your mother is happy. I don't know if you're religious, but that's the kind of thing I'd take as a blessing, or at the very least fortuitous. She's happy. Even if she takes a turn for the worse--even if she's hit by a bus tomorrow, right now she's alive and joyful.

Something that helped when my mother recently faced another round of surgery for her cancer was to talk to her, openly and honestly, about my fears over losing her. I was so scared to burden her with my emotions. I was so afraid to seem like a Debbie Downer.

But I'm so, so glad I did. We were able to talk about grief, about the afterlife. And she shared with me how her diagnosis has changed the way she views the every day, valuing the moments she lives rather than focusing the loss of future life--which may sound trite. She also shared with me her feelings about death and how, though she's not sure what happens when we die, she's comforted by the thought that her parents before her went through this, and my father, and many other people she loved, too. Rather than feeling that we're all alone in death, she prefers to look at it as a great universal truth.

I was comforted by that, and by my mother's tremendous strength. Perhaps you should take this time to talk to your mother, too, openly and honestly. To share your feelings about death and your fears. I think you'll be surprised to feel that you don't need to be isolated from her because you're afraid. She's your mom. She'll understand.

You'll get through this. You will. It will be hard and lonely and scary but you will, one day at a time.

My thoughts are with you and your family right now.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:33 PM on February 13, 2011 [15 favorites]

First, I'm very sorry.

As you have already discovered, while "terminal" frequently indicates a short remaining window of time, this is not always the case. Try not to think of her as nearly gone; she is, right now, as much here as she ever was, as much ever your mother as she has been. That will change, unfortunately, one day, but that day isn't today.

I, at 32, lost a parent at 18 and have been friends with a few cancer patients, some recovered, some not and now missed. I try to be guided by them and not to wonder about their hidden feelings. When they say or seem happy, I trust that they are feeling all right, or at least well enough that they are willing to seem so. One of the many shitty things about cancer is that when they're not ok, it will be very difficult to pretend otherwise. So take your mother at her implied word that she is feeling ok and happy currently.

You can get through this. The pain is different for everyone and with every loss, so I won't pretend to be able to tell you what it will feel like. But I do know that it is bearable, even though it will sometimes feel completely unmanageable. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you're feeling, to laugh or cry or be numb. Trust yourself to know your own healing process. No one can or should tell you what you're supposed to be feeling. You will break down one day and feel completely fine the next; both of those are perfectly acceptable. You will not betray your mother's condition by feeling happy; you will not betray her strength and struggle by weeping uncontrollably.

If there is a Gilda's Club near you, you may find them to be a welcome resource. They offer groups and counsel for cancer patients and families/friends alike, and friends of mine have high regard for their services.

It's hard, very very hard. But you can survive this, and I believe that you will.
posted by Errant at 2:36 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I am so sorry that you, your mother, and your family is going through this.

My mom was diagnosed with advanced-stage ovarian cancer at age 52, when I was 24. She died almost two years later. I don't want to rehash the whole tale, but I would stress that you will get through this. You will find the strength inside you, and you will find support from your friends and family, but not always from the expected ones.

It is important that you, your mom, and your family prepare for her death. Yes, that is painful to face, but it will really help everyone enormously in the grieving process. Talk about happy memories, travel as much as possible to places that are meaningful to everyone, get family members together at the hospital or home or hospice. In short, be ready for death. To pretend that it's not going to happen, to be in denial, is a mistake (and one that my family made).

Please Mefi-mail me, if you want to talk more.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 2:39 PM on February 13, 2011

I lost my mother in December and I'm 39. We were very close. Her illness and death was very rapid (2 weeks from onset to her passing). I wish that I had had more time to talk to her as she was not conscious for the most part. So cherish the time you have with her and make the most of it.

Just the thought of losing my mother used to bring me to tears. But having lived through it, I found I'm stronger than I thought. You will survive it. It hurts, there are lots of tears, you'll miss her terribly, you'll go to call her and then realize you can't time and time again, but you'll survive. I can still laugh and have fun without feeling guilty. I didn't descend into depression. I found the courage to speak at her celebration of life. I "talk" to her often and smile when something funny reminds me of her. Life goes on. Just like she'd want for you and I know my mother wanted for me.
posted by cecic at 2:40 PM on February 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

My mother passed away in 2004 when I was 25. I had no children at the time and still don't. My mother was my best friend. I talked to her everyday at least twice. I still have trouble accepting that I can't talk to her at some point everyday.

Her death was sudden, so I don't know if it will be the same experience for you.

Everyday I miss her. I won't say it gets easier with time because it doesn't. But everyone is remarkably resilient. I have survived. I live a life that I wish I could share with her.

I still find joy in the littlest things and on occasion I remember something about her that breaks my heart and makes me smile and laugh at the same time.

The grief I feel is so powerful sometimes, but I know that it hurts because I live and I know what love and good things feel like. I know she would have wanted me to be happy, and while I struggle with it sometimes, that's what I try to do.

I am very sorry that your mother is sick. I hope the clinical trial goes well. But whatever happens, hold the love that she gives you close to your heart and then go out and share it with others. That part is what makes everything bearable.
posted by MsLgean at 2:52 PM on February 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

My mom died about six weeks before my 30th birthday; my dad had died about six months before.

It's the hardest thing I've been through. One of the things that made it difficult was that very very few of my friends had lost a parent at that point, and since I don't have any siblings, I felt very isolated. I had a sort of...existential depression, I guess, where I got kind of freaked out that there was no one left in the world except me who remembered my childhood, and of course, there's a lot of it I really don't have clear memories of anymore. There's no one left to ask.

Some of your friends and family members may say stupid things. Feel free to ignore the stupid things, and try to remember that they're trying to be kind, and just don't know what to say. You may make surprising connections with people you hadn't been close to before, because now you're both members of the Dead Moms club; it's good to be around people you don't have to explain things to, and who are less prone to saying dumb things out of ignorance.

This is a survivable thing. You will find yourself doing things that are harder than anything else you've done, but you'll just do them because they have to be done. Let yourself feel what you feel when you feel it; if a little voice tells you that you "should" feel some other way, tell it to STFU and go away.

It will be fifteen years in April. I still miss her every day. She's always with me. It's not as hard anymore. I have a wonderful, wonderful life that I wish she could share in - she's missed the whole part where I finally got my shit together! - but I still talk to her in my head, and imagine her being able to look down from the Great Library in the Sky to see what I'm doing.

You're in my thoughts. Feel free to memail me if you want to.
posted by rtha at 2:55 PM on February 13, 2011 [14 favorites]

I agree with cecic: Just the thought of losing my mother used to bring me to tears. But having lived through it, I found I'm stronger than I thought.

It's hard but there's not much choice but to go through it when it happens. I never imagined that I would be able to do that but I did. And you will too.

The suggestion to have a frank discussion with her is a good one, if you're able. A hospice nurse told me that my Mom needed to know that I'd be ok without her and I waited too long to tell her, but I did near the end. She was almost comatose by that point but somehow hugged me strongly and we had a moment I'll never forget.

My thoughts are with you and your Mom.
posted by nelvana at 3:28 PM on February 13, 2011

I lost my mom when she was 45 and I was 26, from pancreatic cancer. She lived seven months from her terminal diagnosis, and the end was tough.

But it was all tough. One of my cousins took me aside one day and in tears said "I don't know how you're doing this. You must be so strong." What I replied was that of course if someone told you had to do it, you wouldn't think you could. You do it because you wake up every day and that's the life you're living and you want each day to be the best it can be.

rtha's post really struck home with me - everything rtha says read twice. People will say stupid things. You will make surprising connections with people who understand your loss. You will survive this, and you will be surprised at how you've become richer with understanding on the other side of it. You may surprise yourself in other ways - be as patient with yourself as you are with everyone else, because you'll need that patience. Like rtha says (again) - if you feel you're not grieving or behaving as you "should", tell yourself there is no "should" - you feel how you feel and that's all.

Say the things to your mom that you feel you need to say. My mom was worried about me while I worried about her, and we had some good conversations. She told me again the story of my birth and afterward I wrote it all down as quickly as I could in the words she used, so I would have it forever. We took each day as it came and we were as happy as we could be with those days because we knew the time was precious - now that four years have passed, I don't see it as quite the hard time I did right after her death. I see it as an enormous blessing that I could spend seven months of my adult life with my mom like that. What a gift to have had that time with her. It took me awhile to get there though. I was angry for a long time, about all of it, and without any place to direct that anger it took me awhile to process it in a way that was ultimately useful to me.

You can get through this, and it will strengthen you, not weaken you. Just try to face each day with love, and love yourself while you're loving your mama and your family, and know that all of us in the Club (TM rtha) are thinking of you and sending you our love too.
posted by annathea at 4:20 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

You will get through this. It will be hard, it will be painful, it will physically hurt at times. It will scar you, but it will not break you.

My mom died when I was 10 - exactly 20 years, 3 days ago. I cannot believe it's been 20 years. Two whole decades. In a weird, horrifically twisted way, there are gifts to be gained from such losses. You realize that life is incredibly fragile and short. You learn to not let the small, petty things get to you, in current and future relationships in your life. You learn that above all, happiness really does matter most. You learn to appreciate the little joys. And you learn to really not give a crap about all the other stuff and drama. Man, is that all ever a waste of time and energy.

It seems impossible to think about these things in such a time of grief and pain, but somewhere along the way, these little lessons sink in and affect you positively. I still miss my mom every single day. I still wonder what kind of person I'd be, had she not gotten Melanoma and passed away. But there will always be experiences and blessings that your mom - both Healthy Mom and Sick Mom - will give you. Time is incredibly precious. It is a gift to learn this, even though tragedy (strangely, tragedies are when we usually when we learn this). And you will get through this.

Hope Edelman has put out a series of books - Motherless Daughters and Letters from Motherless Daughters. The former has especially helped me in times of immeasurable pain, and letting me know that I'm not alone (and you are not alone). There are many anecdotes from women who have dealt with the loss of their moms - through different ways, from different ages, and different family dynamics -- all incredibly relatable and comforting.

I wish you, your mom, and everyone around her, peace.
posted by raztaj at 4:25 PM on February 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I had a big, longwinded answer for you that I accidentally erased, so here's a shortened version....

You're at the scariest stage now. If it gets worse, it'll be painful -but that's just part of the natural flow of life and you'll be surprised how well you'll handle it. Our popular culture harps on so much about the importance of positive thinking in cancer outcomes that we feel like we're "giving up" when we accept that death is near.

It'll be heartbreaking but not as scary as it seems now. You will re-assemble your life,..then you'll get caught up in daily pleasures and eventually give yourself permission to move past the pain and live with the good memories, instead of just the loss of your mother.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:26 PM on February 13, 2011

How you survive is that you get up every day and continue your life. You cannot imagine a life without her, and adapting to life without her will be difficult and painful. But it is something you can do. Every day, there's a shock as you remember "Mom Died." Then you realize that you've integrated the knowledge into your consciousness, and that shock no longer occurs. That happens, over and over, as you get through the 1st birthday without her and the 1st holidays.

I recommend reading about the stages of death, as described by Dr. Kubler-Ross - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance - because they also describe stages of grieving.

I am lucky that when a family member died recently, we had the chance to say goodbye. He was able to die at home, not in pain, with his family caring for him. I miss him terribly, but it helps to have sat with him and held his hand. Talk to your Mom. Let her take the lead, but let her know she can talk to you about her feelings. It sounds like you have a great relationship. It's something to be grateful for, to thank her for, and it will be a comfort to you.

I'm sorry your Mon and you have to go through this. Lung cancer kills a lot of non-smokers. Fuck cancer.
posted by theora55 at 4:37 PM on February 13, 2011

My mom and I were best friends. When I found out she was dying I about lost my mind. Honestly, one thing that helped me endure the 6 weeks to her death was booze. The pain was so bad, especially first thing in the morning, when, every day, I had to get used to the idea all over again.

We did one of the first home hospice programs in this area so my family took shifts in taking care of her which was very hard to do especially as her time grew shorter. None of us knew what we were doing. We just tried to keep her as comfortable as possible, give her her meds on time, etc.

As soon as I got off "duty" I would make myself a pitcher of Manhattan's, try to relax, look at old photo's, sleep a little, then back on duty.

That was 25 years ago last month and I still don't like to talk about it. Ironically, feelings were so high that we (my 2 brothers, my husband and sister in law) had terrible fights. One of my brothers still is very angry and has not spoken to our other brother and his wife since that time and says he never will again.

I don't recommend the booze for everyone but it helped me get through a terrible period.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 4:45 PM on February 13, 2011

1- You will survive it. It will feel horrible. Dealing with death is the tragic price of life.

2- Spend time with her. Not "worried about the future" time, just do stuff. Let her talk about her worries and fear. If it comes up, ask her about her parents. Give her the chance to "mother" you and fuss over you, if that's her way.

3- If you have booze/drug issues, stay away. If you don't, they can be helpful if used in moderation.

4- Don't feel bad or guilty for any feelings you have. When my grandfather died a few years ago, I felt sorry for myself, but I felt happy for him- his last months were horrific and I was glad he was finally free. And then I felt bad for thinking that. How can I be happy he is gone? How sick is that? Don't beat yourself up.

5- When it comes time to return to "normal" life, go easy on yourself. If you have to put on a brave face during the day, give yourself time to let it all out at night. The more you let out, the better you will feel.

6- Yes, fuck cancer.
posted by gjc at 5:16 PM on February 13, 2011

I'm sorry for the situation in you. Please remember, that though it seems impossible now, you will eventually get through this, and your life will go.

I lost my father very suddenly when I was 24, 9 years ago. The one silver lining you have is that you are aware of your mothers illness. Since this is the case, spend as much time as you can just doing whatever it is you "normally" do. You'll really treasure this time with her, and it will make it easier for you to get through this. It will make things easier for her too.

The one actual piece of advice I can give that really helped me get through my fathers death, especially right after, is to stay busy. The more you keep yourself occupied, the less time you'll have to drive yourself crazy feeling bad. I made sure my schedule was constantly filled, whether it was working overtime or indulging in hobbies. Good luck, you will make it out the other side, and you will end up OK.
posted by EvilPRGuy at 5:23 PM on February 13, 2011

Caution incoming anecdote

I had a close relative die incredibly suddenly of cancer. Literally from "Oh by the way you have cancer lol" to "We are gathered here today to commemorate the passing of" in about ten days. It was surreal. I almost didn't have time to process it, but of course in the end you always have to. What made it easier, to the point I almost enjoyed it (can you say that about a death?) is that I just focused on all the times that person had made me laugh and so I spent that time thinking about funny story after funny story. The minister at the funeral even incorporated their character into the funeral and there was one moment when they described the person as providing an example of "sometimes less than quiet determination" and though we all had tears in our eyes we were laughing, giggling at a funeral cause we knew that damnit that was our man... Don't focus on your loss when they die, but instead think of the event as the final chapter in how awesome they made your life. Everything is rounded up, finished off and now you know just what they did with their life, how they inspired you and everyone else to make their life better. In short, take the positive from it, and be a better person for it.
posted by dougrayrankin at 5:32 PM on February 13, 2011

My Mom was 56 and I was 34 when she died. I am now 68. I miss her more than I can say. It breaks my heart she never knew her granddaughter. I burst into tears when I read something like your post. I can't believe that I've lived longer than she did.

But I have lived. And not just lived, but had a life full of joy and love and laughter. And more pain, too, as my father died and my brother became a quadriplegic and then died and my first husband left me with 2 tiny kids. Pretty much like everybody's else story, with different details.

You will get through this. It will sometimes hurt more than you think you can bear, but then it will hurt less for awhile, and then another blow to the heart. The pain will get less and less, and after awhile -- years, in my case -- it becomes mixed more and more with love, and gratitude that I can still remember her and miss her, and had her in my life.

What helped me through, after the first few years of vivid pain, was my mother's favorite saying, "Life's a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death." (from Auntie Mame) I knew she would be pleased most when I was living life full out. And I knew that if I had died first, I would have been appalled to look over from The Other Side to see her broken by my loss. So I've done my best to feel abundance rather than just loss when I think of her.

As everybody above has said: You will get through this. Life won't give you a choice. And it won't be the scary Unknown, it will be what it is. Be as happy as you can with her now. Your instinct is absolutely right -- one day you will turn around and she will be gone. But until then love her, and after then, keep loving her and cry as much as you need to.

Odd to say, since I don't know you, but I send you my love.
posted by kestralwing at 5:36 PM on February 13, 2011 [15 favorites]

If you are a person who puts a lot of meaning into objects and perhaps even if you're not, you may want to make tangible memories of your mom. What I mean is, make a recording of her telling you stories of your childhood, take a photo of her enjoying herself, have her write down things she wants you to know about in twenty years when she's not there, etc. Have something you can focus on while grieving and perhaps even pass on to your children to show them what their grandmother was like.

I lost my grandmother in December, and the one thing I would pay any amount of money for right now is the recording that I made as a child of her telling me about her childhood and the extended family. To hear her voice would mean so much--ultimately, I wish I had something to prove to myself that she was really here because now she's gone.
posted by librarylis at 5:45 PM on February 13, 2011

My mom died when I was 35 and she was 58. I don't have time to write something that makes a whole lot of sense so here's some random thoughts in bullet points:
--Hospice is great. The nurses will answer all kinds of questions from technical to philosophical.
--It is kind of a gift to know about how much time you have left with someone (every day I see a list of people in our county who have died--many are people who had their whole life ahead of them but died suddenly in a car accident/of a heart attack/of a brain aneurysm/etc.). Of the people I know who have died, knowing ahead of time just seems to be better than a random call in the night saying that someone has passed unexpectedly.
--It was weird going to my mom's house after she died because she wasn't there like she should have been.
--Every day for I don't know how many weeks I would reach for the phone to call my mom just because I had always called her every day.
--A decade later I still occassionally see/do/think something that I want to tell my mom about. So I just say it out loud and hope she hears it.
--I used to call her cell phone after she passed just to hear her voice. It took a while to delete her number from my cell phone.
--Depending on the situation, if there is something of hers that you want, get it before she passes. After my mom died, her husband took everything and didn't leave her three kids even a picture.
--When the end was getting close I told my mom to send me a signal that she made it to the other side OK after she died. She said she didn't believe in that crap. About a week after she passed, I was walking up the stairs in my home and smelled the overwhelming scent of the perfume she always wore. Just as suddenly it was gone. I took it as a good sign.
--A room full of flowers still gives me the shudders. Many of her friends sent flowers to the point that the room her hospital bed was in looked like a florist shop.
--I was really happy to see her old friends drop by, even to chat for a few minutes. One of her friends always stopped by to paint her nails which I thought was so sweet. Some of her friends at her funeral told me that they just couldn't see her near the end because it was too hard. I understand and didn't think less of them for it, each person grieves in their own way.
--Your grief will probably go in waves. Some days you will be so sad you won't want to get out of bed, some days you will be fine and think about all of your good memories with her. The more time that has passed, the more the latter happens. Holidays are hard.
Sorry you are going through this. I hope ypu have a good support system. Of course you always have us here at AskMefi. {{{{hugs}}}}
posted by MsKim at 6:01 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I lost my father last year, at 33, and I know what you're going through is very difficult now. It's going to get a lot worse, and I wish there was an easier way to say that. I still have difficulty talking about it, and the most random things make me incredibly sad. There is so much that I wanted to say, but never got the chance. Take the chance now to do as much of it as you can.

Since my father passed away, one of the hardest things for me has been my natural reaction to see or hear about something that would have interested him, and to want to tell him about it. I still have urges to call him sometimes, which are always followed my realizing that I can't call. There are times when I wish I could ask him questions, and since I know I can't, instead, I ask other members of my family, or other people close to me. One thing that kept me sane when we lost my dad was knowing that I needed to be strong for my sister and the rest of my family. Being there for them, in its own way, helped me to accept what had happened.

But here's the answer to your question: You will survive. You will learn to accept it, and you will, in the long run, be okay. You are stronger than you know, than you believe. You will always miss her, and will often think of her when you're in need of her help, or want to know what she would say. In those times, think about what she would say, think about what she would have wanted you to do, and then make up your own mind, having accepted her advice or not. You will get through this.
posted by Ghidorah at 6:06 PM on February 13, 2011

I lost my mother to cancer in 2003. She was 68. She was my best friend. Her mother was still alive. I always thought she would live at least as long as her mother. My Dad couldn't deal. He died of cancer 11 months later. 11 months after that I lost a son. My grandmother still lived on. She died last year at the age of 96. I often think how difficult it must have been for her. I really can't add too much to what everyone else has already said. It's always good to know you are not alone and all of us are thinking of you and wishing you the best. But, the best advice is to be with her while you can.
posted by wv kay in ga at 6:26 PM on February 13, 2011

I'm so sorry.

I lost my mother suddenly when I was 35 and my father more slowly when I was 37 (a little under four years ago).

All I can say is that you get through, and time makes it better. I kind of had to learn to live with pain, and to let go of that pain, too.

Both times I started numb (even though I expected my father's death, I witnessed it and it was about as real as things come, it still shocked me). Then it really really really hurt all the time and losing them was almost all I thought about and I couldn't imagine it would ever stop hurting.

I am now at the point where I can think about either of them with deep love but with just a twinge of loss. I can even imagine letting go of that twinge.

Sharing the loss and the memories with people who loved your parent helps. I actually found it especially sweet to touch base with people who loved my parents in contexts that didn't include me. I was still trying to sort out how to be with each of my parents as a fellow adult, instead of principally in a parent-child relationship, and I was still learning who each of them really was apart from that parent role, when I lost each of them. So it was oddly healing to get to know some of my parents' grieving peers, who were able to help me paint a more detailed picture of my parents as people.

Also, if you get stuck, therapy helps.
posted by gingerest at 6:43 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Say the things to your mom that you feel you need to say.

I agree with this, and also, audio or videotape as much as you can of the conversations you have with your mom. It may be years (if ever) before you can listen to this stuff, but it will be invaluable to your kids (if you have them). Capture every bit that you can. You will want to memorialize your mother in the future, so start now.

That may sound kind of cold, so let me just say I am SO sorry you are going through this.
posted by torticat at 7:40 PM on February 13, 2011

I am so sorry that you and your family are facing this. While you can, talk to your mom about anything and everything. To help you remember some of the important things or the stories about your childhood or her childhood, invest in a small recorder and record what she tells you in her own words. You will have them forever and this may provide some comfort to you and you will have it to pass on to your own children.
posted by Flacka at 7:47 PM on February 13, 2011

We are *suppose* to loose our parents, as the natural pace of life. You, and your family, will survive this, as every other family has since time began. Spend the time you have the best you can.
posted by kjs3 at 8:11 PM on February 13, 2011

Nthing Say the things to your mom that you feel you need to say, but don't drive yourself crazy thinking that every interaction you have with her has to be one marked by deep and meaningful exchanges.

A dear friend -- my only ex-SO who was in that category -- died of brain cancer on Christmas Day at the age of 50. The last five months of his life, I went to see him (he was two hours away) about every week. It took me a while to understand that he was just happy I was there, scratching his head, rubbing his feet, getting him a soda, talking about the state elections or our favorite kind of pie or whatever dumb TV show we were watching.

There were conversations we had during my visits that I'll remember forever. But I had to drop my own belief (fed by movies and books and my own tendencies toward grandiosity, I suppose) that the only suitable conversation in such a situation was one full of priceless insights. If we hadn't been able to talk to each other about what seemed silly, we wouldn't have been able to talk to each other about what was sad and what was important. She's your mom, you love each other, and whatever you say will be the right thing. I have no doubts about this.

Also: I read this and this around the time of David's death, and I wish I had known about them sooner.

Also: I am sorry, and please know that you and your family will be in my thoughts.
posted by virago at 9:34 PM on February 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was 16 when my mom died. My mom never met my wife, or my son. My son will never meet his biological grandmother. It hurts. It never stops hurting. But it does get better. I've lived more than half my life so far without her, but she is always with me. She and my dad made me the person I am now. I see her in my son's face, in my aunt's smile, in my sister and my brothers, and in their kids, in my own dark sense of humor, in the silly songs I sing to my son and the bittersweet realization that my mom used to sing to me the same way.

She will leave you, but she will never truly be gone. You have a duty to her to live the life she would want you to live. You have the right to grieve and you should. But you cannot let your grief consume you, because she would not want that for you. She raised you better than that, didn't she? Live to make her proud, and say "thanks mom" when you realize you are using the gifts she gave you in life.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:10 AM on February 14, 2011

Adopt a one day at a time philosophy.

You may not think you are strong enough and wise enough to survive [or thrive] a year or five years from now but you are strong enough and wise enough to get through today and tonight.

May God bless and protect you and your mother! We will all be thinking and hoping for you both!
posted by AuntieRuth at 9:05 AM on February 14, 2011

Response by poster: I can't tell you all what your responses to my question mean to me. I spent the afternoon crying my eyes out, feeling not so disconnected. Thank you so much. I have taken all of your words to heart. Thank you for taking the time to answer me. What an incredible place this is, I am sorry I didn't know about it sooner.
posted by thelastgirl at 10:16 PM on February 14, 2011

I'm late answering this because my mom's in hospice now, and it seemed waiting a day or two might put me in a better place towards answering your question. But nope.

I lost my dad from eighteen months with leukemia when I was a bit younger than you, and I'm a bit older than you and am losing my mom now (the next time the phone rings is highly suspect) from stage four metastatic cecal cancer now in her lungs, adrenals, liver, and brain.

Here's things I've found important I haven't heard others in this thread say yet:

--Take short breaks. Allow yourself time off. A nice dinner with a friend. You're allowed.

--Your mom has a huge support staff. Who is your support staff? A confidant you can tell things to, simply to lighten your load, is useful. Hopefully they've been through this and can mostly just be there to listen.

--Watch your health. Remember to eat: well, regularly, and hydrate. I just spent a day in the hospital because I forgot nutrition while taking care of mom and mom's stuff. You're using more calories than you think, your metabolism is running in the red, and you're not getting the exercise you usually do.

--One of the weirdest things is that when it's all said and done, the dying person goes away and it's ***you*** who have to live with it. Recognize for yourself that a lot of what's going on (beyond medicine and comfort for the dying) ends up being on, and being for, you.

--The process of death and dying marks the survivors. You'll find friends and strangers who have been through a similar experience to yours, and you'll just nod at each other with understanding. It's like sex, in that you can't explain it to others, but those who have experienced it don't need to go into detail.

-- In the future you'll find yourself able to give incredible amounts of assistance to someone going through what you are now experiencing simply by beginning, "I've been through this. How can I help?"

--Some folks will say, or do, the wrong thing. Insensitive. Bad timing. Volunteering, or asking for, inappropriate things. Or they may just freak out and become incommunicative. Don't worry about this too much. It wasn't intentional. Pass it on to your confidant ("I can't believe [so and so] just [said|did] this...") and forget about it.

Great things people have already said in this thread:
--Hospice people are amazing.

--You will survive this. Take both meanings: You *will* survive this. *You* will survive this.

--We are keeping you in our thoughts. So are your family and friends.

...and remember to hydrate.
posted by lothar at 11:11 AM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mom died yesterday. It has been one month since my previous post on this thread. I stand by my comments above.

My mom is dead. That makes me sad. But it's a lot better than the previous three months for her, for me, and for the whole family.

...and remember to hydrate.
posted by lothar at 12:46 PM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My mom died of cancer when I was 26... Weirdly, at the time, it seemed like everyone was going through it- I had just started a new job and about 8 people at work had an ill parent, or had lost a parent recently- or were older but had gone through the same thing at my age. My best friend's mom died a year before mine as well.... So I've never felt alone with the circumstance... you'll be surprised in time how many people you'll meet that know your pain.

"Motherless Daughters" is a great book... aimed at chicks up to the mid-twenties, but I still thumb through it once in a while.

I have to say, it seemed really scary to live without someone so important... and I was pretty crazy for a couple of years after- but now 4 years on everything turned out fine. I'm not jealous of other girls with mothers anymore... I only cry a few times a year...

It will be okay!
posted by misspony at 11:56 AM on November 4, 2011

Just thought I'd chime in and say that I'm in the same position right now as thelastgirl was, and I've found these comments really helpful and encouraging. I hope others will, too. Thanks everybody.
posted by phaedrus441 at 8:01 PM on January 19, 2012

I'm so sorry, phaedrus441. Hang in there. Memail if you want.
posted by rtha at 6:07 AM on January 20, 2012

Response by poster: To Lothar, so sorry I am so late to read your answer. I am sorry about your mom. This thread is unbelievably helpful and I think would be helpful to others like Phaedrus (please email me anytime, I also sent you a private message). My mom, unbelievably is still here with us. We are grateful for every extra day with her and live one day at a time.

Love to you all :)
posted by thelastgirl at 9:36 PM on February 6, 2012

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