My mom died last year after a recurrence of breast cancer. I learned a great deal as I helped to care for my mom in the last few months of her life, and as I helped to care for my Dad during this time and after her death. Mostly, I learned about the importance of acceptance, gratefulness, and the need for having at least some control over one’s life.
Once my mom knew her cancer was incurable, she accepted her fate and this allowed her to say goodbye on her terms. With acceptance, she was able to savour some last experiences, and to prepare my dad for the months ahead. I believe her acceptance helped her remain grateful for her life and her experiences, and to have hope for her future. My mom hoped for a good death, which for her meant that she remain cognitively aware for the remainder of her life. As a result, my mom made the decision to undergo Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID). I strongly believe that my mom, and our family, were able to cope much better during the last few months of my mom’s life and after her death due to this decision, because she was able to maintain control of her future and make choices.
I learned that caring for my mom also meant caring for my dad. Seemingly small things, like having a cup of coffee with him or running to the store so he would not have to, was a huge relief for both my parents. I believe that through this caring process, I became closer with my dad. I also learned how disorienting things can be when you are in an abnormal situation, such as MAID, when all around you things appear normal. For instance, my dad and I had to arrange my mom’s funeral arrangements a few days before her death. Other times, I was completely discombobulated when trying to convey to my colleagues that I could not attend a future event because I would be in mourning for my mom, even though she was still alive at that point. Most difficult of all were the complex feelings associated with small, normal actions, such as trying to sleep the night before, of picking up my children, who were not old enough to understand after their last visit with my mom, or after sending them to school on the day of her death.
I know that however long my mom might have lived had she not undergone MAID, the remainder of her life would have been horrible for her, in severe pain and having less and less control of her faculties. My mom would never complain, but we could tell she was worsening. In her last few weeks of life, she could not sleep, nor even lie down for a while and her pain increased to the point where she needed vast amounts of morphine. On her very last day, her guard slipped, and we realized that she was having difficulty seeing, and difficulty even recognizing her children. She would have lost the very things she desired most at the end of her life. Thus, while her death came too soon, MAID did allow my mom to die with the dignity she deserved. And for that, I am grateful.