This is a column I wrote as editor of The Cordova Beacon community newspaper. It ran March 24, 2005, just before Easter and was awarded first place by the Tennessee Press Association for column writing. The Terri Schiavo debate was raging at this time. She would die one week later, on March 31. For those who don’t remember, Schiavo was a 41-year-old brain-damaged woman on life support whose fate became a national “right to die” controversy. Although I didn’t comment on that situation, it lends historic background to the context in which this piece was written and published.
Mom’s living room
By John Fee
The Cordova Beacon
I’ll never forget sitting in my mother’s front room during the last spring of her life.
A social worker from a hospice care organization sat in one of the comfortable guest chairs that my mother had furnished the room with years before. I sat beside the piano that I played for hours at a time when I was a teenager.
The room was illuminated by light filtered through the leaves of an ancient oak tree just beyond the wraparound front porch. It was a comfortable light, bright enough to read the small stack of informational pamphlets from hospice, along with papers I was deciding whether to sign.
It was hard to take in all the information.
Sheer fabric curtains offered some privacy even though the heavy drapes were pulled back.
In the days and weeks prior to this visit, my wife Vickie and I, along with my mother’s sister Mary Catherine and her sister-in-law Sue, had spoken many times with the medical team that was treating the cancer that was ravaging my mother, Dorothy.
We previously had great hopes that my mother would be cured of the cancer this time, as we thought she had in previous battles. However, her oncologist delivered news that we didn’t want to hear.
He said he had tried every treatment available to cure her, and nothing had worked.
The skilled surgeon who had saved her life two years before had to tell my mother that there was no option for surgery that would help her continue her battle against this disease.
Her general practitioner, who was also her cousin, could only offer medicine to ease the pain.
There was little to prepare the mind and soul for this new reality, even though it was no surprise.
Having fought cancer more than once, and having dealt with other serious medical problems, my mother and I had discussed many times the issues of life and death. She had signed a document giving me power of attorney, in the event she became unable to make or voice decisions for herself.
Discussions we’d had about our Catholic faith and beliefs, and Mom’s wishes, were in the forefront of my mind as I talked with the social worker about my mother’s future.
The cancer had finally invaded my mother’s bones. My understanding of the result was that the cancer had pulled potassium from my mother’s bones and elevated the levels in her blood. In the course of a weekend, she went from being able to walk and talk, to becoming bedridden and unable to speak or even put together her own thoughts.
In a matter of 48 hours, I moved from being my mother’s support and confidant to her voice and decision maker.
Activity in the background was a pleasant distraction from the conversation about my mother’s short future. There’s something comforting about the noise of life, even at such a time.
We had brought my mother home from a final week or so stay at the hospital. There was little to be done for her there, and she was more comfortable in her own home. The insurance company had arranged for all the medical equipment and supplies needed for her care. My mom’s two sisters, along with Vickie and I, tended to mom and took turns sitting with her through the night, so she was never alone.
Hospice nurses, who were ministering angels, came by each day to help bathe Mom and take care of anything else she needed.
One question remained. Would my mother want to continue treatments that would prolong her life for weeks or, at most, months of suffering? Or, would she want to stop treatment, except for pain relief, and let nature take its course?
The only hope left was for a miracle.
A miracle did not save her life to continue the daily struggles we all face. Instead, she passed from this life a short time later to live a new life, constantly experiencing the miracle of the resurrection we celebrate at Easter.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade–kept in heaven for you…” 1 Peter 1:2-3 (New International Version).