At some point the IV therapy begins to be more for the family than the patient. We reached that point yesterday, the point where miracles are more likely to help than medicine.
The doctors got there first. As soon as the oncologist said the cancer had spread and the hepatologist said the kidneys had failed, the hospital doctor asked if wanted to change the status of the orders.
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but then I realized she wanted to quit treating her at all. We weren’t ready for that. We were still in shock about how we got there in the first place.
Mom, who had kidney cancer removed two years ago had been told a month earlier she was doing great. But she got there next. She began to refuse treatment, and tell friends from Florida who called that she would not be coming home.
Three days earlier she was sitting on my porch with a cup of tea. But over the next few hours it began to make sense. After a great day of taking care of business, now she was exhausted. And so were we.
We asked about hospice and met with the case manager. And we decided to wait one more day, until today, not because we had more hope but because we had more plans.
My married children were driving in, from Kansas and Maryland, bring the two great grandkids, one of whom mom had never seen. My sister’s oldest son was coming, and so was Tracy, one of her caregivers. What was another day of antibiotics set against the chance of one more reunion? Or one more blessing.
But yesterday we said yes to hospice and told mom she was going to my house. All night she woke in fits and starts, telling us she was in the wrong room. And then an ambulance came to the hospital to move her to our house, far from her beautiful home on the bay.
My sister Toy couldn’t bear to watch as they removed her IV, and her daughter Krista hugged her as they stared out the window, across the green treetops toward the east. They left with the ambulance and I stayed in an empty hospital room, one that had in five short days filled with possibility and pain.
As I checked in the drawers and under the bed, I thought of Emily Dickinson’s poem about the bustle in the house the morning after death:
The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
We aren’t there yet, not quite to the formal feeling Dickinson, in another poem, says comes after great pain. But letting go is a process, not an act.
I signed some papers and went by the pharmacy to pick up the pain medicines we will give her ourselves over the next few days. My sister and I, and our spouses, sat on the front porch and listened as Janice from hospice talked about things that didn’t seem to matter anymore.
“Hospice is about comfort, not cure,” she said.
We got that. I’m not sure we understood it. But we got it. We set her bed in the living room, beside the window where she might catch a glimpse of deer across the field.
And the family continues to gather, eighteen by midnight tonight, learning about waiting. And watching. And letting go.