May 7, 2008

Another Side of Motherhood

2008 1513 page24 capE WERE PICKING ROSE HIPS TO dry for tea—my 83-year-old mother and I. It was a gorgeous autumn day in Beauvallon, Alberta, with leaves turning from green to bright red and yellow.
After my father died, Mother and I stayed on the farm together doing heavy manual work—making hay, milking and feeding the cows, tending a large garden. We shared lots of joy and fellowship, along with hardships and sorrows. We were close friends.
All at once Mother said, “Vicki, something is terribly wrong. Please take me home.”
We got in the car quickly. She was bleeding profusely, and I rushed her to the nearest hospital, afraid she would be diagnosed with colon cancer. Having just recovered from my own surgery for this kind of illness, I knew exactly what these symptoms might mean.
The Beginning of a Long Road
Mother had experienced similar symptoms a few months previously. But at the time she declared in her native Ukrainian accent, “I am not going to a doctor; I cannot go through what you did.”
This time the diagnosis we dreaded came back: colon cancer. The doctor explained that if Mother did not choose to have surgery, she would eventually die of a blockage. I explained the options to her. She finally said resolutely, “I am going home.”
It became clear that my mother could no longer live on her own. If she had another bleeding spell, she would be helpless. She moved in with my husband and me. We took her everywhere we went—on holidays, visits to see family, to the store, to church.
2008 1513 page24Three years after the diagnosis, Mother was getting weaker and her symptoms were more pronounced. A doctor explained to me the stages to expect as the disease progressed. Then came the blockage.
Mother was terrified. I called the doctor and asked for advice.
“If she does not have surgery, she’ll die within a week,” he said.
I explained this to my mother as calmly as I could. Eventually she agreed to have surgery—if my brother and I would stay by her side. He stayed nights; I stayed days. She had surgery and was given a colostomy.
Intensive Care
I’m naturally a queasy person. My husband and I had not had children, so I had never even had to care for the needs of babies and toddlers. I knew that my mother was no longer agile or strong. She would not be able to deal with this new situation. I begged God to give me the strength to remain positive and be able to encourage my mother.
A nurse came in and said, “Let me teach you how to care for your mother.” Without God’s power I would have passed out on the first lesson. With no medical training or experience, I felt useless.
Then I remembered when Mom and I were on the farm. Depressing moments would come, but she would say, “Come on, Vicki, keep on the sunny side.” And we would laugh and sing together. Reminiscing now, I felt uplifted. My brother and I never left her alone.
One day while we were visiting, Mother said, “Vicki, I want you to promise that you will never send me to the hospital; that you’ll care for me right here—’til the end.”
I didn’t hesitate. I knew God would give me the strength I needed. “You’ll never go to the hospital,” I assured her as I squeezed her hand. “I’ll keep you right here in our home—always.”
The next six months were devastating for all of us. I watched Mom gradually become weaker. I was scared. I obtained morphine from the doctor and directions on how and when to use it. A nurse came in to teach me how to alleviate the discomfort that comes from rashes.

Questions for Reflection

1. What life experience have you shared with someone who challenged you physically, emotionally, and spiritually? Describe it briefly.

2. What aspect of that experience did you fear most?

3. How did you feel God's presence in that situation, and what effect did it have?

What practical demonstrations from friends and family helped you meet the challenges you faced? Be specific.

Every time my mother called in the night, I answered her. When the pain became too hard to bear, I started giving her morphine in small doses. I prayed continually that God would give me the strength to maintain a positive and cheerful attitude when I was with her. My husband and I took her, when she was able, for drives, for shopping excursions. It was a 24-hour-a-day job, for we could never leave her. She felt so helpless.

Then Mother became bedridden. She was too weak to get out of bed. Afraid she would choke, I had to carefully feed her liquids.
After a few days she quit eating altogether; she refused food. I still have nightmares remembering how her stomach growled. She would hallucinate, and we would agree to whatever she said.
One afternoon I had to leave for a few minutes. My brother and sister came over and stayed with her. When I returned, I quickly went to the bedroom. A change had come over her. She had not spoken for 14 hours. I knew she was dying. Her skin had begun to change color. I sat beside her talking softly and holding her hand.
I had never seen anyone die. In fact, I had never even come near the bed of a dying patient. After an hour there was a slight hesitation in Mother’s breath. Then she gave a small gasp and she was gone.
Her hand was cold when I finally laid it on her still body. The room was so silent; no more struggles, no more pain. She was at peace.
He Is Sufficient
I have thanked God so many times for giving me the privilege of caring for Mom, and for giving me the strength to deal with the responsibilities connected with her care. The verses “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Cor. 12:9) and “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13) were my encouragement. I was so thankful for my family—especially my husband—who cared for both my mother and me during that time.
When I think back on all we did to care for my mother, I still feel queasy. But I know without a doubt that God empowered me to give Mother the care she deserved during those trying months.
Vicki Hillary is a retired schoolteacher who lives in Winfield, British Columbia.