21 March 2012

On being a good son to a dying mother

My mother is dying.  Not that any of us will live forever, barring the “rapture for nerds.”  My mother is 88, has moderate dementia, and has recently been diagnosed as having a large mass in her chest, most likely cancerous.  I can’t tell you that with 100% confidence, because my mother slapped the radiology technician assisting with her biopsy, thus immediately ending the procedure and delaying a definitive diagnosis of lung cancer. 

But we know enough to know that my mother is dying, and is likely to die sooner, rather than later. 

What I’m struggling with is how to be a good son to my dying mother.  I know how to do many things, with various degrees of comfort and competence.  I can, with fluency and grace, coordinate the IT policy of a major Federal agency.  I do a passable job as partner to the love of my life.  I rock wearing really good suits, and know my way around menus and wine lists like no one’s business.  I’m an OK friend, and a not particularly good godfather (yes, that’s my assessment of what I’ve done for you, Cord). 

The problem is, for me: what can and should I do for Virginia Jean Kuehner Fusick Cory? 

I’ve established her care goals as being “providing comfort and reducing confusion,” know that my mother’s tolerance for discomfort and change is shrinking every day.  I’ve tried to bring the right people together to ensure that she’s doing what she needs to do every day, and that she can’t badger, bully, or plead her way out of doing what she may not want to do. 

So – I’m flying once again to Oregon, trying to get sorted my mother’s collapsing world.  After having a episode with wheezing and shortness of breath which lead to an ER visit and a hospital admission, my mother will move from the apartment in which she has lived independently for the last 10 years to an assisted living room.  I know there will be tears, and complaint, and resistance, but the only way I can ensure that my mother’s days are comfortable and create minimal confusion for her is to provide round the clock supervision for her.  Without that, her chances of having an injurious fall are certain.  Without that, her failure to medicate or refuse medication would lead to more trips to the ER and hospital.  Without that, my guilt is unbearable.

I do know that I can’t do this myself.  This is work that has to be shared with the team – the professionals who understand how to provide care to the elderly, and how to work with the families of the elderly, and with my family and friends, who know how to tell me what I need to do, and when I’m trying to do too much. 

In the end, I want to make sure that I’m able to do for my mother at the end of her life what she and my father did for me at the beginning of my life:  keep me safe, keep me warm, and let me feel loved.  And if I can do that, I will have been a good son to a dying mother.


Michele Mulholland France said...

Beautiful and you are much more than an "ok" friend, my friend.

Dominique Bernardo said...

You are the son EVERY parent dreams of having. Everything you are doing and will do is RIGHT. You can rest assured she knows she is loved and well cared for. You need to be sure that you take care of yourself as well. She loves you and the man you are bears testament to the quality job she did raising you. I am glad we have reconnected even though the circumstances suck a bit. Always know that you are not alone and that you are an example to all of us as to how to meet death with dignity for ourselves and our parents.

Jody Muniz Kenya said...

AMEN Brother Cory! Well said. I did not know your mom was gravely ill. My condolences and my appreciation for your heart felt compassion for your family. I will pray for you and your mother. Cheers my Brother !