When the “H” Word Means “Gratitude”
Thanksgiving, Chanukah, Christmas, New Year’s – the holiday season is upon us where we practice gratitude for all that is good in our lives, and hopefully recognize that difficult times often go hand in hand with the good. Those challenging moments, ones that cause an unbelievable ache in your heart and soul are a part of life and considered growth opportunities.
Truth be told, I struggle with dealing with those said opportunities, yet I am trying to be better at it, to remain positive when life’s challenges get in the way. I‘ve decided to be extremely grateful for everything, the good AND the bad. I am constantly reminded that there is so much to be thankful for and yet, I am keenly aware of how quickly life can flip on a dime and change.
“Our time on earth is limited ” and “no one lives forever” are things we have all heard when a loved one is going through a terminal illness or nearing end of life. While those words are meant to ease the insurmountable sadness, they only reinforce the accompanying anxiety we feel knowing time is definitely not on our side. The helplessness one feels pales in comparison as we watch our loved ones go through the process of acknowledging their own mortality and the acceptance that the disease they have so valiantly fought is winning the unbelievable and relentless battle.
Gratitude – the journey continues
My experience with gratitude continues with my mom’s cancer journey. Her decision to discontinue chemotherapy or any curative treatments was a collaborative effort made between her and her oncologist, when there were no more breakthrough treatments and chemotherapy would do more harm than good. Her oncologist said, “focus on quality of life.” What does that look like when time is limited? I’ll tell you – it looks like a giant hug of gratefulness sprinkled with bits of tears.
After 4+ years of fighting the fight with umpteen tests, treatments, and medical appointments to suddenly having all this free time is liberating. Yes, we were devastated by the decision to cease chemo treatments, yet completely relieved my mother wouldn’t endure horrible side effects and that our schedules would no longer include going to the cancer center every other Tuesday.
With our new-found liberty, we managed to get to New York for a week in July and enjoy special excursions to our favorite places (TJ Maxx and Marshalls) as well as strolls in Mom’s neighborhood. My mother, sister, and I had our first-ever slumber party, treating ourselves to mud masks, ordering in from the Cheesecake Factory, and watching funny movies. Additionally, my mother has partaken in Driveway Drinking, a new twist on neighborhood happy hour since COVID-19. We reminisce about growing up, about the numerous boats and homes my parents owned. We are reminded of sailing trips we took including the sailboat charter in the British Virgin Islands. We laughed hysterically about the time we threw bread in the water while my father was snorkeling, and a school of fish engulfed him! My mother and I do the NY Times crossword puzzles together: she starts and I attempt to finish. I never thought I was smart enough; however, my mom gave me the confidence to try and I’ve even completed a few. Even when my mom is resting and I am quietly reading a book, I savor these moments. There is something to be said about surrounding yourself with those you love and care about. And this my friends is what it is all about.
Hospice – the “h” word
While all is good now, I am quite cognizant that the current situation is tenuous. We enlisted the help of professionals who are more equipped to handle sudden changes in our delicate balance. At the start of this journey, we never uttered the “H” word to our mom. Then, knowing our mom could benefit from the extra support and expertise that comes with hospice care, we introduced it to her: Hospice. I am extremely grateful there is an organization such as Transitions LifeCare that provides all they do. Some may say we contacted them way too early, that my mother is well enough to continue living on her own, but we know with hospice care we are able to keep it that way as long as possible.
It is worthy to note that my mom continues to call the shots every step of the way. She is the boss, the reigning Queen of Everything. Her hospice team has provided the medication cocktail that gives her relief from pain so she can continue to enjoy her friends, family, grandchildren, and her beloved grand puppies. Time and again my mother has been the outlier, the one who has beaten the odds and she proudly represents the coveted 10% who survive pancreatic cancer 4+ years. She’s a master at resiliency, a fierce cancer fighter who remains irrepressible, even at this stage of her life. And while involving hospice care is still new to us, we’ve already managed to consider my mother’s nurse part of our inner circle, a trusted partner and caregiver, not only to my mom, but to me and the rest of our family.
Living life to its fullest
Anyone who has a loved one going through this unfortunate journey knows it is when and not if the inevitable will happen. The lesson here is to make sure the time we have left together counts. Involving hospice was not easy, and one might think we gave up and admitted defeat. It’s quite the opposite. We are choosing to have Transitions HospiceCare as a partner in my mother’s care. Their thoughtful and compassionate staff are guiding us through a myriad of pain medicines, helping us understand what is happening and what to expect, and are providing so much more through this journey. Engaging hospice care was the right decision for my mother to continue experiencing life.
So, the next time you mention the “H” word, know that it really means “Gratitude”!
— by Lauren Postyn