The following is a story I wrote, as a tribute to my mother, Vee. It was immediately following her cancer diagnosis and was published in The Sun, a weekly paper here in the Wood River Valley. I know people now who are dealing with a cancer diagnosis and feel compelled to post it. May you all live in the mystery and know that you are loved.
Looking from the Outside In: Living in The Mystery
by Kate Riley
“Kate, the cancer has spread to the bones…”
My mom spoke softly into the phone. I stared at the hills outside my bedroom window just three blocks from her home. It wasn’t long before tears pooled in my lower lids. We decided we would get together as a family and join Dr. Tom Archie for further discussion. While Dr. Archie gave my mom some options, I watched her intently. She wasn’t going to have anything to do with medical treatment even if it meant retarding the growth of nine malignant lesions. This was a choice I would honor.
“I just want everyone to let me die.” In my years of volunteering for Hospice, both in California and Idaho, I have heard these words before. My reactions have ranged from stunned, to mildly surprised, to supportive. I sometimes found myself speechless; searching for the right response or denying the very meaning. I often responded with, “What do you need right now?”
This time was different, very different. It was my mother who stood before me in her pink bathrobe and said, “I just want everyone to let me die. I’m finished here. I’ve had a good life and I have no regrets.” The words flowed. She knows something I don’t know. She is living in the mystery. What I do know is my mother is making plans for a good death and our family is supporting her to make that happen. We’re all in this together.
A hospital bed was delivered and set up in her bedroom. We’ve named it “The Royal Roost” and it faces a new direction so she has a different view of her property; affording her a new perspective at a time when she is fully present for her own death. I tiptoe up to her bedroom door and check on her frequently, just as I did with my newborn son; such an intimate and loving interlude.
She is welcoming friends and delights in short visits. If someone has difficulty supporting her in her acceptance, she holds up a piece of paper with the words written: AS FOR ME, GET OVER IT! My mom still has her sense of humor.
Even with the pain, excruciating at times, it hasn’t stopped her from expressing gratitude for her life, for her beautiful home and meditation garden, and the people in her life. It hasn’t stopped her from choosing what she will wear during the cremation – a white silk robe. The cremation container has been picked up, which will be collaged and then stored until it’s needed. My mother will take part in the artwork. She is known for creating vision boards and holding collage workshops. I can’t wait to see what she does with this one! In the meantime, my heart is breaking—this too is part of it all.
I love you, Mom.