When my mother Helen was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer she went through all 5 of the stages of grief, oh, in about 10 minutes. “How are you Helen,” friends would ask. “I’m dying!” she said with absolute delight. In the ten weeks she had left, Mom focused on making things right. She mended fences with neighbors and worked out differences with her daughters.
Always an active woman, we carried a wheelchair and morphine so Mom could continue her life of adventure. We walked in the mountains, we visited a park she helped found with a grand tour in a golf cart. She attended an art opening that included her paintings. Just days before she died we packed her off to water aerobics.
While some days were difficult, others were filled with humor. Just out of earshot, Dad showed off hardware he had bought to attach to her urn. Wanting to be part of the conversation she said, “Hey, I want to be in on that.” Dad answered, “Honey, you will be.”
One of Helen’s greatest gifts was to deal with death honestly, openly and with great humor. This approach meant that she enrolled in hospice immediately to access the gold standard of health care—no waiting at the clinic for pain medication, it was shipped to our door. Hospice answered many requests: a massage therapist for comfort, a harpist played by her bed, we had help with bathing, and a nurse was available day and night.
We had this level of care because we had the conversation. We didn’t have to tip toe around difficult decisions. She could sign the cremation form while she had the mental capability.
Please, create the ending you want. Have the conversation too. For whatever comes next.