Senior Veteran (female)
Join Date: Jan 2004
Re: When do you tell a mother she is dying
First of all, my sympathies to you and your cousin. And I have to say this is such a personal time. Death is so personal. It belongs to the one who is dying and it affects those who love them so deeply, that feelings are all mixed up.
My mom died at the age of 65 in Sept. of 2003. She had small cell lung cancer that have moved to her brain and intestines. She couldn't stand the radiation, so all treatment was stopped. Her diagnosis orignally was 6-8 weeks, and I believe her doc told her, but she didn't comprehend. It was right when she was attempting the radiation, and they brought a lawyer to her so that she could fill out a will. It's funny, cuz mom had every detail of her funeral, right down to the creamation taken care of, but she had no will. She always knew "how" she would go, she just was suprised at how "soon". Which isn't really surprising as death comes to us early in my family. Her mom died when she was 58 (my grandma) and her brother died just two years earlier at the age of 49.
But anyway, after a long thought, and knowing how my mom was, I decided to tell her myself. I picked a time when she was "good", thinking pretty clearly. She had good days and days that were confusing for her. I knew my mother would want to know, she was that kind of person, straight to the point. So I have to tell, you, it was extremely hard. No one else would tell her, but they all agreed she should know! I am an only child, so I know my mom pretty well. When I decided to tell her I made sure I had her full attention and I also told the nurses (she was at a care facility, where she stayed until she died, even though we planned on hospice bringing her home, she just gave up on that notion and felt more comfortable being where she was) that I was going to tell her, and when I would be telling her. So, I told her, and she was "okay", she hadn't remembered. And I asked her then if she would like to talk to one of the nurses incase she had any specific questions, and she did. At first the nurse, who was fairly young, didn't want to, but I assured her, it was what mom wanted, so she sat with mom and mom asked her questions, and you want to know what the first question she had was? "What will my skin look like?" LOL I had to laugh, she was very young looking for her age, and I guess that was a worry of hers! Like I said she was originally given 6-8 weeks but she made it nearly 6 months. So, you never know about these things. But once she found out, then we got the ball rolling, so to speak, she told me where to find certain papers, she told me what was to be done with her things, who was to get what, I was to pick out her urn, I made the final arrangements with the funeral home, I even had her investment broker come see her in the facility to talk to her about her retirement funds. She wrote down every thing, for fear that the next day, she wouldn't be able to remember something. It was a little trying, but we got through it. The one thing we didn't tell her was that while my mom was dying from cancer, her sister, age 54 was diagnosed with non-hodgkins lymphoma. So, my aunt had cancer and was going through treatment while my mom was dying. We never told mom that and I think that was a good decision. Sally (my aunt) never made it to mom's funeral cuz she was going through chemo, but one of her daughters and her husband came.
I'll never forget bringing some of mom's close to her room so that she could pick out what she was to wear during her service. Do THAT once in your life, and you'll never forget it. Another thing that we told mom and it was kinda hard, was that I had driven up once (she was in Iowa and I live in Alabama) and was going to take back the stuff she wanted me to have in a trailor. Most of it was furniture she had since I was a child. But it had to be done then, and it was hard to tell her that, and it did upset her, cuz she hadn't yet gone. But myself and my aunt had to do it then, cuz the owner of the house was going to move into the house and we had to get her furniture out. It was a hard decision to make, as are all the decisions at a time like this, but you have to make them. Whether they be good ones or bad ones, they have to made, and dealt with. So, mom was coming home from time to time, but then she got too ill to get out and when she did come to her house, I think she got upset, she just couldn't stay long, she would get sick and we'd have to put her in her bed. So after we moved her stuff, she never went back to the house.
But, your cousin just has to know her mom, and go with it. Is she the kind of person who would want to know, she has to consider that, I think, and will she understand when she is told. You mentioned she is 82? That's a good age, she's lived a long time, and I'm sure she's a smart woman who knows that her time to go is not far. I think it's harder when the person is younger, and expecting to get some more out of life. But have her go with what she feels is best for her mother. I can tell you this, it is a very special moment that is shared between mother and daughter, mother and son, or who ever, it is a very special and never forgotten moment. It doesnt' come along very often, thank goodness, but to me, it was an honor. I wanted to be there when mom passed, I also think THAT is a great honor, to be there when someone passes over, but evertime I came up when they told me it was time, she'd hang on. So I finally left, I am applying for SSD and I had a hearing I had to be at, and I told her I wouldn't be coming back, and the nurses wanted her to be told that it was okay to let go, so when I told her I wouldn't be back, I think she did just that. She died four days later. And her last words to me were "I never told you enough how much I loved you."
I'll always remember those words as much as I remember telling her she didn't have much time left here on earth. And you know what is surprising to me, knowing my mom, how prepared she was with all her funeral service arrangments and finances, I mean, EVERYTHING was paid for and she left no debt. She didn't own her house, she was very organized, and I was very lucky, however, she was very scared to die. She'd expected it for so long, heck for most of my life I heard she that she was going to die when she was 55! Imagine the "I told ya so's" when she turned 56! But she was really scared of dying and that bothered me. Death doesn't scare me, of course I'm not dying, but in general the idea of dying tomorrow doesn't scare me. But it upset me, that it did her. She even asked me once "Should I be afraid?" I told her I didn't believe so, that it would be a wonderful peaceful experience and that the only sad thing was that she was leaving my world and the world that she knew, so early.
So, I hope this helps you a bit. I know I went off, I usually do, but I felt like you should understand the dynamics of the circumstance. Everyone is different and everyone's death is very personal.
Here's wishing you and your family a good spirit.