Cancer Death of a Parent Grief

My Mother’s Last Days

Written by Amber Shoemaker

I’m a daughter with a dead mother. I’m a lot of other things, of course. I’m a mom. A partner. A sister. A patient. But lately, I’m just a daughter with a dead mother. It’s a thought that sneaks into your head occasionally when your mom has been battling cancer for 10 years. But I always pushed it away before it was even fully formed. Maybe that’s why I was surprised when it happened. Maybe it’s why the last nine months seem to feel like a lifetime while only lasting a second. Maybe I’m crazy.

“She’s not eating.” I said it for maybe the 100th time that day, the last day she’d be in the home she shared with my dad and had built with him ten years before while she wore a scarf covering her bald head. This wasn’t her first time being sick. It wasn’t her 15th time being sick. She had been battling for so long I forgot what it felt like to not have the “C-word” being brought up daily. But this time was worse, it was stage four, and even though she had far surpassed her doctor given expiration date, I truly thought this was just a bad stretch of days and that she’d be fine. “I need to go to the hospital.” She said it so faintly I didn’t think I’d heard her correctly. The hospital was the last place on earth my nature-path loving mom would ever want to be. So we carried her to the car, oxygen tank and all. I still remember her Chipmunk pajama pants she was wearing. That was weird too. My incredibly classy mom was allowing us to carry her out in public wearing chipmunk pants.

They admitted her, within the first hour of being in the emergency room. She needed fluids, pain medication for the mouth sores from chemo, and monitoring for her oxygen levels. “It’s going to be fine, we just need to get this under control before it gets worse,” I said to each of my four sisters stretched all over the world. “She’s going to be fine.”

That was a Sunday night. By Tuesday morning she still wasn’t fine. We had moved her to the ICU because her CO2 levels were way too high. My experience with someone in that state was zero before that day and I hope I never have to experience that again. It’s like dealing with someone who’s very drunk and constantly confused. She had no idea where she was or why and she was, understandably, very afraid. I wrote it down for her in the simplest terms so she could look at it while she was wearing the giant CPAP machine forcing oxygen into her tired lungs.  “You’re safe. You’re in the hospital. This machine is trying to help you breathe. You have to leave it on.” The first sister flew in to be with us. But even then, I thought she’d be ok.

Wednesday. When I think about the worst days of my life, this one is at the top. Wednesday was when my mother, not realizing what was happening, looked me in the eyes and said, “Why are you trying to kill me?” Those are the last words she said to me. My mom thought I was trying to kill her. It was shortly after that that we learned she wouldn’t get better. She wasn’t coming home. Forcing her into X-rays, a feeding tube, the CPAP, it wasn’t going to change anything. She was going to die and we were going to watch. There were steps we could have taken to prolong her life by days, maybe a week, but she would have been miserable and it wasn’t fair to force her to stay alive so we could feel better about her death.

The rest of the sisters came home. My mom fell asleep. We tried to keep her comfortable with drugs because the only thing worse than my mom dying was thinking about my mom lying there in pain and not able to tell us. People came to see us, to say goodbye to her. I wondered if she could hear them. Could she hear me? I told her how much I loved her anyway. My vibrant, happy, always on the move mom was now silent and still in a hospital bed. “I’m not ready!” I thought, panic filling my chest like someone had dropped free weights on me and walked away. Instead I say thank you to the friends and family and cry when I’m alone. She died on that Sunday. One week from the day we brought her in for what we thought was just one night.

The wake and funeral were beautiful. I think, I don’t remember much of them besides the huge amount of people hugging me with sympathy eyes. I think I floated through making those arrangements and then those two days on autopilot, unable to accept who they were for. Not MY mom. The sisters packed their things and went back home as if resuming their old lives was even an option. I helped my dad move from the big home they had built together into a smaller home where her absence didn’t scream from every corner, every creak in the floor. I lay my head down at night and replay the last week of my mom’s life, over and over. I see her face the Sunday morning I came tearing into the hospital, needing to see for myself that death had been there and stolen my mother. I think about her being in the ground less than a mile from where I sleep. Is she cold? I hope she’s happy and watching over us. I hope she’s proud of the person I am and the person I’m trying to raise my son to be. But mostly I hope that she knows that she was one of the great loves of my life. I have never and most likely will never be as close to anyone. I hope she knows how big the hole is she left behind, true proof that she was loved so profoundly. And I hope I get to see her again someday, feel her embrace and her voice saying, “I love you, Buns.”

Editor’s Note:  I asked for a photo to share in this post.  When Amber sent this one – the last moments she saw her mother alive, I asked if it was OK and if she was sure she wanted to share this particular photo.  She urged me – because she wants to tell the story.  And she wants to tell you – you’re not alone. 

My Mother's Last Days   www.herviewfromhome.com

“The purpose of writing this for me was to possibly help someone who feels these feelings and thinks there’s no one who understands. It’s so ugly. It took someone so beautiful and full of life and slowly sucked out every ounce of what made her my mom. And people watch it every day.  I want them to know they aren’t alone.”

About the author

Amber Shoemaker

Amber is a full time mom, partner, daughter and sister. You can find her home with her boys or waiting for a doctor somewhere. She likes to read, write, and travel whenever she can.

4 Comments

  • Wow, this is beautiful and I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I imagined this being me, while reading, and my eyes welled up with tears. You never think it will be your mom, even though we know, all moms will die eventually. I’m sorry that yours had to be in pain and had to suffer. It sounds like she was an amazing mom.

  • Amber, this was so beautiful and touched my heart in so many ways. I also took care of my mom while stage 4 cancer ravaged her body, although not nearly as long as you. It’s been almost five years now and the ache is still there. Some days I think I need to get over it because it’s been five years and we all eventually have to say goodbye to our mothers, but then I read something like what you’ve written and I feel validated in the fact that I will always miss my mom, that my ache is true and that it is okay. These words especially touched me, “she was one of the great loves of my life.” So was my mom. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  • Beautiful words. It describes perfectly what I went through almost 9 years ago. My mom passed away from cancer that she had been fighting on and off for 10 years. I keep hoping that it gets better with time, but that huge gaping hole doesn’t seem to be getting much smaller for me. There are so many things that I am angry about with my mom passing when I was only 20 – never getting to meet my husband or children. I pray that these words you wrote brought you some peace. Thank you for sharing <3