Messages to My Mother

Listening to all the letters and Facebook posts we’ve been reading to her, my mother has had a

Mom, early September 2014

Mom, left, and sister Christa, early September 2014

hard time believing how people really see her.  She seems truly bewildered that she inspires people so much with her signature combination of passion and gratitude. With her passion for cooking and teaching kids to cook, she’s inspired an extraordinary proportion of her pupils to go into the culinary business.  She inspired many people with her walk on the Camino de Santiago, and with the blog she wrote of her journey with cancer before, during, and after the Camino.  On Facebook, and especially in the Teal Warriors group of women with ovarian cancer and their caregivers, she is known as an eternally positive, encouraging presence, and readers are clearly inspired by her perspective, like her gratitude for nature’s beauty even in the midst of life’s great challenges.

Here’s what I’m talking about.  Herewith, a letter from Grace, whom I met in Washington, D.C. several years ago, and, below that, a number of Facebook posts from my mother’s Teal Warriors, a wonderful Facebook group consisting of women with ovarian cancer and their caregivers:

Dear Inge,

We have never met, and yet, you have influenced my life immensely. I write these words to you today with so much love and gratitude.

Many years ago, I decided that someday I would walk the Camino de Santiago.

Last year, when the funds were (finally) there for me and the trip became a real possibility, I began my research and planning.

Your blog, Camino not Chemo, appeared on my Google search.

I read the entire story in one evening. I remember so clearly curling up on the couch, laptop there with me, ignoring my phone as it rang, literally blocking out the world… reading long into the night. “Just one more entry…and then I’ll go to sleep…”

But I couldn’t stop reading. Hours went by. Quickly!

Reading all about your journey, the physical one and the spiritual one, was a godsend to me. I know the words were sometimes yours, sometimes Cameron’s, but what shined through always was your strength. Your infallible spirit. Your determination. Your bravery. You are, quite frankly, one of the strongest women I “know”.

I was truly overcome with emotion when I saw the pictures of you there, outside the Cathedral in Santiago. A beautiful, joyful face. Healthy in body and soul.

And then, upon your return to America, I continued to follow your journey…

This battle that you have faced with such dignity and courage.

Many months later, when I began my own pilgrimage across Spain, you were with me. I thought of you as I followed your footsteps across the Pyrenees, when I knelt at the base of the Cruz de Ferro, when I swam in the lake at Molinaseca, and when I embraced my friends when we arrived in Santiago. I thought of you as I continued on to Fisterra, when I jumped in the ocean there at the “end of the world”; for me a pagan baptism, of sorts.

And I think of you now. Everyday! With so much love and gratitude.

Thank you Inge. Thank you for sharing your journey. Thank you for sharing your life. Thank you for educating so many of us, your faithful readers, on healthy living.

Your story has inspired me. In many ways, you have changed my life. My journey would not have been the same without your words. And I will think of you as I continue to walk my life’s journey.

I am eternally grateful.

Your friend,

Grace Santarelli

The notes below are a sampling from the comments from members of Mom’s Facebook group, Teal Warriors:

‪Denise:  Please tell Inge I’m thinking of her from the UK. Her posts, her pictures helped me through my toughest times with my late ‘Little Mum’.

‪Pam: There are no words to describe my feelings and I am sure those of many others. ‪Inge Cheatham‬ – you are an amazing warrior. As Kerie said, you have set a very high bar. I too was drawn in by the beautiful pictures and inspiring comments you posted each day. I miss them but mainly because they reflect you. Even through all of what I just read about, you were posting encouraging positive comments when you could. I am pleased that you are receiving such wonderful support. We will have tea together in a beautiful flower garden someday… Praying for a miracle. Also comfort, peace, and some joy in each day. I love you my friend!

‪Susan:  Please Let dear ‪Inge Cheatham‬ how very much she is loved by us all. We are keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers. She has warmed all of our hearts at one time or another.. God Bless

‪Linda: ‬ This flower is for you Inge… Protea – the flower of strength. Love and Prayers to you sweet Inge. Thinking of you now and always.

‪Andrea:  All the beautiful words and photos you have given us Inge here is one for you [with a photo]

Colleen:  Thank-you for letting us know ,your Mom has helped so many of us please let her know we are sending her positive healing thoughts.

‪Betty: ‬ Inge, my dear teal warrior sister, never have I known a more compassionate and loving lady that understands the sad part of our illnesses yet always finds joy in everyday. I love you, Inge. Please find peace and comfort in your coming days. God bless you, my special friend.‪

Valerie:  Inge….you are an inspiration to a lot of us,,,you are very courageous and beautiful. Prayers to you my dear.

Victoria: Cameron! Thank you very much for updating us. I am thinking about your Mom every day, and she is in my prayers. Even when i am not feeling good and can not write my post, i am looking if there an update from Inge. She is Amasing. Sending my prayers, energy and healing hugs to her. God bless your family!

Karen:  When I check Facebook, I usually start by looking for Inge’s post. The beautiful pictures and encouraging words are a great start to my day. Even when she is going through a rough time, she remains optimistic and informing. I have been going through a rough patch and had not checked for Inge so this news is hitting hard. Please let her know what an inspiration she is to us and what pleasure she gives us. You, Cameron, are such a loving and caring son. I’m sorry for all you’ve gone through but you have given so much to your mom and her pride in you comes through in all her posts. My heart is breaking but thank you for keeping us informed.

‪Ruth:  Please tell Inge all the messages she is getting, she has helped so many of us. She inspired me to get on with life. Cancer does not define us, it’s a part of us. She has helped so many of us to stop and see the beauty in nature around us. She is the rock on our teal warriors. (((((((((((((((Biggest hug ever))))))))))))

Susanna:  Thank you for letting us know Cameron , I think about you Inge every day , you are my backbone , you giving all of us hope and strength , and a lot of useful advice, a kick in the butt sometimes, you made us cry, and you made us laugh, you are an absolute angel. Lots of hugs prayers for you and your loved ones.

Sharon:  Prayers for you ‪Inge Cheatham‬, you have given so many of your teal sisters inspiration to keep going. Love and hugs to you.

Beth:‬ ‪Inge Cheatham‬ has been a beacon to me. She is the light of love and caring. Always striving for just a bit more of life’s beauty.

Want to see what they all mean?  Then enjoy this!

True History of the Camino de Santiago

Mom’s new favorite book, featuring Mom and Julio

Das war die Grenze

I am on the phone, trying to listen to a coaching client. This is harder than you might think, because I can also hear, through the spare bedroom door, the sounds of my mother retching.  My Mom’s journey through 2014 has not been what we expected.  

This is how many of her days begin, but to truly understand the beginning of her days, we need to start the night before. She goes to bed at nine o’clock. Just before she retires, she or a friend pulls a spoon out of the freezer and, from the refrigerator, both an orange wedge and a container of applesauce. The spoon is glazed with flour, so that the cannabis oil placed there comes off easily once frozen. She dips the spoon in the applesauce and collects some on the tip. She bites into her orange wedge with one hand, lifts the spoon to her mouth with the other, closes her eyes, grimaces, and swallows the little lump of cannabis oil and the applesauce. She washes away the bitter taste with the rest of the orange wedge. She may take an Ibuprofen — “half an ibuprofen,” she tells people — but for months she took no medication other than cannabis and half an ibuprofen.

Mom, early 2014

Mom, early 2014

More recently, she takes with her to bed the small pump that, with the press of a button, delivers painkillers to the chest port that was installed for last year’s failed chemotherapies. The button works only every eight minutes, though my mother tries to push it only a handful of times a day. I remember when, soon after she got it, she unplugged it for just a little while, and the pain returned. “I guess I’m tied to this thing now,” she said, somewhat mournfully. She is very aware of all the things that she can no longer do, or do alone.

At times that list has included eating, one of her greatest pleasures, or cooking, which for her may rate even higher for the joy it gives to other people. She had to stop visiting me in Telluride many months ago; the altitude was too much, and she could no longer enjoy the spectacle of me singing karaoke. Walking became difficult next, and when it became too much so we got her a wheelchair. Her young friends Annika and Gregory, to whom my mother is practically a grandmother, burst into tears when they saw it.

Annika, right, at a party for Mom

Annika, right, at a party for Mom

On her bedside table you would find a glass pipe into which she will stuff marijuana from a local medical marijuana store, some shatter hash made by some friends, which she will smoke with the marijuana to help her sleep, a bottle of smartwater, her cannabis oil vaporizer pen, and a long bean bag made for her by her friend Madeline. It requires 3 minutes in the microwave and is a balm to the pain in her midsection.

Until recently, at about midnight, perhaps one o’clock, she would wake up in crippling pain. “It feels like there is an animal inside me that’s trying to chew its way out,” she has said.  She would take some more of her cannabis oil (which, as she will tell you, is really more of a paste), and perhaps, though she usually tried not to, some morphine. (Painkillers constipate, which can lead to pain worse than they solve). Some nights the pain was so bad she’d take three hot baths. Somehow the hot water helped where even drugs did not. On a few occasions she called out to me, or even came to my door to wake me up. But there are a few times I will never forget: waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of my mother sobbing, vomiting, as she collapses, exhausted, with her arms over the commode.

Two weeks ago, I was in Telluride when our friend Bonnie texted me to say that she was taking Mom to the ER in Montrose. I jumped in my car and met them at the hospital about eighty minutes later. They put her on pain and nausea medication, but a few hours later she was discharged. At around eight o’clock that night, the pain in her abdomen and kidneys was too much. She was moaning, gasping, with pain. The pain, she had once told me, was worse than childbirth, not quite as bad as kidney stones, but longer-lasting. I would watch her as she sat on the couch, hugging herself, rocking to and fro, tears in her eyes, and I would try to imagine that.  We had to go back to the ER.

We walked out through the back door of her house. I steadied her with one arm and carried her bags and medicine pump in the other hand. Every step or two, she would stop, bent over, sobbing from the pain. Soon I was crying too, quietly, as always, and we stood there together like that, on the flagstone path in the moonlight, and then we trudged on, one step at a time.

There is nothing in life that quite prepares one for this.

From the ER she was admitted to the hospital, where she stayed for three nights. Friends visited. She told one friend, Silke, “Das war die Grenze. Das war die absolut Grenze.” Which means, That was the border, the absolute boundary.  “I couldn’t ever go through that again,” she said to several people afterward. “I’d shoot a dog in that kind of pain.”  She longed for home. But home, when we returned, was a very different place: friendly and helpful hospice nurses were in it now, and Mom was connected to her pain medication pump at all times.

Lately, due to the intravenous medications from hospice, she gets up in the morning less with pain and nausea, and she may sleep without interruption until a luxurious four o’clock. But on one recent morning I was up at nine and found her still in bed, looking drawn and spent. “Are you okay?” I asked. She shook her head, looking forlorn. “Nauseous,” she said. “I’m just trying to get on top of it.” She says this a lot, about pain and nausea: “If I can just get on top of it.” I ask if she wants a joint, she says no, so I draw her a hot bath with Epsom salts. As I retreat to the spare bedroom where I sleep, I can hear her moaning in the tub.

This is how the new day begins. Yesterday she posted on Facebook that she wanted to go for a drive today, to see the colors before they depart. But she doesn’t think she can leave the house. I bring her hot tea and a baguette with butter, and then I get on my coaching call.

After my call we watch her German TV for a while, soaking in the images of the Bavarian Alps on some travel show, oohing and aahing with our desire to be among them. Like in happier times, when we spent many a magical time at her brother Horst’s hotel in the Swiss Alps. Horst, who died unexpectedly only four months ago, from cancer. When the program is over we watch one of the movies I got from a RedBox at City Market the day before, “The Bone Collector,” with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. For lunch we eat a thick soup made by Karla, a darling 83-year-old German friend of my mother’s. Then I go to Starbucks to get in three hours of work.

Her friends visit. Berle, who once texted me, “I love your mother!”, and who for many months brought the fresh goat’s milk that was the only thing my mother could eat. Peggy, who says my mother is like a mother to her (and she like a big sister to me), and whose house I sometimes stay in when Mom’s spare bedroom is full, or I have a friend in town. Karla makes soup and conversation. Silke brings apples and footrubs and a

Silke, center, with my Aunt Christa, left, and cousin Fiona

Silke, center, with my Aunt Christa, left, and cousin Fiona

never-ending smile. Bonnie was with Mom during her first chemotherapy, in 2001.  She comes every Tuesday night. They used to go out to dinner, now they eat in.

Rob comes from across the alley to check on Mom, and to roll the joints that no one else knows how to roll. The neighbors next door mow the lawn. Monika brings kaffee sahne, Epsom salts, and flowers, and fixes Mom’s German TV. Lynn, mother of Annika and Gregory, brings groceries.

Gregory, Mom's little buddy from birth

Gregory, Mom’s little buddy

Lynn also bought my mother a new washing machine, and insisted on giving Mom money for the new Samsung Galaxy phone I recently bought her. Another German named Inge brings books about historical Germany and fresh blueberry scones. Sometimes my sister-in-law, Jannilynn, visits from Grand Junction, bringing her young son, Braxton. Jannilynn has no relation to my mother, but she has really taken Mom to her heart.

Mom hides behind Jannilynn's tresses

Mom hides behind Jannilynn’s tresses

On a weekday afternoon, I will take several more coaching calls in the spare room, pacing the cramped space as I talk. And then from about seven to nine we will watch another movie. Tonight, we watch two-thirds of “Gandhi,” which I last saw in the early 1980s, when it came out.

Some nights I draw her bath, or fetch her oil, or lie next to her on her bed and rub her back or hold her as she tries not to vomit, but holds the blue vomit bag in front of her mouth, just in case.

My mother still expresses gratitude. For a call, a visit, a meal, a strawberry, a tree turning yellow and orange.

The writer and doctor Atul Gawande, in his thoughtful new book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, writes, “The brain gives us two ways to evaluate experiences like suffering—how we apprehend such experiences in the moment and how we look at them afterward. People seem to have two different selves—an experiencing self who endures every moment equally and a remembering self who, as the Nobel Prize–winning researcher Daniel Kahneman has shown, gives almost all the weight of judgment afterward to just two points in time: the worst moment of an ordeal and the last moment of it. The remembering self and the experiencing self can come to radically different opinions about the same experience—so which one should we listen to?”

Those who love my mother believe their job is to make her most recent memories as full of love and warmth as possible. I am eternally grateful for all of them.

 

My niece, Brianna, visited for two weeks in June, along with her mother, Candace

My niece, Brianna, visited for two weeks in June, along with her mother, Candace

2014-07-10 09.58.06

Mom and I accompany my nephew Dylan to court for a traffic violation

 

 

October, 2014 | Camino Not Chemo!

Messages to My Mother

Listening to all the letters and Facebook posts we’ve been reading to her, my mother has had a

Mom, early September 2014

Mom, left, and sister Christa, early September 2014

hard time believing how people really see her.  She seems truly bewildered that she inspires people so much with her signature combination of passion and gratitude. With her passion for cooking and teaching kids to cook, she’s inspired an extraordinary proportion of her pupils to go into the culinary business.  She inspired many people with her walk on the Camino de Santiago, and with the blog she wrote of her journey with cancer before, during, and after the Camino.  On Facebook, and especially in the Teal Warriors group of women with ovarian cancer and their caregivers, she is known as an eternally positive, encouraging presence, and readers are clearly inspired by her perspective, like her gratitude for nature’s beauty even in the midst of life’s great challenges.

Here’s what I’m talking about.  Herewith, a letter from Grace, whom I met in Washington, D.C. several years ago, and, below that, a number of Facebook posts from my mother’s Teal Warriors, a wonderful Facebook group consisting of women with ovarian cancer and their caregivers:

Dear Inge,

We have never met, and yet, you have influenced my life immensely. I write these words to you today with so much love and gratitude.

Many years ago, I decided that someday I would walk the Camino de Santiago.

Last year, when the funds were (finally) there for me and the trip became a real possibility, I began my research and planning.

Your blog, Camino not Chemo, appeared on my Google search.

I read the entire story in one evening. I remember so clearly curling up on the couch, laptop there with me, ignoring my phone as it rang, literally blocking out the world… reading long into the night. “Just one more entry…and then I’ll go to sleep…”

But I couldn’t stop reading. Hours went by. Quickly!

Reading all about your journey, the physical one and the spiritual one, was a godsend to me. I know the words were sometimes yours, sometimes Cameron’s, but what shined through always was your strength. Your infallible spirit. Your determination. Your bravery. You are, quite frankly, one of the strongest women I “know”.

I was truly overcome with emotion when I saw the pictures of you there, outside the Cathedral in Santiago. A beautiful, joyful face. Healthy in body and soul.

And then, upon your return to America, I continued to follow your journey…

This battle that you have faced with such dignity and courage.

Many months later, when I began my own pilgrimage across Spain, you were with me. I thought of you as I followed your footsteps across the Pyrenees, when I knelt at the base of the Cruz de Ferro, when I swam in the lake at Molinaseca, and when I embraced my friends when we arrived in Santiago. I thought of you as I continued on to Fisterra, when I jumped in the ocean there at the “end of the world”; for me a pagan baptism, of sorts.

And I think of you now. Everyday! With so much love and gratitude.

Thank you Inge. Thank you for sharing your journey. Thank you for sharing your life. Thank you for educating so many of us, your faithful readers, on healthy living.

Your story has inspired me. In many ways, you have changed my life. My journey would not have been the same without your words. And I will think of you as I continue to walk my life’s journey.

I am eternally grateful.

Your friend,

Grace Santarelli

The notes below are a sampling from the comments from members of Mom’s Facebook group, Teal Warriors:

‪Denise:  Please tell Inge I’m thinking of her from the UK. Her posts, her pictures helped me through my toughest times with my late ‘Little Mum’.

‪Pam: There are no words to describe my feelings and I am sure those of many others. ‪Inge Cheatham‬ – you are an amazing warrior. As Kerie said, you have set a very high bar. I too was drawn in by the beautiful pictures and inspiring comments you posted each day. I miss them but mainly because they reflect you. Even through all of what I just read about, you were posting encouraging positive comments when you could. I am pleased that you are receiving such wonderful support. We will have tea together in a beautiful flower garden someday… Praying for a miracle. Also comfort, peace, and some joy in each day. I love you my friend!

‪Susan:  Please Let dear ‪Inge Cheatham‬ how very much she is loved by us all. We are keeping you all in our thoughts and prayers. She has warmed all of our hearts at one time or another.. God Bless

‪Linda: ‬ This flower is for you Inge… Protea – the flower of strength. Love and Prayers to you sweet Inge. Thinking of you now and always.

‪Andrea:  All the beautiful words and photos you have given us Inge here is one for you [with a photo]

Colleen:  Thank-you for letting us know ,your Mom has helped so many of us please let her know we are sending her positive healing thoughts.

‪Betty: ‬ Inge, my dear teal warrior sister, never have I known a more compassionate and loving lady that understands the sad part of our illnesses yet always finds joy in everyday. I love you, Inge. Please find peace and comfort in your coming days. God bless you, my special friend.‪

Valerie:  Inge….you are an inspiration to a lot of us,,,you are very courageous and beautiful. Prayers to you my dear.

Victoria: Cameron! Thank you very much for updating us. I am thinking about your Mom every day, and she is in my prayers. Even when i am not feeling good and can not write my post, i am looking if there an update from Inge. She is Amasing. Sending my prayers, energy and healing hugs to her. God bless your family!

Karen:  When I check Facebook, I usually start by looking for Inge’s post. The beautiful pictures and encouraging words are a great start to my day. Even when she is going through a rough time, she remains optimistic and informing. I have been going through a rough patch and had not checked for Inge so this news is hitting hard. Please let her know what an inspiration she is to us and what pleasure she gives us. You, Cameron, are such a loving and caring son. I’m sorry for all you’ve gone through but you have given so much to your mom and her pride in you comes through in all her posts. My heart is breaking but thank you for keeping us informed.

‪Ruth:  Please tell Inge all the messages she is getting, she has helped so many of us. She inspired me to get on with life. Cancer does not define us, it’s a part of us. She has helped so many of us to stop and see the beauty in nature around us. She is the rock on our teal warriors. (((((((((((((((Biggest hug ever))))))))))))

Susanna:  Thank you for letting us know Cameron , I think about you Inge every day , you are my backbone , you giving all of us hope and strength , and a lot of useful advice, a kick in the butt sometimes, you made us cry, and you made us laugh, you are an absolute angel. Lots of hugs prayers for you and your loved ones.

Sharon:  Prayers for you ‪Inge Cheatham‬, you have given so many of your teal sisters inspiration to keep going. Love and hugs to you.

Beth:‬ ‪Inge Cheatham‬ has been a beacon to me. She is the light of love and caring. Always striving for just a bit more of life’s beauty.

Want to see what they all mean?  Then enjoy this!

True History of the Camino de Santiago

Mom’s new favorite book, featuring Mom and Julio

Das war die Grenze

I am on the phone, trying to listen to a coaching client. This is harder than you might think, because I can also hear, through the spare bedroom door, the sounds of my mother retching.  My Mom’s journey through 2014 has not been what we expected.  

This is how many of her days begin, but to truly understand the beginning of her days, we need to start the night before. She goes to bed at nine o’clock. Just before she retires, she or a friend pulls a spoon out of the freezer and, from the refrigerator, both an orange wedge and a container of applesauce. The spoon is glazed with flour, so that the cannabis oil placed there comes off easily once frozen. She dips the spoon in the applesauce and collects some on the tip. She bites into her orange wedge with one hand, lifts the spoon to her mouth with the other, closes her eyes, grimaces, and swallows the little lump of cannabis oil and the applesauce. She washes away the bitter taste with the rest of the orange wedge. She may take an Ibuprofen — “half an ibuprofen,” she tells people — but for months she took no medication other than cannabis and half an ibuprofen.

Mom, early 2014

Mom, early 2014

More recently, she takes with her to bed the small pump that, with the press of a button, delivers painkillers to the chest port that was installed for last year’s failed chemotherapies. The button works only every eight minutes, though my mother tries to push it only a handful of times a day. I remember when, soon after she got it, she unplugged it for just a little while, and the pain returned. “I guess I’m tied to this thing now,” she said, somewhat mournfully. She is very aware of all the things that she can no longer do, or do alone.

At times that list has included eating, one of her greatest pleasures, or cooking, which for her may rate even higher for the joy it gives to other people. She had to stop visiting me in Telluride many months ago; the altitude was too much, and she could no longer enjoy the spectacle of me singing karaoke. Walking became difficult next, and when it became too much so we got her a wheelchair. Her young friends Annika and Gregory, to whom my mother is practically a grandmother, burst into tears when they saw it.

Annika, right, at a party for Mom

Annika, right, at a party for Mom

On her bedside table you would find a glass pipe into which she will stuff marijuana from a local medical marijuana store, some shatter hash made by some friends, which she will smoke with the marijuana to help her sleep, a bottle of smartwater, her cannabis oil vaporizer pen, and a long bean bag made for her by her friend Madeline. It requires 3 minutes in the microwave and is a balm to the pain in her midsection.

Until recently, at about midnight, perhaps one o’clock, she would wake up in crippling pain. “It feels like there is an animal inside me that’s trying to chew its way out,” she has said.  She would take some more of her cannabis oil (which, as she will tell you, is really more of a paste), and perhaps, though she usually tried not to, some morphine. (Painkillers constipate, which can lead to pain worse than they solve). Some nights the pain was so bad she’d take three hot baths. Somehow the hot water helped where even drugs did not. On a few occasions she called out to me, or even came to my door to wake me up. But there are a few times I will never forget: waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of my mother sobbing, vomiting, as she collapses, exhausted, with her arms over the commode.

Two weeks ago, I was in Telluride when our friend Bonnie texted me to say that she was taking Mom to the ER in Montrose. I jumped in my car and met them at the hospital about eighty minutes later. They put her on pain and nausea medication, but a few hours later she was discharged. At around eight o’clock that night, the pain in her abdomen and kidneys was too much. She was moaning, gasping, with pain. The pain, she had once told me, was worse than childbirth, not quite as bad as kidney stones, but longer-lasting. I would watch her as she sat on the couch, hugging herself, rocking to and fro, tears in her eyes, and I would try to imagine that.  We had to go back to the ER.

We walked out through the back door of her house. I steadied her with one arm and carried her bags and medicine pump in the other hand. Every step or two, she would stop, bent over, sobbing from the pain. Soon I was crying too, quietly, as always, and we stood there together like that, on the flagstone path in the moonlight, and then we trudged on, one step at a time.

There is nothing in life that quite prepares one for this.

From the ER she was admitted to the hospital, where she stayed for three nights. Friends visited. She told one friend, Silke, “Das war die Grenze. Das war die absolut Grenze.” Which means, That was the border, the absolute boundary.  “I couldn’t ever go through that again,” she said to several people afterward. “I’d shoot a dog in that kind of pain.”  She longed for home. But home, when we returned, was a very different place: friendly and helpful hospice nurses were in it now, and Mom was connected to her pain medication pump at all times.

Lately, due to the intravenous medications from hospice, she gets up in the morning less with pain and nausea, and she may sleep without interruption until a luxurious four o’clock. But on one recent morning I was up at nine and found her still in bed, looking drawn and spent. “Are you okay?” I asked. She shook her head, looking forlorn. “Nauseous,” she said. “I’m just trying to get on top of it.” She says this a lot, about pain and nausea: “If I can just get on top of it.” I ask if she wants a joint, she says no, so I draw her a hot bath with Epsom salts. As I retreat to the spare bedroom where I sleep, I can hear her moaning in the tub.

This is how the new day begins. Yesterday she posted on Facebook that she wanted to go for a drive today, to see the colors before they depart. But she doesn’t think she can leave the house. I bring her hot tea and a baguette with butter, and then I get on my coaching call.

After my call we watch her German TV for a while, soaking in the images of the Bavarian Alps on some travel show, oohing and aahing with our desire to be among them. Like in happier times, when we spent many a magical time at her brother Horst’s hotel in the Swiss Alps. Horst, who died unexpectedly only four months ago, from cancer. When the program is over we watch one of the movies I got from a RedBox at City Market the day before, “The Bone Collector,” with Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. For lunch we eat a thick soup made by Karla, a darling 83-year-old German friend of my mother’s. Then I go to Starbucks to get in three hours of work.

Her friends visit. Berle, who once texted me, “I love your mother!”, and who for many months brought the fresh goat’s milk that was the only thing my mother could eat. Peggy, who says my mother is like a mother to her (and she like a big sister to me), and whose house I sometimes stay in when Mom’s spare bedroom is full, or I have a friend in town. Karla makes soup and conversation. Silke brings apples and footrubs and a

Silke, center, with my Aunt Christa, left, and cousin Fiona

Silke, center, with my Aunt Christa, left, and cousin Fiona

never-ending smile. Bonnie was with Mom during her first chemotherapy, in 2001.  She comes every Tuesday night. They used to go out to dinner, now they eat in.

Rob comes from across the alley to check on Mom, and to roll the joints that no one else knows how to roll. The neighbors next door mow the lawn. Monika brings kaffee sahne, Epsom salts, and flowers, and fixes Mom’s German TV. Lynn, mother of Annika and Gregory, brings groceries.

Gregory, Mom's little buddy from birth

Gregory, Mom’s little buddy

Lynn also bought my mother a new washing machine, and insisted on giving Mom money for the new Samsung Galaxy phone I recently bought her. Another German named Inge brings books about historical Germany and fresh blueberry scones. Sometimes my sister-in-law, Jannilynn, visits from Grand Junction, bringing her young son, Braxton. Jannilynn has no relation to my mother, but she has really taken Mom to her heart.

Mom hides behind Jannilynn's tresses

Mom hides behind Jannilynn’s tresses

On a weekday afternoon, I will take several more coaching calls in the spare room, pacing the cramped space as I talk. And then from about seven to nine we will watch another movie. Tonight, we watch two-thirds of “Gandhi,” which I last saw in the early 1980s, when it came out.

Some nights I draw her bath, or fetch her oil, or lie next to her on her bed and rub her back or hold her as she tries not to vomit, but holds the blue vomit bag in front of her mouth, just in case.

My mother still expresses gratitude. For a call, a visit, a meal, a strawberry, a tree turning yellow and orange.

The writer and doctor Atul Gawande, in his thoughtful new book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, writes, “The brain gives us two ways to evaluate experiences like suffering—how we apprehend such experiences in the moment and how we look at them afterward. People seem to have two different selves—an experiencing self who endures every moment equally and a remembering self who, as the Nobel Prize–winning researcher Daniel Kahneman has shown, gives almost all the weight of judgment afterward to just two points in time: the worst moment of an ordeal and the last moment of it. The remembering self and the experiencing self can come to radically different opinions about the same experience—so which one should we listen to?”

Those who love my mother believe their job is to make her most recent memories as full of love and warmth as possible. I am eternally grateful for all of them.

 

My niece, Brianna, visited for two weeks in June, along with her mother, Candace

My niece, Brianna, visited for two weeks in June, along with her mother, Candace

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Mom and I accompany my nephew Dylan to court for a traffic violation