The Slippage of Time (or the Grief that haunts me)

Photo by Ante Samarzija on Unsplash

Note to readers: This article describes in graphic details the issue of cancer, the side effects of it, and other medical problems. Reader discretion is advised.

The clock ticks.

It moves along, whether or not I want it to. Tick-tick-tick…

Whether or not time is relative, whether or not it actually exists or something we invented to make ourselves feel better… it moves. Seasons come and go, marking a few predictable changes to our lives. We grow, we get older, lines on our faces, grays in our hair… even our animals, our beloved pets, will show signs of time’s passage.

We figure years, calculated based on… oh who knows, estimates of the moon phases, for one. There’s a great deal of mystery to the thing we call “Time”. Scientists will have a better understanding of it than I ever will.

I see the clock; analog, in fact, in my kitchen. Tick-tick-tick. I see the clock; digital, on my laptop and cellphone. They remind me days come and go, they change and shift, and I can feel the passage but never stop it — sands in an hourglass, bleeding through my fingers.

Time

It reminds me what’s coming on February 8th.

Grief is a lot like time. We try to grasp it, contain it, wrap it in words and explanations that would make sense to us. In the end though, we can’t. We can’t measure it, we can’t stop it, we can only feel it as it slips through our fingers and leave a permanent mark on our psyche.

Fourteen years ago, on February 8th, my mother died. She passed away in front of me, and I will never, ever forget it. How could I? I saw her body seize, the way she sounded for hours afterward, the way her hospice nurse took far too long to get to us to help out… or the way I was so sick, racked with a devastating cold, and overwhelmed with the care of my dying mother.

How could I forget that her oncologist accused her of having a death wish, placing a rift between them that could’ve saved her life if he had swallowed his pride and offered to work with her? How could I forget that she turned so far away from conventional medicine and so deep into nonsense, into “woo-science” and basically decided to give up and die? That the vast anti-science that is becoming scarily wide-spread also claimed her as a victim?

Fourteen years and I still wrestle with everything that happened. The timing is uncertain, as my life moved, weaving in and out of the thread of my mother’s timeline, but I still recall her agonizing over the confusion of the “abnormal pap smear” restult that she got from her previous ob-gyn.

Instead of checking with her doctor, my mother moved from New Mexico to California, essentially ignoring the issues that were growing inside her cervix. Some say she already knew it was cancer and opted not to fight it. I never heard that from my mother, and I remember her telling me she never followed-up with that ob-gyn. Instead, she claimed she had fibroids (which could turn cancerous, albeit rarely). She dealt with fibroids and her abnormal bleeding with all sorts of creams on her belly and herbs shoved up into her vagina. All baseless treatments by the anti-science woo culture.

I knew my mother had a mistrust of “Western Medicine” (as she called it), but I never knew how deep and intense it was until the last few years of her life. She was so certain that the right kind of diet would magically resolve all her issues and she’d be restored, vital, and capable.

It never dawned on her to think otherwise. Yet in her pursuit of the impossible, she damaged us instead. When I was young, barely 8 or 9 years old, I was strong, healthy, aside from the fact I was plagued by mental health issues and sexual trauma. I could run for miles and not be breathless. I could walk for hours and be fine. I could, without effort, lift a 100 pounds with my legs.

My diet, then, was fine. Healthy, even. I remember salads, a good stack of vegetables, a slice of protein, and some portion of carbs. I never had problems. I had no need to go wildly vegan or wildly into what could be called Atkins now. She kept changing our diets over and over, based on some pseudo-science book written by someone who, more often than not, had zero scientific or medical knowledge.

It kept happening. My health did crash, eventually. Was it the vegan diet? Was it the Atkins? Was it my CPTSD catching up to me, as my constantly instable life took its toll? I’ll never know for certain.

But my mother? She kept trying. Convinced there was something she could do or take that’d fix it all. As her abnormal bleeding went on and on, it took its toll on her. Eventually, she gave in — sort of. She went to see a doctor who was in San Francisco who advertised a different approach to medicine, a former licensed medical doctor. I went with her as her interpeter and as her advocate.

(Note: My mother was deaf and he opted not to renew his license, as is my understanding. Not forcibly removed from western medicine, but rather choosing to leave it.)

He told her her fibroids weren’t looking healthy. That she really ought to see an ob-gyn where she lived to get seen. That he suspected cancer. That there was nothing he could do to stop her bleeding otherwise.

She didn’t listen. It went against her belief, her ‘code’. She would eventually collapse in a Ralph’s bathroom stall, bleeding out so horribly that she was fainting on the toilet. In the end, she had to get a transfusion.

My mother consented to a biopsy. They tried to do it while she was awake and conscious, but her cervix was so fragile, so tender from the damage cancer was causing, she couldn’t withstand the pain. They had to sedate her just to get a sample.

It was confirmed. Stage 2 cervical cancer.

Instead of consenting to chemo and radiation, she was so certain that there was a holistic approach that would save her life. She found it in untested, false pseudo-science called mistletoe extract. Injected into her belly twice a day.

For a few months, it actually looked like it was working. She was stronger, had a healthier glow to her face. She was certain it was working. Then… the pain started.

It was her right leg. Constantly, it would hurt. She’d have to sit a certain way just to feel better. She complained to that San Francisco doctor (with me interpreting over the phone) and he suggested magnesium. She tried it… and kept increasing the dosages, so certain something would work.

Several times the pain became so bad she had to be whisked to the emergency room or a last-minute visitation with some primary care physician. All they’d do is give her pain killers and say “It’s the cancer.”

I wish they’d pushed for more. Like a follow-up exam to see if it had spread. Or something. Maybe we could have saved her life then. However, she would just snap “I know it’s the cancer!” and just take the pain killers.

Time went on… summer into fall. She was doing worse. Losing weight, her hair drooping, her color changing into an unhealthy pallor. Still, she refused, clung to the mistletoe extract.

Then one day, I had a conversation with her San Francisco doctor. He told me bluntly, “She’s terminal. She really needs real care.”

I passed it onto her, but she was still in denial. Just the right kind of filter for water, just the right tincture… something would cure her. Save her life.

Then one day, it all hit a head. Her pain was so intense she couldn’t walk nor be carried. We had to call an ambulance and they brought my mother to the emergency room. I was with her, as my mother’s boyfriend.

There… once again… the doctor said “It’s the cancer.”

However, the issue was far worse than we knew. She couldn’t urinate, it was so difficult. Just little drops and she swore her bladder still felt like it was going to explode. So the emergency room doctor slipped in a catheter… and revealed deep, dark red fluids coming from her bladder.

My expression must’ve told my mother what was going on. She asked “What? What is it??”

I told her. Blood in her bladder. She ended up being admitted, had a few scans, and we learned her cancer had grown intensely into stage 4, bare minimum. It was spreading from her cervix into her bladder. Literally piercing her bladder. That’s why she felt like she couldn’t urinate enough.

It was a whirlwind from here. She saw a different oncologist who confirmed the diagnosis: she was terminal. At most she had a few months left to live she refused any treatment. With treatment, maybe there was a chance, albeit one requiring a miracle.

She refused chemo and radiation. Her first and only round left her in so much pain she didn’t want it anymore. Basically… she chose to die. Oh, still mistletoe extract, but… that was nothing. A placebo.

I spent two and a half years with her…. From her stage 2 diagnosis to the terminal diagnosis was perhaps nine months. Did the mistletoe extract accelerate her cancer? I don’t know. All I know is that after suffering under my mother’s growing delusion that finding the right diet would help damaged me thoroughly.

I was exhausted. My eldest brother and I would trade off shifts to watch over my mother as she was moved into hospice homecare. She no longer wanted to eat. She barely drank. It was all a matter of time.

Each time the hospice nurse came by, it was “It’s only a few days now.”

She outlived their expectations, not there was much left of my mother anyway. She was a shell, rotting from within. Her consciousness disappeared weeks before her body gave up. There was nothing left of her that made her… her.

The day she passed…. I didn’t know it was her body finally doing the death rattle. It was so early, and I was exhausted and sick. The constant care took its toll on me. When her body seized, it was her heart doing its last attempt… and then all that was left was the death rattle. The air leaving her organs. It would take almost ten hours before we finally knew she was gone.

I was sleeping when my second eldest brother woke me in a panic. He said they thought she was dead, but needed me to make sure. I threw the blankets off and rushed into the living room where her hospice bed was waiting.

The noise had stopped. She was still. I pressed my ear to her chest, desperately seeking the soft thump-thump of a heartbeat. I checked her breath, remembering a CPR method of feeling for the breath on your skin. Nothing.

That’s when it dawned on me. Her skin was ice cold. Paler than when she was alive.

She was gone.

I sobbed and told my brothers. “She’s dead.”

Collectively, they attended to their grief as I dug out the phone number of the hospice center. I told them she was dead and could they have her remains cared for. They notified the coroner’s office immediately. I called a few other people I knew, my voice ravaged from the cold made broken by the tears.

We told the rest of the family.

The days afterward were a blur. No will, no idea what to do with her belongings. All I knew was that she didn’t want to be buried in a casket and placed in the earth. She said over and over, “The body’s just a shell. Cremate me and scatter my remains over the sea.”

I offered an alternative: burying her ashes with a tree, so that she would be forever with the nature and earth she loved. She liked that idea, and we divvied up her ashes. My brothers did what they wanted with their portion.

I still have her ashes, in a beautiful urn decorated with wolves, her favorite wild creature.

Fourteen years….

She didn’t have to die that way. She chose to.

I’ll close this out with a pointed message to everyone who gets this far: Please, please, regardless of your age, make sure you have a will deciding what to do with your belongings, your body, what ceremony or procedure you want done. Do not leave it to your family to either fight over or scramble in deciding what to do afterwards.

It was very difficult for me and my brothers. I had no idea that my mother had some money set aside in her retirement, or that she had chosen her very divorced ex-husband as beneficiary. We argued over certain parts of her belongings, dividing up what we could agree on.

I’ve seen it happen with other friends, whose parents didn’t think to update or even make a will. Siblings fighting, sometimes ending in No Contact, all over the ending.

Please be prepared.

No matter how old or young you are, things can happen. A car could run you over tomorrow. You could discover cancer at a very young age. COVID could take you away. Save your family some heartache and have the paperwork drawn.

And don’t listen to the woo pseudo-science out there. Please… listen to your doctors. Push for answers.

Not everything can be cured or treated with just “eating the right kind of food”.

My health is still heavily devastated. I may never have the health I had when I was a young girl.

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Owned by four cats. Wanna-be writer. Currently living in the Midwest of the United States of America.

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Esther Olson

Esther Olson

Owned by four cats. Wanna-be writer. Currently living in the Midwest of the United States of America.

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