#14 Free.

There is a necklace that I wear almost every day, and across the gold bar, the word “free” is etched.  One of my favorite memories of my Mom in her final days includes this very word, and I wear it in memory of her.

My mom fought breast cancer on and off for eight long years, and my family and I created a CaringBridge website to keep our friends and family updated regarding her health.  In one of these posts, I shared the story behind the word “free”, and I wanted include this in my journal post today.

A few weeks before my mom died, she started having periods of confusion.  Since this was a new finding, she was brought in to see her doctor, who told us there was a possibility that the tumors growing in her body were now spreading to her brain.  We would need an MRI to confirm, and so one was scheduled for the following week.

The day of her MRI, I was an absolute wreck.  It had to be a sedated MRI, because my mom was no longer able to lay flat; the tumors in her spine made it impossible for her to comfortably do so.  Because of the required sedation, the MRI took hours to complete.  I called my parents for an update regarding the results later that afternoon.  They had just gotten in the car and were heading home.  I first talked with my dad, who relayed the test results to me, and he confirmed our worst fears – the tumors were now affecting her brain.  There were no more options left.  The chemo that had been previously working was no longer effective, and Mom was discharged home on hospice care.  After a tearful conversation with my dad, he then handed the phone to my mom, who was still a little giddy from sedation.

While the words my dad spoke were still sinking in, my mom said these words to me, “I’m free, Katie.  I’m free as a bird”.

She then explained to me that she would be free from pain, free from doctors, free from the endless tests and pokes and labs and appointments.  The hospice nurses were going to keep her comfortable until her final day.

As I heard her say “free as a bird”, I was driving around town.  The clouds parted in the sky above me, and rays of sunshine flooded into my car.  In that moment of brokenness, I also felt healing.  It was the way my mom said those words to me that made all the difference.  For the first time in what seemed like months, Mom was genuinely happy.  I could hear the relief in her voice, and I could hear a smile spreading across her face, and I knew that everything was going to be ok.  She was at peace with her situation, knowing that her fight against pain and her struggle to survive would soon be over.  Now was her time to enjoy these last few moments, whether it be days, weeks, or maybe longer, with her family and friends.

Mom passed away peacefully in her sleep a few weeks later.  The nurses’ aide and I had just completed her morning care and had gotten her settled back into a comfortable position on her bed when she took her last breaths.  It was my final act of love that I could give her; I was so thankful to have been given the opportunity to take care of her in her final days.  Dad and I were by her side holding her hands, and I barely got the words “I love you, Mom” out before her last breath was taken.

I hope you’re flying free up there Mom; you have earned those wings.

brave wings

The full story of my mother’s fight against cancer can be found on her CaringBridge website, posted here