Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In the Gloaming

I remember lying in front of our console TV as a small child, absentmindedly watching old shows with my mom. She'd have me tune in to programs like Perry Mason or The Waltons as she'd do her sitting-down chores -- folding the laundry, for example. I was the little blonde-haired knob turner back before we owned our first remote control.

Personally, I rarely watch TV. I watch American Idol when in season, and I occasionally watch shows on Netflix or on demand when I absolutely have nothing else going on. I rarely ever watch anything in real time, not even Downton Abbey, a show I found on Netflix and would watch in real time -- if I bothered to discover when it actually airs instead of just setting the DVR to record it. The point here: TV viewing matters very little to me. However, like my mother, I prefer to fold the laundry while tuned in to something mindless, something I don't have to focus deeply on, but something entertaining enough to distract me somewhat from the awful, horrible, terrible, neverending task at hand.

During laundry time last week, I tuned to The Waltons just as my mother had me do all those years ago. Warm towel in hand, I paused on a twilight scene of children scampering about in a clearing while the adults lazed on a long farmhouse porch, resting after a hard day's work. The imagery was captivating, and I took special note when the grandfather referred to that slipping away of the day as being "in the gloaming." More clearly defined, the phrase describes the period of decreasing daylight from late afternoon until nightfall.

One year ago, my mom was diagnosed with Oat Cell Carcinoma, an aggressive, minimally treatable form of small cell lung cancer. The rounding oncologist at the hospital where she was diagnosed essentially told her to pack it in -- she'd have just a few weeks of life left, at best. I promptly gave that oncologist a stern talking-to, then researched and connected my mom with another hospital group and a more positive, more aggressive oncologist. A year later, she's still living.

In November, my mom began undergoing prophylactic brain radiation. Studies have shown the progression of this cancer to the brain will slow if the patient radiates in advance. Once the cancer has metastasized to the brain, there are no available treatments, treatments elsewhere in the body make no sense, and the patient is really in a period of waiting for the end. So, she began having the scary, risky brain radiation, and after her second treatment, she lost her mind. One minute, we were having a normal, lucid conversation; the next moment, she was hallucinating and trying to eject herself from my rapidly moving vehicle. While rushing her back to the hospital, I called a few people to say their final goodbyes before her mind was entirely gone, then I spent the evening demanding doctors hear me and treat her.

Hours alone with my waning mother and my nursing baby were trying. Woman at the end of life, baby at the beginning, and me, stuck in the middle of the press. I had to give orders for scary treatments that were necessary to ensure her physical existence, even if she was already gone mentally. As I tried to explain to my frantic, lost-within-herself mother all the painful things her care team was doing to her, the little blonde-haired knob turner within me reeled. Then, even after those hard choices, more than once her body responded as if it had had enough. Unconsciousness overtook her. I was certain she wouldn't last through the night. When she was finally physically stable enough to be wheeled from the ER to the ICU for more invasive care, I couldn't go with her -- nursing babies weren't allowed on the floor. I left the hospital certain I'd seen my mother alive for the final time. Fortunately, I was wrong.

Those hours with my mom that November night were some of the longest, loneliest of my life. James was with me at the hospital for as long as possible, but he had to leave to care for our children at home. All of our other relatives live elsewhere, but even if we were geographically closer, the reality is only two or three people would be bothered to come to the hospital and sit with me while my mom slips into eternity. Though she pulled through that particular experience physically and regained her complete mental capacity, it occurred to me just how quickly the end could (and likely will) come, how hard managing it all will be, and how my comfort even in this must come from Christ alone.

The first days after diagnosis were very overwhelming, just as all the days since have been. All of our conversations are peppered with final thoughts and final plans. Not once in this year has there been a day spent together that was just innocent and not full of intentional moments, and while intentional moments are good, they are intense. Every experience might be the last of its kind. We are in the gloaming, waiting for night to fall.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night
by Dylan Thomas (Audio)

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore."

Psalm 121:1-8 ESV

Photos courtesy of Jen Hair at Wild Hair Photography


  • Kate Nowak

    God bless you and your family. Jen is my cousin and I was so touched to hear that she had offered her gift of photography to you. I know how much she misses having those precious pictures of her dad.


    Kate Nowak

  • Randi~Dukes and Duchesses

    Those pictures reduced me to tears and I'm so thankful you have them. They're beautiful. Tara also had photos taken with her mom in the months before she died and she is so grateful for them now. Praying that you and your mom have many moments left to share.

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