|Me: I just spoke with the lung doctor – I have a prognosis.
Sharon: Guess we all will be chatting later today then?
Me: Want the blunt version or wait for me to call tonight
Sharon: I’m all for blunt.
Eric: Whichever is fine. My prognosis is 2-5 hours if she keeps this attitude.
Me: 6 months – year
Eric: Wow. That changes things a bit.
Me: I cried. Now I feel better and feel like we need to make plans. The lung doctor will see her this week and give her a prognosis
Eric: Good that it’ll be coming from him.
Sharon: I agree. This changes everything.
Me: Alright I need to go back to class and be grown up
As a pastor, Mom helped walk quite a few people from this life into the next. She had been there when a mother told her young son that his father had died, she had helped people share with their loved ones that they didn’t have much time left on this side of eternity, and she had cared for countless families in their grief, and had always taken time with them so she could write a eulogy that was extremely personal. Some of those times were sweet and meaningful; occasionally they were not. Mom recounted a tale of a family watching Baywatch while their loved one was lying in the bed next to them in the last hours of life. We joking asked her, “Well what do you want us watching when we tell you that you’re dying.” Mom’s response was Young Frankenstein, her favorite movie. Don’t judge! Mom wasn’t always a pastor. From that day on, long before Mom even got sick, we would joke that we were going to regularly put Young Frankenstein on and then call mom into the room to tell her, “We need to talk.”
In addition to Power of Attorney for all underwear related things, I gained a new title, Harbinger of Doom. I had been the one tasked with the responsibility of gathering my siblings and heading home the night my Dad passed away, although at the time the call came all we knew was that Dad had been in an accident. I spent hours on the phone that Easter weekend calling straight through our phonebook trying to reach friends and family. I was the one that sat down just over a year ago and explained to Mom that while we didn’t have a prognosis for her illness, the more generic prognosis via the internet was 3-5 years with a range of less than a year to 13 years. I was the one that finally forced the doctor’s hand into giving us a prognosis for Mom, so I would be the one to tell Mom what he said.
I called the lung specialist while on lunch break, hoping to catch him. He returned my call after I had returned to class, but fortunately I was assisting another teacher at that moment and was able to step out and take the call. I stood there in the entrance to my school, between the two sets of doors where I would have privacy, cell signal, and protection from the elements. He explained that no one really knows when these things will happen and how quickly or slowly the disease will progress. I told him we weren’t going to hold him to it, but we didn’t know how to plan without some idea. I told him that Mom recalled the other specialist talking about her lungs being a miracle, and being convinced she had at least ten years. I said we needed to be thinking about nursing care, assisted living, etc. and two years or ten years made a big difference. That’s when he said, “Six months to a year.” I thanked him, went to the staff room and cried. Another teacher comforted me as I gave in to the grief that had been growing for over a year since the diagnosis came through. The people I work with have always been incredibly supportive. When I did return to class, the teacher who had been teaching my class at that time asked me if I was okay. All I could do was shake my head no. I sat down and sent him an email explaining. Before he even got the email he had offered to come back during his prep period in an hour and cover my class for me. I declined but with much gratitude. Teaching has always been a comfort to me. I can shut out most of the struggles of my outside life, and it offers me a respite from the trials.
That evening my siblings and I would gather at the rehab and give Mom the news. It would be hard. It felt a little like role reversal, telling your parent about their life and helping them to navigate this road. How many times had my parents nursed me to health, helped me walk through break ups, or advised me on the best paths to take for my future. Here we were returning that favor to Mom. We were gentle, but blunt. I delivered the basic news and offered to further explain what the doctor has said, which wasn’t much. Mom cried. We cried. We were sorry we hadn’t brought Young Frankenstein.
|Eric: Barb, if you are coming tonight, we should meet in the lobby and all go in together, I think.
Me: Almost there
Eric: I am at the intersection outside of the center. I will be there in 30 seconds.
Me: Overachiever. Did you bring Young Frankenstein?
Eric: I forgot.