It’s been exactly one month.
One month since she held my hand. Once month since I heard her laughter ringing against the walls. One month since I kissed her cheek. One month since I watched her take her final breath.
The pain is real.
I have replayed her last day with us so many times in my memory that one month feels like yesterday. The numbing shock of expected demise is now an aching grief. I try to write about the memories from our final week together and my fingers simply can’t type out the words.
There have been times in this past month where I have literally been paralyzed by grief. For those who know me well, this is quite a surprise because I am always on the go, a quintessential Pollyanna who always wears a smile. However, this month has been different. It’s been a month of mourning; her loss creating a pang of sweet sorrow in my heart. Her memory wraps itself around me like a warm blanket on a chilly morning. I feel her love and strength flowing through my soul and I can already see how her life and death has changed me.
This month has been surreal.
My thank-you notes still sit on my desk, the envelopes unmarked. I can hear her voice nagging in my head: “I did not raise you like that. You need to write those thank you notes because it’s the right thing to do.”
Her voice makes me laugh, then cry.
She’s right. I need to write the thank-you notes. I need to press on, move forward, stop sitting stagnant in my grief. The world isn’t going to stop for my mourning, nor should it. We all experience sadness and loss in our life at one time or another.
I am no different than you.
Today I’ve reached the one month mark and I’m surfacing from the crashing waves to take a breath. I feel the virtual veil of woe lifted and I can see the world around me with a deeper clarity than before. It’s time. Today is here. Let’s get this party started.
One way we decided to honor my mom was to create a GoFundMe page as a final act of kindness for her and today I have the privilege of blessing every single nurse who works on the Third Floor – Oncology Department at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital – Forest Campus.
For those who are just catching up with our story, my mom has battled Stage 4 Small Cell Lung since June 2015, a journey of highs and lows. On April 20, 2017, she was hospitalized so doctors could “do something about that breathing,” but she never left. On May 4, 2017 she passed away in the same room she entered two weeks before.
During her time at Henrico Doctor’s Hospital, she received the best care possible for her deteriorating condition. Each and every person who entered her room had a smile and kind word to say to my mom. She often remarked that it didn’t matter that this hospital was a half-hour away, on the other side of town. This was HER hospital. These were HER people.
And now they are mine as well.
Each day she would have a new crop of faces to greet her. “Good morning, Mrs. Shaver! How are you feeling today?” While I know it’s part of their job to greet the patient each morning and afternoon, I think we all knew there was something a little different about my mom.
She wasn’t just a cancer patient. She wasn’t here for a quick fix.
She was dying.
As my mom prepared for the final stage of her journey, these amazing people were her entourage. We designated them as her “personal concierge staff” as they made arrangements for her to have the best experience during her stay. We put on “sparkle lip gloss” (petroleum based Chapstick) and wore our “party clothes” (pajamas from home) so we were always ready for any new people to meet.
They made her feel like a superstar.
They took time to greet us and get to know us, asking about our other family members. They offered us makeshift beds and tried their best to lighten our load. They even stopped to smell the flowers, literally.
They helped us create a room of joy and laughter. They didn’t chastise us when we delivered a dozen Duck Donuts to the woman who had “no food by mouth” listed on her sheet. (Ooops, sorry! We truly didn’t know that was written until later!)
They turned a blind eye as we brought yet another person into my mom’s packed room to celebrate upcoming events we knew my mom would miss. (I think she may have broken the hospital record for the most visitors on a daily basis.)
They helped us prepare for the stages they knew were to come. They were honest, kind, and compassionate. They listened to our fears and hugged us when the words wouldn’t come. They offered creative suggestions to ease my mom’s pain, like making hospital smoothies with orange sherbert ice cream and ginger ale when the pain of swallowing became too difficult a task to bear. They even allowed me to bring in a wine glass for my mom to drink from (which is pretty funny when you realize my mom was in Alcoholics Anonymous for almost 25 years!)
They treated my mom with respect and dignity and when the time came to say goodbye, they came in together as “her crew” and posed for one last memory-making picture before their shifts changed for the night. One nurse even brought her seven-month son just to “soak up a little bit of the joy” as we celebrated our final moments together.
My mom adored these nurses so very much. Her eyes always lit up when they came into her room.
Alex. Jessica. Sara. Ellen. Audrey. Shannon.
We learned their names because they mattered to her;
We learned their names because they they mattered to us.
Today, one month later, I am surprising all 23 nurses on the oncology staff with a photo card of me and my mom drinking strawberry smoothies, one of the last drinks we enjoyed together. Attached to the photo is a Starbucks gift card so they can share in our joy with a strawberry smoothie, too.
It’s been exactly one month of mourning.
Now it’s time to live.