Even after a terminal prognosis, denial is an incredible thing.

When my adoptive mother went into the hospital for the last time after battling breast cancer for what seemed like an eternity, I called there to speak with her and was she did not order a phone and asked for no flowers or baskets.

What?


So of course I flew up to the hospital on what was my middle son’s 11th birthday. My mother was on a gurney in the hallway waiting for a room. I remember going up to her and saying it was Michael’s birthday. She weakly turned her head in his direction and said, “oh Happy Birthday Michael.”

That wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted her to rise out of the bed and join us for dinner and birthday cake. I was visibly irritated. “Why did you have an order for no phone?” She shrugged. I was accusing and probing. I wanted to know dammit. She didn’t say why.

But I knew. I knew that she had come back here to die. And that she was severing ties. I knew it on one level but another level was screaming, “no you are not doing this. you are not dying…and you’re certainly not dying on my son’s birthday. GET UP AND HAVE CAKE!”

Irrational mental temper tantrum.

No, this was just not acceptable to me. You did not come here to die. Even though I knew that was exactly what she did.

I was irritated and remained so. When my father was dying of lung cancer I would bring him the New York Post and New York Daily News. He always started at the sports and then the comics and if he had interest, go on to the news. The last time I saw him he threw the paper at me when I tried to show him an article. He didn’t want to read it. He was checking out. And I was irritated. Read the paper dammit. Make everything normal.

So now my mother was doing it. Refusing a phone and visitors and missing a grandchild’s birthday for the first time. THIS is NOT normal. And I hate it.

We went out for dinner and cake but my mother remained in the hospital. In the room without a telephone.

The next day they fixed a DNR sign on her bed and I lost it. I stomped around the hospital demanding to know why. My mother’s wishes I was told. No. No. No.

The day after that her pain was so bad that the morphine kept her perpetually asleep. She was now not responding to anything at all.

The day after that I was sitting there when The Golden Girls came on and I went over to her and practically shouted: “Mom! Look! It’s the Golden Girls!” I was sure my mom would rise for Betty White. Surely she wouldn’t sleep through a Golden Girls episode.

The nurse came in and gave her a shot of morphine. Another? She’s not even awake, WHY ARE YOU DRUGGING HER????

Within the hour she died. For months I was convinced the morphine shot had killed her and I could have prevented it but didn’t.

Denial. It’s such an intense thing.

I spend my days now plying Michael with food. I am so afraid that as he gets deeper into the chemo and radiation that he will stop eating and whither away. I am somehow thinking magically that if I just give him enough food, all will be okay.

I spend my days just not able to think or believe that he’s terminally ill. Except for the mountain of pills he has to take and the fact he can’t drive, he seems perfectly fine to me. Since he’s been home, he’s really his old self. It’s like the hospital was one big nightmare and it’s over now.

There are hours each day where everything seems perfect and wonderful as it’s always been. Then I think that perhaps I should have one big family gathering before “the end.” And then I refuse to go there…but then I think I don’t want to regret anything.

The doctors said that sometimes a small percentage of patients beat the odds and the statistics and do wondrous things no one ever thought they would do. I’m hoping that is Michael and I can’t seem to separate that hope from my denial that something is terribly wrong. And will remain wrong.

I sit on the couch, next to him, and we’re both watching television, but my brain is thinking and thinking about what I’m not thinking about and am I fooling myself or am I just enjoying the time with him and that no one can predict the future? I don’t want to start yelling that everything needs to be NORMAL, but part of me is thinking that if we just sit here, holding hands and watching TV, that nothing will ever ever ever change.

Denial is an incredible thing.

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