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If you spent a lot of time with someone you loved while they were dying, have you been able to remember them as they were before?

(38 Posts)
JenniferYellowHat1980 Thu 28-Jan-16 21:00:58

My DM has been in hospital with pneumonia and various infections associated with end-stage cancer for a month. There is nothing more to be done apart from symptom control, so a move to the hospice is being planned.

We have always been close, but to my great regret, most of my time in recent years has been spent trying to keep on top of teaching full time and looking after my two young DCs. This last month, however, I was able to be with her 24/7 in a side room and since she moved to a hospital nearer home I've been with her for most of every day. If she gets to the hospice I won't leave her at all.

While I feel like I'm going to look back knowing that I've done right be her at the end, I'm really worried that in my memory she will be frail, helpless and dying. While it's important to me that her death is part of her whole, I don't want to lose sight of the vigorous, hardworking, creative, fit and inspirational woman she used to be. She's just 60 and it already feels as if she's been robbed of a third of her life; her retirement. I don't want her to be robbed of her identity too.

How have you kept the memories of the 'real' person you lost fresh? Unfortunately both she and I are camera shy so I have very few photos and no videos.

usual Thu 28-Jan-16 21:08:23

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

IAmPissedOffWithAHeadmaster Thu 28-Jan-16 21:10:39

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

RustyBear Thu 28-Jan-16 21:11:41

My dad died three years ago - he was 102, so he'd been pretty frail for a while. My sister and I spent four days by his bedside before he died, and that is still sometimes the 'instant' memory I get when I think of him - I try to consciously replace it with a happier memory, like his 100th birthday party, when he was still very much the same person he'd always been.

I think photos do help, though like you I don't have all that many - he was usually the one taking the photos - I have my favourite one on the wall of my study and it is now beginning to be my 'image' of him, rather than the memory of him lying in bed.

With my mother, it's easier to remember her as she was, as she died very suddenly of a stroke and I didn't see her when she was ill.

Hassled Thu 28-Jan-16 21:14:44

My mum died when I was a teenager - and actually I have very few memories of the last awful year. I remember the feisty, strong woman she was before that. And now that I'm older than she was when she died, I'm reminded of her when I pass a mirror, or hear myself say something to the kids, or sometimes when my DD says something - she's never really very far away at all. And it'll be the same for you, I promise.

Lolimax Thu 28-Jan-16 21:18:37

Hi Jennifer. I've lost both my parents, DM to cancer, DD to a dementia type condition. In the months that followed, especially DM's I was aware that I was struggling to remember 'her' rather than the way she died. But that's passed now. She's your mum you have a lifetime of memories, you don't need photos. Silly stuff will always remind you of her. Thinking of you.

procrastinatingpeacock Thu 28-Jan-16 21:19:05

I'm 8 months on from my mum's death, I spent a lot of time with her in the last stages of her illness. I was just thinking the other day that although I still think about her illness and death a lot, other memories of her when she was well are creeping back in more and more regularly. I've always been able to remember her as she was when she was well, I suppose her illness and death just dominated my thoughts of her for a time.

KittyOShea Thu 28-Jan-16 21:20:13

My dad died 4 and a half months ago. He was diagnosed with lung cancer and died 8 weeks later. I moved home for those 8 weeks and was with him the whole time.

For the first couple of months I could only see him as he was in his last days. Recently I have been remembering odd flashes of the man he was before. I am so grateful that these memories are starting to return.

It is a hard road and I don't know when I will feel like myself again but I am grateful I had the time with him. My heart goes out to you.

0dfod Thu 28-Jan-16 21:24:18

I am so sorry for what you are going through Op.

I find that it helps to do a conscious overlay with regards to memory of a loved one. So every time I pictured my gp's as they had been in hospital before they died, I would consciously overlay that picture with a happy memory of when they were well.

It was very hard to do at first, as I had found seeing them so frail and unwell very traumatic, even though I had been present at many deaths due to my work.

thanks and (((hug))) to you

loosechange Thu 28-Jan-16 21:28:01

Yes. As others said, at first the memories nearer to the end are stronger, but it evens out as time passes.

Initially I worried that when it stopped hurting that meant I had forgotten. In reality the lifetime of memories never go, it just doesn't hurt to remember.

AnaisB Thu 28-Jan-16 21:32:26

My dad died aged 58 6 years ago. I remember the time right before he died - sometimes painful memories as his final days were not peaceful. I also remember that the other people on his ward nicknamed him "Rentacrowd" because of how many visitors he had at visiting time, so the final days memories have positive associations too.

Mostly though, I remember him when he was well. If I call a picture of him too mind it is often a memory from being on holiday with him when he was in his 40s. (Not a specific memory, just an image of him with a bottle of French lager in his hand and a smile on his face).

JenniferYellowHat1980 Thu 28-Jan-16 21:35:04

I like the idea of consciously trying to overlay a memory of her dying with something happier. I'll try it.

I absolutely adore my mum. She's one of a kind. I'll be devastated to sell her home but I wouldn't have a hope of affording to keep it. It's quite an isolated place surrounded by countryside. I don't think I'll be able to bear to go back and see how someone else has modernised the place, so I'll lose all the memories of place too. sad

Stellar67 Thu 28-Jan-16 21:37:00

So very sorry OP thanks

My mum deteriorated over time and I worried I wouldn't remember her. My dad gave me her make up bag which has a mini perfume and lipstick in it. I have it in a drawer and if I open it I am brought back to when I was ten and she had her crazy perm and would teach me to bake. But for the first year I didn't open that drawer.

Your memories will come. It takes time. And least expected. I see myself talking to my kids and thinking of her. (I sound just like her)

CharleyDavidson Thu 28-Jan-16 21:37:56

Dad died in Nov. He was increasingly poorly with cancer for a year, but really went downhill quite quickly in the end. I sat for hours with him in the last week and, yes, I'm glad I did. I think it's something that's going to affect me for the rest of my life though. I have so many negative and painful memories of the appointments in the last year and the days at the end. And how he looked after.

But.... after he passed I dreamt about him. He was poorly and in bed. The next time I had a dream, he was sitting and talking. I've been able to remember happier things since then. The sound of his laugh. Him standing in his kitchen as he used to before he became poorly.

cate16 Thu 28-Jan-16 21:43:12

Strangely no, and I really thought I would. I lost both elderly parents within 6months of each other March and August last year.

I only ever 'see' my dad as a healthy (as he could be for 86) man, and my mum the same, although she was a lot frailer when she died (2nd)

That said I find I do get upset if I see someone helping an elderly female person when I'm out shopping.

madsaz76 Thu 28-Jan-16 21:44:59

I think your lifetime of memories will win through. My Mum died in 2014 & I spent plenty of time with her in the hospice. We made a point of talking about nice memories together, and also chose some music she loved etc so I could play it to her when she was less awake. I'm a doctor and have cared for lots of dying patients - and have seen really good deaths as well as really bad ones. I am passionate that we make these horrible times as good as we can for everyone.

I would urge you to make things as personalised to your mum as you can - everyone seems a bit restrained in a hospice and like they feel there are rules. In fact as long as you are not breaking the law or disturbing other people make things feel as "normal" as possible. That way, even though she is frail and sick, your Mum still shines through.

We made Mum a one page profile - basically a pic of her & 3 parts of who I am, what I like and want, and who my family are/ how to support them. The staff can use it to have normal conversations with her etc. & it was a great tool.

Bring her favourite perfume, or use her favourite red wine for mouth care. Mum loved a leg rub with aveeno, and calamari from M&S. Make sure she is in her own clothes where possible and comfortable. DO her manicure if she's that kind of lady. Do whatever it takes to focus on who your mu is, not what illness your mum has.

Bottom line - keep her as your mum right to the end - its good for her dignity and your sanity. You will also feel so proud that you did these things and it becomes a positive. You can really build some lovely memories even in the limited time you have left.

BackforGood Thu 28-Jan-16 21:52:26

Yes. I have a lifetime of memories, against just a few weeks of end of life struggle.
We do have photos - not loads, but enough, and, of course they have all been taken at happy occasions - holidays, weddings, parties, graduations, birth of a new grandchild, etc. - so she is looking happy in them all.
However, it's not the photos that trigger memories, it's when I do something we used to do together, or go to a place she liked going to - all those things (even if it's going round the supermarket you used to take her to each week) that trigger memories.

One other thing - when my Mum died, I went in to see her (I wasn't sure - I'd never seen a body before, and my sister didn't want to, but my Aunt - Mum's sister - did, so I went in with her.). It was actually really lovely. All the strain had gone from her face - she looked so 'at peace' and really like my Mum used to look many years earlier. I was so glad I did.

MissyMaker Thu 28-Jan-16 21:54:02

I'm so sorry to hear about your mother Jennifer. It must be a very difficult time for you all.

I nursed my DH through cancer. It was horrific. In the years since he died though, I only get rare glimpses of him ill. The rest of the time I remember him as he truly was - fit, beautiful, strong and handsome. Speaking to others close to him though, I do know that some found it difficult to shake the images of his last days and weeks from their mind. But even for them, those memories have faded with time.

There can be some triggers though - recently I had a spa treatment - a relaxation 'bliss' bath. It was a huge spa bath, which just reminded me of DH having to be hoisted into a bath when he was at the hospice. It was a horrible half an hour, where I felt claustrophobic, my mind filled with very unhappy images and just couldn't wait to get out!

Cancer is an absolute bastard. I wish your mother well and please try and do a little self care for you too at this time. flowers

FilbertSnood Thu 28-Jan-16 22:05:39

My mum died almost 3 months ago. Of cancer, eventually in a hospice.

I was haunted by images and dreams of her last week initially. I think because it was so intense and all I had lived for 24/7 for weeks before her death.

Now, I still get those things, but I also remember how she was before. In fact I am constantly reminded of her. And I cry all the time, but that's ok because it means I am thinking of her.

I think we will all do this to our own timetable, but in time the memories of the last part shrink back to the small amount of time they are in a whole lifetime of memories.i already remember so much, I get flashes of the last weeks often, but it really was recent. I cry every day still. It's grim, but trust that you will remember her as she was because I think you will.

JenniferYellowHat1980 Thu 28-Jan-16 22:05:48

Actually this thread is reminding me of things I need to do for her tomorrow - favourite music on my phone and Bluetooth speaker, razor as she won't wear surgical stockings any more and can see her legs are getting hairy grin, need to buy a stash of Walkers plain crisps etc ... I love caring for her and wouldn't have it any other way. I'd handed my notice in for Easter so I could do it, not expecting it to happen so soon. Unfortunately I have to use sick leave as I can't leave until then so I feel guilty about that but I know I'm doing right by my mum.

Yes, cancer is an utter bastard. it took my DH's cousin, a 32 yo mum, less than two years ago.

JenniferYellowHat1980 Thu 28-Jan-16 22:09:03

Filbert, that is what I hope will happen. Sounds like your experience was much like mine.

Thanks to you all and sorry you're in a position to give me this advice flowers

FilbertSnood Thu 28-Jan-16 22:15:39

I quit my job too Jennifer
I am so sorry you are going through this. flowers

hollieberrie Thu 28-Jan-16 22:24:39

Sorry, haven't read the whole thread as getting teary already, but my heart goes out to you OP. I've lost both my parents - both only in their 60's - one to cancer, one to a sudden brain haemorrhage. I learned some lessons from the death of my dad - i had some regrets about not being there more - and so spent every minute with my mum and was there holding her hand when she died.
In terms of memories, at first i was very haunted by images of them so thin and unconscious and of their bodies, but as time has gone on, the happy memories really outweigh these - i never thought this would change but it genuinely has with time.
Still miss them terribly. Losing a parent is life changing and my heart goes out to you. Enjoy this last time with her as much as you can - we still managed some jokes and nice memories during the time in hospital (listening to music and putting nice handcream on etc) and i still treasure those times.
flowers for you.

hollieberrie Thu 28-Jan-16 22:27:12

Filbert i am 18 months on from the death of my mum and still cry every day too. My bereavement counsellor says to try to see it as a positive, we cry because we love and miss them so much, and thats a lovely thing really. Sorry its so hard. flowers for you too.

magimedi Thu 28-Jan-16 22:35:11

OP, firstly I am so sorry for you. flowers

My mother died some 20 years ago & she had Alzheimers.

For the first couple of years after she died I could only remember her with that disease.

Then that memory faded & now, when I think of her (often) I remember the woman she was before her illness.

It may sound trite, but time is a great healer.

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