Accompanying my mother through the process of dying as her carer, confidant and friend

by Heather Wiseman, Palliative Care Australia, 9 February 2017

Ms Wiseman helps Shannon Calvert tell the story of the palliative care services provided to Ms Calvert’s mother, who was diagnosed with cancer aged 68.

During one of mum’s hospital visits I came across brochures on palliative care and advance care planning. I asked a doctor whether mum might need palliative care, but he said no, she wasn’t in the terminal phase of dying so she didn’t need it yet.

That didn’t add up to me, because the brochures said palliative care wasn’t just for people who were going to die right there and then. I knew that it supported people who had a life-limiting illness, to help with their quality of life. Mum agreed that we should look into it, and if the time wasn’t right, we could just pop the brochures in the bottom draw.

I’d spotted a sign for the palliative care office and so I stuck my head in and told them about mum. They thought palliative care would help and suggested that I raise it with mum’s GP. He had no hesitation faxing a referral to Silver Chain, an organisation that provides community based palliative care over here in Perth.

A Silver Chain nurse visited for an assessment in February 2015. Mum was sitting up in bed and together we asked questions. The nurse told mum she was entitled to palliative care support while she continued her chemo. She told mum all decisions about her future care were hers, but mum and I didn’t have to do it all on our own any more. I remember the two of us wanting to cry with relief.

Silver Chain guided us with her other symptoms, so we knew what to expect. That helped to ease our anxieties and build acceptance. Rather than being upset when mum didn’t want to eat, I realised that it was natural. Mum was reassured by that too.

As mum came close to the final stages of dying, she found it hard to talk or stay awake. She said she was worried about how she was going to die, and scared she’d experience an event like a heart attack. Her doctor explained she would likely die peacefully in her sleep, or maybe from a blood clot in her lung, without any pain. We hoped for specific answers about how long she had left. We had to accept that she might have hours, weeks or months to live.

Not long afterwards, mum fell into a coma. Several days later, while my brothers were visiting, her breathing changed. For the first time in days, mum opened her eyes, looked at me and gave a slight frown. One tear rolled out of her eye and she was gone.

It was an early summer evening. I remember the sound of the wind chimes and the breeze blowing. My brothers and I hugged over mum. We were so relieved that we were all there with her and that she had died peacefully, as she had wished.

I sat with mum for a while, and a Silver Chain nurse came to help me prepare her. I had discussed this with mum and promised it would be dignified. It was.

On the day of the funeral, it was like mum was with me the whole time.

I’ve learned to experience and accept grief. There is no standard process. For me, I get a pull in my heart and then a sense of comfort comes from nowhere. I know it’s mum. It happens when I least expect it, leaving an overwhelming sense of peace.

I have no words to describe how much I miss her. I do have peace in my heart, knowing that mum died with dignity and grace, surrounded by her children in the home she loved.

Click here to read the full article.

In New Zealand, hospices provide palliative care services free of charge to anyone with a life-limiting illness, irrespective of their age, religion or ethnicity. Click here to find a hospice near you.

Update 2 March: an earlier version of this post inadvertently stated that it was Ms Wiseman’s mother who had died.  The error is regretted.