Just Hold Me Up

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Non-Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
It has been over a year since my mother died of cancer. She ate dinner with us at Thanksgiving and was rushed to the hospital on Christmas Day. On December 27, 2013 the diagnosis of stage IV mesothelioma was made.
This article describes the journey mom and I endured. It was a journey of pain, of release, of holding onto someone and letting go. I still love her and I still miss her and I still keep trying to break through the wall that came between us the day she died. She was my mom; my best friend in the world; the thorn in my side and the joy of my life. My heart still weeps, broken by her absence. But it also sings with the joy of knowing her and loving her.

Submitted: April 15, 2014

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Submitted: April 15, 2014



It has been just over a year since my mother died of cancer.  She ate dinner with us at Thanksgiving and was rushed to the hospital on Christmas Day.  On December 27, 2013 the diagnosis of stage IV mesothelioma was made.

I waited for the doctor outside the door post-procedure in one of several rooms in the surgical ward.  The metallic globe on the ceiling reflected all three hallways in a distorted way.  I remember thinking of that distortion as the doctor approached and told me what was to be the worst news of my life.  Less than two months after her diagnosis, she was gone.

She had lost her appetite and in August, her chest cavity kept filling with fluid.  It was drained and her appetite came back to some point but I was uneasy.  She insisted on waiting until after the holidays to have the doctors look further into what was wrong.

In January and February, I lived with her most of the time tending to every need.  Whatever she had a craving for, I would make it or buy it or figure out a way to get it.  Two bites and she was done.  Her weight loss was rapid and she grew weaker.  However, she was determined to give the illusion that she was strong and even talked of "after chemo".  There was no after chemo.  There was no chemo.  I knew that going in but it wasn't my place to tell her.  It was up to the oncologist. 

Acceptance is complicated; everyone accepts things differently.  Mom always had a steel backbone and it remained intact throughout this time.  That was both a good thing and a bad thing.  Throughout my life we would pull out our swords and draw blood.  This was no different.  If anything, these arguments were much more heated because much more was at stake for both of us.  Her reluctance to get Hospice was the ugliest.  I had been gently nudging her toward this but my mother was not someone who could be gently nudged.  I had to draw a line in the sand and throw her over it.  I still have remorse over this and question whether I could have handled it differently.  Death and guilt go hand in hand for many people.

To watch someone die is a surreal experience.  To watch someone you love die is an unbearable nightmare.  I described it as ugly.  The hospice chaplain corrected me.  “It’s difficult to watch someone die.”  NO!  I wanted to scream.  Making a soufflé is difficult; asking for a raise is difficult; death is UGLY.  Do not diminish my feelings or invalidate how I look at this in any way.  I am watching my mother die and I feel like my entire being is drowning with her.

People will do that.  They don’t know what to say so they would tell mom she looked good.  They’d tell me I was a wonderful daughter.  They would tell me her death is a blessing.  But really, let’s call death what it is.  One moment my mother is here and the next moment she is gone.  A wall is dropped between us.  It is a wall that I keep pounding at.  It is a wall that I try to penetrate and I can’t.  It is a wall where I stand crying and pleading with God for just a glimpse, just a glimmer on the other side.  I need to know that she is okay.  But the wall is impenetrable.  The wall is silent.

Coping is another matter.  I do free-lance artwork and to cope, I would draw.  During her pet scan that would only confirm our lack of hope, I was drawing lacy, delicate, small designs in a notebook I carried.  As I sat in the waiting room, the anger, the frustration, the helplessness took over and I started scrawling black, ugly jagged lines.  Exhausted, I walked in the halls of this enormous facility dedicated to cancer treatment.  One room was an information center.  I walked in to this empty room and stood looking at dozens of computers, books and pamphlets to help the patients and their families research the illness and get information.  I sat in a chair and started sobbing.  We were surrounded by the best information, the best technology, the best doctors and nothing, nothing at all could help my mother.

I followed my mother’s lead.  She was always in charge of her disease and her journey.  She wanted brave and I gave her brave.  We would not talk of “it” not even as the days progressed and she became more fragile.  She went from walking to walker.  Then from sitting in the den to sitting less and laying down more.  From being awake most of the time to sleeping many, many hours.  She insisted on eating as much as she could but it was a few bites here and there.  I pressed her to drink liquids.  My mother, who often drank too much wine (another battle we had fought several times over the years), had no taste for it.  What irony that I would want her to crave anything, even alcohol.

I would wake in the morning and stand outside her bedroom watching for the rise and fall of her abdomen.  When I would see it I would know that death hadn’t taken her quietly in her sleep as I kept praying.  Sadness mixed with relief.  We had more time.

Most of the time, we had quiet moments.  As she laid in bed, I would spoon her from behind and we would talk quietly about small things.  We would joke and just be with each other.  One night, I started to cry and told her I missed her already and she wasn't even gone.  She started out somberly, "Well, Lisa, this is something I have wanted to tell you for such a long time and want you to know.....I'm going to give you the recipe for the green bean casserole."  We both burst out laughing.  "The secret green bean casserole?" I asked.  "The secret family recipe?"  Yes, the very one published in every newspaper in America around Thanksgiving.

With assisted nurses, I would drain her of the fluid that had accumulated around her lungs.  After hospice came, they handled it with my assistance.  The sponge baths became their responsibility and my job was to keep the house clean, the wash done and feed her whatever small morsel she wanted, sometimes going to the store two or three times a day for every craving.

She was very weak by the time my brother finally drove in from Virginia.  "She's waiting for you," I told him.  I stayed the night that he arrived taking up my old place on the bumpy couch outside her bedroom and letting him have the bed in the front bedroom.  I thought she would die that night, but again she rallied and insisted the next morning on sitting up in the den.  First was a sponge bath and it would be the last I would give her.  I washed her feet drew parallels to scripture.

"I'm getting weaker, aren't I?" she asked.  For the first time she acknowledged her descent into nothingness.  She wanted to talk about “it”.

I told her that the last couple of days had not been good ones for her.  She wanted to know if I had  read about the mesothelioma and if she were going to get weaker.  I told her with all cancers the body becomes weaker and then quickly added that it was nothing she was doing wrong.

"Your job," I said, "is to tell us what you need and when you need it.  To tell us you need morphine if you have pain, and Ativan if you can't sleep.  You can't be overly brave.  You need to help us help you remain comfortable."

I sat with her for awhile in the den drinking tea and watching her sip small amounts of apple juice.  I was so anxious to get home and begin the cycle of doing the wash, the housework, the shopping and then running back two days later in exhaustion. But I decided to take more time with her.

"I love you so much," I whispered as I kissed her forehead before I left.  Then I pulled away and pinched my fingers together.  "This much; you can't get a piece of paper in here."  She made her funny, scrunched up mad face and we smiled at each other.  Two days later she was gone.  I rushed to her house after my brother's phone call.  But I was too late.  He stood sobbing at the top of the stairs telling me he couldn't feel her pulse.  I grabbed onto him and kept whispering, "It's okay" as I tried to soothe him.  Then I rushed into the bedroom and she laid there, eyes half open, mouth open.  I put my hand to her chest but there was no heartbeat.  Her body had become a shell.  I closed her eyes.

That's only part of the story.  You see, on the day my mother died, we were attending my husband's mother's funeral.  She had died five days before.  My brother called to tell me mom was fading.  We were in the funeral procession.  I jumped into the driver’s seat of the car and drove forty-five minutes to get to mom.  Death has no agenda; no schedule.  It doesn't occur at the most convenient time.  It leaves a person raw and scathed no matter how clearly it's announced its imminent arrival.  No one could make this up.  It would be too absurd.

The day after mom's death we needed to clear her house of everything to get it ready for sale.  I started in on her bathroom cabinet and came across her denture case.  I found myself in a sobbing, crumbled mess on the bathroom floor.  I was ridding her world of her daily possessions and it was overwhelming.  I found myself crying a lot the first few weeks; but I also laughed.  Coming across one pair of brand new grey Keds in a shoe box, after finding a duplicate; grey, brand new in box, I looked up and said, "Really Mom?  REALLY???  Did you buy one pair and forget you had the other or were you planning on wearing the other pair on your hands?"

I think of her every day.  She was my mom; my best friend in the world; the thorn in my side and the joy of my life.  My heart still weeps, broken by her absence.  But it also sings with the joy of knowing her and loving her.

I ask God to show me a glimpse of her.  I don’t plead or scream or threaten.  In quiet moments, I whisper one word; “please”.  He knows what I mean.





They said the "C" word.
There is a no question mark after that.

You see her small and frail.
Not quite old.  Elderly.
You saw her anger at the nurse
who couldn't return her to the right room
and left her
That anger, the mask over her fear.
her hand came up and covered her face
as she crumbled and rolled into something
than she already is.

You know my own fear.
You know that I will see
the branches on a tree
and see them as human lungs.
I see the fluid surrounding them.

the drain.
Then the test.  Then the scan.
I have learned in my short life
bargaining with You is futile.
I've prayed before and have heard
no answer.
I've pleaded and cried and cursed and screamed
but in the end
I know
we are part of this large tapestry only You can
You've handed me a world and I've taken a small
So I know that You know I can only see that corner.
And SHE is in that corner.
This time I'm silent.  Sometimes I say one word:
I know You know what I mean.
Just hold me up.


© Copyright 2020 Lisa Carroccio. All rights reserved.

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