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I used to think that she was leaving us, but now that word seems so unfair to her. She's not leaving. She's trying with every bit of what she has to stay, but she's slowly slipping away. Until now, it's been her body. Not that long ago, she drove herself to her doctor appointments. Then gradually, it became harder. She became exhausted too quickly. Then the tumor mass grew in such a way that sitting down put agonizing pressure on them, so she can only stand or lay.Then, gradually, she needed more help getting out of bed. Not long ago, she could dress herself. More recently, she would cry as I helped her into the shower, helped wash her, helped her get dressed. "You're still just a kid," she would insist. The indignance faded, and those shower times became a time for us to talk, reminisce, and plot without the boys jumping in on the conversation. A couple weeks ago, I tried to help her into the shower, but she couldn't raise her foot high enough, even with my help. I sponged her down instead and changed the clothes speckled with colostomy drippings and disposable undergarments full of blood and the puss of organ decay. "Can you smell that?" she'd ask in disgust at the smell of her own rotting. "It smells like spoiled meat," I would say, "the cancer must be breaking down." Every time, she would ask if there was more blood than before. Every time, I lied and said there wasn't. She asked if she was getting weaker quickly. She asked if I thought she'd see another Christmas. Always, always I'd lie and tell her what would make her feel better. She would perk up, stand up and support some of her own weight, and smile at me. She knew I was lying, she'd say, but she loved that I was doing it for her. I remind her constantly that I love her, that we all do, but that if she goes that we'll be okay. She'd always hug me and scold me for even suggesting that she might die.
That ended tonight. Tonight, she twitches. Tonight she clings to me for support and I hold her up, holding a straw to her lips. She doesn't want to eat, but I insist and hand feed her while she sways and twitches, murmuring half audible things about her waking dreams. In moments of clarity, she looks at me and tells me it's past my bedtime, or asks for a drink. I tell her I'm going to give her her insulin shot, and she springs back to life with, "No! Needles are too dangerous for you. Put that down right away..." she trails off, nodding back into twitching half slumber. She doesn't have feeling in most of her body. I give her the shot anyway. Before helping her back into the bed, I hug her and pull her hair back from her ever-bonier face. "Mom, can you hear me?" She opens an eye slightly and half nods. "Can you really?" I insist. Nothing. Her breathing is shallow. "Mama, I love you very much, and I'm sorry for all the time I've missed with you. I'm sorry I didn't pay more attention. I love you very, very much." She hugged back but didn't lift her head while replying groggily, "Don't be sorry. I love you too. I just can't stay awake too good right now. I'm just slipping a little is all." I situated her on the bed, and she went to sleep, still breathing shallow and twitching sometimes. I think we're rapidly approaching the time when she lets go, but there's no way to really know. I know I need to be ready to help with everything when she is gone. The rest of the family needs me now and will need me even more then. But the further away she gets, the more I feel like I'm drowning.