Posted by: Kathy | January 30, 2014

One True Thing

A year or so before my mom died, she gave me a book called “One True Thing.” In a way it’s ironic, since the story is similar to my mom’s battle with cancer, her struggle to fight against this horrible disease, the realization that she was going to die, acceptance of impending death, and then her death. Intermingled throughout this story is how family members cope in different ways with their wife/mother’s illness and death.

The book was made into a movie, and I watched the movie before I read the book. In fact, I’ve read the book at least twice and have watched the movie several times. Each time I watch the movie, it touches me in a different way. I see something I didn’t before or view it with a different understanding. Lines from the movie or various scenes touch my heart and speak to me with understanding.

Last night I was exhausted, physically, mentally, and emotionally. But I followed my nightly routine of watching something on my iPad before I went to sleep. Last night, this movie called out to me. I don’t know why, but it did, so I watched it again.

There are several parts that really stood out to me. In the beginning, Ellen, the daughter, says “I was never close to my mother growing up,” and this statement rings true for me and has brought me a lot of guilt, especially since I never understood why I wasn’t very close to my mom. I believe it’s because we were just two very different people, with different viewpoints. I respected and admired my mom for the life she led, but it wasn’t the life I wanted, just as Ellen states at one point in the movie. Toward the end of the movie, after burying her mom, Ellen says “never knew I could miss someone so much.” This statement penetrates my heart because after my mom died, there was a huge hole in my life, echoing with pain and grief. It was the loss of my mom. Her death left an emptiness that no one could fill or ever will.

When Kate, the mom, is diagnosed with cancer, Ellen is told by her dad to come home and take care of her mom. My dad never asked this of me, but I took care of my mom in ways that I could, and I can deeply relate to the variety of feelings Ellen experiences. Shock. Anger. Confusion. Sadness. Ellen tries her best to take care of her mom, but the care is mixed with a lot of uncertainty regarding how to best give her mom what she needs. There is a point in the movie when the oncologist tells Ellen that it’s time to stop chemotherapy because nothing more can be done. Ellen replies “I’m not ready to stop the chemotherapy.” I had a similar experience with my mom when her oncologist stated during an office visit that mom could stop treatment, that it was her choice. I was so angry at the doctor. I felt like he was giving up on my mom when I wanted to keep fighting. I realized that stopping treatment meant there was nothing more that could be done to stop this deadly disease. It was the true beginning of the end, and my mom died less than a month later.

After this point in the movie, Ellen watches as her mom deteriorates. The cancer has taken over. There is nothing left to do but wait for death to take away the pain from the cancer. But death meant that her mother, my mother, would be gone. That type of waiting is so hard. For me, I didn’t want my mom to suffer and she was in a great deal of pain during the final weeks of her life. As was stated in the movie: “no one should have to live like that.” I agree. But to end the pain meant losing my mom, and I didn’t want that option either. It was a no win situation. In the end, Kate was reduced to a mere shell of her former self, just like my mom. My once healthy, vibrant mom became a walking skeleton who was in constant pain. The change was shocking and sad and scary, all at the same time.

I don’t know why I chose to watch this movie last night. Why I continue to watch this movie again from time to time. For me, it’s a strong reminder of my mom’s illness. But I also remember how hard she fought to live as long as she could and her dream of dancing with her grandson at his wedding. I guess sometimes I need reminders of my mom, in different ways, even if it makes me sad. My mom led a wonderful life filled with many happy times, but her battle with pancreatic cancer and death from this horrible disease were also a part of her life. It was one of those defining moments that will always live in a small part of my heart, since my mom’s illness and death affected me so deeply.

I have healed from my mom’s death and accepted the fact that she is no longer physically with the family she loved so much. But I don’t think I will ever fully heal from her illness and the way pancreatic cancer stole bits and pieces of my mom’s life until there was nothing left, and the only way my mom could find relief from the pain and experience peace was through death.



  1. I, too, googled ‘daughters without mothers blog’ and yours came up. However, our stories are very different. My mother was murdered by my father when I was 21, and we had no time to begin to prepare ourselves for what horrible grief was to come. Though I am not sure that there is any ‘easier’ way to lose your mother, I often think about what it would have been like to know she was going to die before it happened. But then thinking about how hard it must have been to watch your mom suffer through so much pain is horrible. No matter how it happens, losing your mother is the worst feeling, the most alone feeling in the world. I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Hi Zoey:

      I am so sorry about the loss of your mom and how you lost her. I can’t begin to imagine what you went through.

      I’ve spoken to people who’ve lost their mom suddenly and also those who lost their mom after an illness, like I did. Both come with great sadness and grief.

      You wrote: No matter how it happens, losing your mother is the worst feeling, the most alone feeling in the world.

      You are so right. For me, watching my mom suffer from pancreatic cancer was awful, and healing from her illness was harder than healing from her death. But I needed that time with her because there were things I needed to do, things I felt I needed to make “right”. I am grateful we had almost a year. I didn’t get to do everything I wanted to do, but if my mom had died suddenly I think it would have been worse for me. I guess it’s different for everyone, but loss is loss and it hurts.

      I wish you the best. Take care.

  2. Kathy,
    I found your blog by Googling “blogs about loss of a mother.” My mom died 7 weeks ago from pancreatic cancer at the age of 65. Imagine my surprise when your blog was the one that popped up and I read that our stories are sadly so similar. Right now, I yearn to know that what I am feeling is valid, and reading your blog has helped. My mom fought this dreaded disease for 14 months and, like you wrote, it ate away at her until there was nothing left – she was but a shell of her true self. Thank you for putting your experiences and real feelings out there for others like me, who need resources to navigate this journey called grief.
    -Amy T.

    • Hi Amy: I’m so sorry you lost your mom to pancreatic cancer. I’m glad my blog helped you. Writing about my feelings was my way of dealing with my mom’s illness and death. My blog is public, anyone can find it, but I rarely share it with people I know since my feelings on here are so personal. Navigating the road of grief isn’t easy and sometimes it will feel like you are going backwards, but it will get better and you’re not alone. Please write back or email me ( if you want to talk. Take care. I wish you the best.

  3. Life goes on. We move on. But the memory stays. And it hurts. And what’s more sad is the fact that its the pain and the loss that stays.

    • Hi JJ: Sorry for not replying sooner. Yes, it is the loss that stays. Lately, all that keeps running through my mind is how different (and better) life would be now if my mom were still with us. Living without them is the hardest part. Take care.

  4. I completely understand your compulsion to watch “One True Thing” over and over. I think that understanding comes on my part by being very drawn to elderly men who have Alzheimer’s or other dementia because so much of what they do – the way they do things, say things – resemble my now deceased father. Neither of us are trying to relive that terrible time or the hurt that both parties experienced, but we’re irretrievably drawn to the story.

    • Interesting insight. It makes perfect sense. The ironic thing is that I can watch this movie over and over again, but I have tried several times, in different ways, to write a book that would tell my mom’s story, my story, the story of family from when she was diagnosed to following her death. I got about 4 chapters written for each of these books, and I couldn’t continue. Now I am writing a book that is so different and the words are just coming to me. I just need to find free time to work on the book. Take care.

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