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.