I Need to Stop Blaming Myself for My Mother’s Death

I owe myself an apology.

Blame can be burdensome.

It’s been four years since my mother died from complications due to ovarian cancer. She died on the evening of June 6th at Boston Medical Center. I was home, having fallen asleep on the living room couch. Mom had been alive when I had left her. But I remember her telling me that she was tired. I had her squeeze my hand before I left and I had kissed her forehead. Mom’s grip was still strong. I believed that she would pull through. She didn’t.

The doctor called me around 9:40 P.M. She informed me that my mother had passed away in her sleep. “They’re cleaning her up now,” the doctor told me. My first instinct was to jump into my car and drive down to the hospital. In my mind I thought maybe I could revive her, maybe there was still time. But the doctor explained that my mother’s body was being taken to the autopsy room to determine the exact cause of death.

I hung up the phone in a state of shock. My entire body felt numb. The world seemed surreal. Was I still asleep? Was this some terrible dream? No. It was a complete and utter nightmare. My mother, the matriarch of our family, was gone.

Over the past four years, I have replayed the nearly last two years of my mother’s life. Before she was diagnosed with cancer, my mother was working two jobs, walking in the annual Walk for Hunger, and helping around the house. My mother was a strong woman. She was old school, growing up in the 50s and 60s. My mother had endured poverty, an abusive marriage, and raised two children on her own. She was my hero. But my hero had fallen.

My mother began to look sickly long before her cancer diagnosis. She walked with a limp. Her right shook uncontrollably. Mom lost weight. While I was dealing with work, home, and relationships, mom was in pain. I was too caught up in my own matters. I didn't remind her to go to the doctor, but I should have forced the issue. Mom was stubborn when it came to doctors.

My mother believed that all you needed was to drink a can of ginger ale and lay down, you’d be alright. Stomach ache? Drink some ginger ale. Diarrhea? Drink some ginger ale. Headache? Drink some ginger ale and go lay down. Ginger ale was my mother’s go-to drink of choice. Ironically, a lot of the ailments we had as kids were solved by drinking some ginger ale and taking a nap. Unfortunately, not even ginger ale could help my mother.

After her cancer diagnosis, it was also discovered that my mother had had a minor stroke and blood clots in her right leg and lung. The stroke had caused a tremor in her right hand. The blood clot was the cause of her limp. Mom was put on medication for the tremor and the blot clots. A nurse came and checked on her every week. She also had a physical therapist come and help her with mobility.

For a while, my mother was in remission from cancer. Her body grew stronger and her weight returned. Mom became more active and was soon doing things around the house again. Her hand stopped shaking and the limp improved. The tension and worry in the house lifted.

I was the dutiful daughter. I took my mother to her appointments every chance I could and when I couldn’t, the hospital provided transportation. I made sure my mother had her medicine, got her exercise, and ate healthy foods. I researched ways to deal with her cancer and bought all kinds of vitamins to strengthen my mother’s immune system.

In addition to helping my mother, I was dealing with my own medical issues. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months prior to my mother’s diagnosis. During the summer of 2015, I was undergoing chemotherapy treatments. By the fall of that same year, I had surgery and then radiation treatment. I was still going to work as well as taking care of my mother. Suffice it to say, I was exhausted.

Despite all I did, when my mother passed, I felt like I hadn’t done enough. Boston Medical Center wasn’t known for its cancer treatment. I should have taken my mother to Dana Farber. I should have researched more alternative treatments for my mother. I should have fed her organic foods. I should have had her exercise more. I should have asked the doctor more questions, pushed for more surgeries, and special treatments. These were all the things and more that I told myself over the past four years.

Woulda. Shoulda. Coulda. I blamed myself for my mother’s death. I placed it all on me (and Boston Medical Center). It has been a back-and-forth battle for four years. Some days are better than others. Reason wins on those days. I try to remember that my mother didn’t want to spend her final days in a hospice (that was the plan a few days before her death). My mother wanted to be home with God she had told me. On other days, I agonize over the things I did and didn’t do. I could have stayed longer with her at the hospital. I could have adjusted her pillow and propped her up in her bed. I should have asked a nurse to check in on her. Would these things have made a difference? I don’t know, but the burden of guilt was weighing on me.

I miss my mother. But time does heal as they say. The pain of loss is now a sore wound. I try to hold on to reason instead of blame. My mother lived long enough to see her children celebrate their birthdays. I believed that she was ready to go once our birthdays were over. My mother left this world on her terms. No more surgeries. No more hospice. No more pain. That’s the way she wanted it. And she wanted me to be alright.