My mother, Linda Graves Kelley, passed away on Dec. 11 after a nearly two-and-half-year battle with stomach cancer. Up until late September, you would have never guessed she was ill: her appetite was strong, she was active and had successfully taken radiation treatments that seemed to arrest the cancer.
The sudden decline in her health knocked her sideways. A host of maladies set in almost overnight, including blocked bowels, a total loss of appetite and a fracture in one of her vertebrae likely caused by the cancer’s advancement. By November, she was housebound and in constant pain. One day she could no longer make it to the bathroom and began using a walker. A few days later, she couldn’t even stand. It was a shocking and swift reversal of fortune that she never came to terms with. “I was doing so well just a few weeks ago,” she said often.
She didn’t want to take the pain medication because it made her feel “dopey” and “out of it.” One morning, she was unable to speak coherently, then she began to restlessly stack and unstack her pillows, braid and unbraid her hair. She became angry and her caretaker and I took the brunt of it.
When the hospice nurse arrived on a Friday in late November, she was kind but also direct. The nurse told my mother she had only a few weeks left to live. Within a week, mom was taken to inpatient hospice and died six days later.
Mom’s transition was ultimately peaceful, thanks to excellent care by the team at Eternal Hope Hospice in Griffin. It’s a beautiful facility by a lake, and they not only took care of mom, but me, too. I’ve had friends who became caretakers for their elderly parents, but until you actually go through it, the exhaustion – physically and mentally – is indescribable.
At the memorial service, held in her hometown of Fayetteville, I was buoyed by the outpouring of love and support. Not only from my own friends and family, but by mom’s friends who had known her since she was a young girl. There was a beautiful wreath from the Fayette County High School Class of 1961. Photos of my mom from her childhood, laughing with my late father and grinning with her 75th birthday cake were arranged on a table at the memorial. Poetry was read, memories were shared and the music she requested was played: “Amazing Grace” by Elvis Presley, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” from Peter, Paul and Mary and “More Than This” by Roxy Music.
My mother loved to play bingo, go to casinos, gossip with her friends over long lunches and take day trips. In the last few years, we put thousands of miles on my car driving through Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. We’d usually end up at a barbecue joint or some other hole in the wall serving country cooking. She loved to eat. And there was also plenty of music. Mom wanted me to play Tina Turner and Bruce Springsteen at the memorial service, but said the mourners would be scandalized if “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” and “Dancing in the Dark” suddenly blasted through the chapel.
Invariably on those drives, she’d ask for “More Than This” and remind me that I had to play it at her memorial service. She’d sing along, rhapsodize over the guitar and swirling synth and Bryan Ferry’s haunting voice. So, one last time for mom…
I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they’re blowing?
As free as the wind
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning?
More than this, you know there is nothing
More than this, tell me one thing
More than this, there is nothing…