Guilt over how Mom died. How can I forgive myself?

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I've posted a little bit about Mom's cancer here (and how on earth was I going to care for her!) and after all my grumbling about the road ahead her condition worsened in a short time and she died yesterday morning. She was 72. We elected not to tell her how advanced her cancer was - I wanted to but my sister did not. Every day the doctors would ask how she was feeling and she would say 'Oh, a bit better today'. The doctors also didn't tell her how sick she was.


I am wracked with guilt and anger with myself over her this and her last moments. I know it's early days and if anyone else told me this as their story I'd know exactly what to say to make it seem better. But I can't tell those things to myself.


We had been told she had maybe a few days or weeks at best, but she was still awake and lucid during the days (and parts of the nights) chatting and talking about different things like she always did. The night she died I stayed with her and she had a rough night - lots of pain, calling out for her Mom and my late Dad (her husband). She was woken early in the evening by a nurse to check her vitals and she was very distressed saying she couldn't wake up....why couldn't she wake up properly etc. When she did eventually wake up she said things like 'Whoa I thought I was dying there for a second'! We chatted throughout the night, she was very uncomfortable and the nurses gave her a lot of morphine and other things for pain. We watched tv, listened to music, chit chatted about inconsequential stuff and she kept thanking me and apologising to me for being a nuisance as she said. My chair was positioned to her left and if she couldn't see me she'd say 'Where are you MaryJane' and I'd swing my head around the bed to say 'Right here Mom'


The nurses came to reposition her and asked me to give them a few minutes. I went and dozed off in a chair for about an hour or so I think. I came back to her room and she was turned over staring toward where my chair was - breathing with her eyes open but not really responding. I called her name and she made a sound as if to say 'Yes?' and I went to ask the nurse if she was ok because she seemed off. The nurse reassured me she was ok, that she'd had a lot of pain relief and seemed comfortable now. I walked back to Mom's room and she wasn't moving, her oxygen line had become dislodged and though I put it right back on her she was unresponsive. I called the nurse and they confirmed she was gone.


I feel so badly that she was looking for me in that hour and had turned herself over to face my chair to see where I was. I worry that she was calling for me and I wasn't there. I'd been by her side through her entire illness and then when it came to it I wasn't. My sister is angry that I didn't call her to come in that night before it was too late. And I'm heartbroken that she ultimately died alone.


I know grief is a process and it's still very raw and will be for a long time, but how can I forgive myself? I was with her through everything and I feel like I abandoned her when it mattered most. I'm torturing myself with visions of her screaming for me and wondering why I wasn't there.

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Hello again all, thank you so much for your wonderfully kind words. I thought I should come back with an update as it's been a little over two months now.

The guilt has subsided somewhat, my whole life is peppered with shoulda-woulda-coulda type scenarios much like everyone else's and I know that things happened how they were meant to. For a while I was almost proud of how I was handling things, getting her affairs in order, keeping active, visiting with friends and such....and then this week the wall of grief hit. I feel so very, utterly, lost. Around the one month mark people stopped asking how I was, and life just started to move on for them. For me it stays the same - I've lost both my wonderful, darling parents and I'm left alone in the world. It was a little over two years between their deaths and some days it's like my mind can't compute that....'they're BOTH gone? Wait...what???!' With my Dad I was inconsolable for months yet with my Mum it ebbs and flows....or at least it did until this week when the grief cloud descended.

As I was with my Dad I'll be forever grateful for the time I spent with her in her final months as her daughter and her caregiver. However I am lost as I have no 'real life' to go back to and that was something that I was always fearful of - that caregiving would become my life and when that was over...well what next? I know she would be heartbroken to think I wasn't out having fun living my life. I'm still young, now single and unemployed, and I'd tell anyone else the world was their oyster but right now I wan't to climb back into my shell and never come out.

You were all such a lifeline to me (and I'm sure the countless others who post here every day!) and your advice allowed me to accept being a caregiver with all it entailed rather than eat myself alive with the injustice of the situation at times. You are all amazing - thank you!
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MAryJane--

I am sorry for your loss. I know it is early days yet, and you do need time to pass and you will be able to deal with this loss.

Many people ARE alone when they pass. Sometimes they hang on only for us, and we step out of the room and they are gone. My grandma was hanging on for my mother. Mother and I visited her in the NH everyday and she was obviously not going to live long. Mother gave her "permission" to leave us, said we'd all be OK. Mother went home Saturday night and Grandma passed Sunday morning. Quietly. At peace. Of course mother felt bad she hadn't been there--but I believe so fervently in a "next life"... I know that Grandma wasn't ever really "alone". She was simply walking through a door into a better place. No more pain, just joy.

Do not beat yourself up for not being in the room with her. She went peacefully, which is the best you can hope for. The pain is gone. You were there, and you were doing what you could for her. Be kind to yourself.
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Dear Maryjane,
I know this comment is long in coming but I just joined the site today and read your post.
I hope what I have to say comforts you. I was widowed, suddenly, 18 months ago after a 43 year marriage to a wonderful man. I was there for the 3 days he was hospitalized (1day in the ICU) On the day he died, my daughter, my sister-in-law and I were told he was stable. We left the hospital to get some lunch and then home to tend to matters
that needed attention. Within 20 minutes if being home, I got the call that he was gone. I felt like my heart had been ripped out. My daughter was and still is devistated.
I remembered a song I once heard called "Softly as I Leave You" I listened to it on
youtube and read the lyrics. It was then that I felt that he didn't want us there to see
him die no more than I would have wanted him to go through watching him go. And as a mom I can only say I hope that when I go my daughter will not have to stand by
and watch and live with that memory. Please consider that deep inside her heart
maybe your mom is glad that you weren't there when it happened.
If you can, read those lyrics. I hope they help. God Bless You Sweetie-I hope that you
find peace.
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Dear Mary Jane,

I'm so sorry for your loss. I came back to the site because I too still have guilt about not being present when my father passed away. I had seen him earlier in the day. He was so weak. I fed him his lunch and even loss patience with him when he dropped his soda can. I had even turned back and placed my fingers to his nose to ensure he was still breathing before leaving his hospital room. I had no idea that it would be the last time I would see him alive. The doctor called 2 hours later to tell me he passed.

We loved our parents. How could we know? As much as I want to control every moment of life, I know that is not reasonable. So many people have told me to forgive myself. I know its hard. I am still struggling myself. From everything you said, there is no doubt you loved your mom and did as much as humanly possible. Please remember that too. Sending you love and hugs.
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How are you doing now, Mary Jane, a couple of weeks after your mother's death?

When I read about your mother's death, I thought, "I hope I can go like that. Lucid and chatting right up to the last day, kept comfortable and out of pain. And having the wonderful advantage of a loved one by my side throughout my final illness."

Not being with her at the moment of her passing is a disappointment for you. I doubt it was much of a concern for your mother. She knew she was loved. You were with her while she was lucid. I understand your regret, but it should be for an experience you missed, not for anything you did or didn't do for your mother.
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MaryJane -

I agree that you are taking on these heavy concerns way too soon. Your mom only just passed away. There is much to handle and deal with as far as arrangements, etc right now - stop burdening yourself with additional weight by worrying about how Mom passed. She passed when it was her time - that's all there is to that.

I'd like you to think about something here: your mom seemed aware on some level that her time was coming. For many people who are dying, they need someone to *tell* them it's ok to go, before they will let go and pass away. For others, they prefer not to burden their family with experiencing their last moments, and they actually will wait until they are alone. No one knows how this works, or how a comatose person near death actually *knows* they are alone and that they can pass away without anyone watching them - but they do it, and it happens more often than you think.
Your mom knew you were there when she was lucid enough to speak with you. That's all that matters. She knows you loved her and love her still. Don't make things harder on yourself than they already are.
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I agree that many people pass when they are alone, even with family nearby. It is to me like they want to spare you the last moments. My grandmother passed right after my dad left, like she was waiting. I see it all the time in the ICU where I work. Be at peace that she is, and she knew you were with her in spirit if not in body.
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MaryJane, my heartfelt sympathy to you and your family.

It is common for us to go through the "what ifs". I did. You did. You wouldn't be human if you didn't.

As Barb had mentioned above, some people prefer to pass when no family is around. I wasn't there when my Dad had passed. We didn't think he would go that quickly. But knowing my Dad, he wanted to spare me of seeing him depart. He needed to be with my Mom.

I was with my Mom when she passed. I was channel surfing at 1 in the morning and found my Mom's all time favorite movie "Smokey and the Bandit". Mom was in a coma but I felt maybe somehow she could "see" the movie. She passed 5 minutes after the movie ended at 3 a.m. Talk about timing. Probably was coincidental, or maybe not. Hospice nurse told me that even in a coma the patient can hear, even if they have lost their hearing over time, the senses become stronger.
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MaryJane, Sorry for your loss. You were a good daughter and your sister will come around, it is her grief speaking too. Frankly, I was with MIL when she passed last week -- along with most of her children. Everyone was speaking softly with each other and then it was noticed that she was gone. 
My sister was staying with my Mom when she passed. Like your situation, sis had fallen asleep when mom took her last breath. She was comfortable as your Mom was. The nurses had repositioned your Mom - she hadn't turned looking for you. She was in good hands in her bed, the nurses made her comfortable and she is in good hands now - with her parents and your Dad.
Take a day for yourself. Go and get a massage or facial. Take a well deserved nap. Dig through some old photos and remember the happy times you shared. Cry. Have some chocolate. And know that you will come out of this as we all do. Godspeed to your Mom.
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I second CM'S wise thought about keeping away from anyone who is expressing anger at you. Please take care, dear. ((((Hugs))))))
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