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Two weeks ago my boyfriend's mother died from esophigeal cancer. Two weeks before that she was told in the hospital (where she was for a month previous because she couldn't eat anything but liquids because the tumor was blocking the stomach) there was nothing more they could do for her so she came home on hospice.


For two weeks, my boyfriend, his sister and I watched the horrible deterioration of her health. Almost 2 weeks of getting up every hour to give her meds. She was home from the hospital for 5 days before she became irresponsive. Then 8 days of not responding. We basically watched her starve to death and drown from pneumonia. Just within the past couple of days everytime I go to lay down to go to sleep I see images of her laying in bed in her final days so frail and skinny. This was the first time any of us had been there when someone has passed on. My boyfriend and I are 36 and his sister is 33 so we are fairly young to have experienced this. We know we did everything right for her so there is no guilt. I hesitate to talk to them about these images I see in my mind because I don't want to upset them worse then they already are or imbed the image in their mind. The main image I see is when she passed was when she vomited a little and it just sounded like she was drowning and her breathing slowed way down until she passed. It is imprinted in my mind. I am not sure why it finally caught up with me now. I know she is no longer in pain and in heaven. I do have 3 years of good memories with her and try to think of those instead but it doesn't seem to be helping. Any suggestions?

I am sorry. This is such a hard thing to experience. When my youngest son died in hospital at age 23 I was "stuck" with an image too and it bought up a lot of painful feelings. I found a photo of him I particularly liked, had it framed and hung it on the wall across from when I usually sit in my house. When the images of him in hospital came to mind, I would look up and fix my gaze on the photo of him alive and happy.. This way I worked to replace the image that caused distress with one that brought good feelings. It helped. Wishing you all the best. Processing grief is hard work.
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Reply to golden23
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Kelly, this horrible two weeks ended only two weeks ago. Give yourself a chance.
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Reply to Countrymouse
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The hospice providers usually offer grief counselling, perhaps you could start there.
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Reply to cwillie
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I’m very sorry for your challenges and loss. I’ve been there, with my mom who passed away when I was 20 and my grandmother when I was 34.

When you are in a heightened emotional state, your brain records sense memories better. This is a basic survival adaptation to help us remember sights and smells and sounds, etc. that are meant to signal when we are in danger. That way, the next time a similar danger is near, it helps our bodies to respond quickly by sending signals to arouse the sensory part of our brains so we react. Think of a tiger in the jungle, stopping to smell and listen and watch for sensory clues about its environment.

Things like lack of sleep, and the general heightened emotional quality of the situation is producing your very normal reaction, and as others have said, it should diminish with time. You can think of it as a kind of PTSD, but not something to worry too much about. If it goes on for a lot longer, or you find you are having trouble coping with it, you can seek some grief or trauma therapy to help you process it.

The way you process the memory, and the thoughts you attach to it (the words that you say to yourself in your head) can make a difference in how you move on. So, tell yourself that it is normal, and it will slowly get better and soon pass. See if you can come up with positive messages to attach to each sense memory. The breath is peace, the sounds are the energy of love flowing from one state to the next, etc. If you need help with this, a grief counselor or trauma therapist can guide you through it.

I thought of myself as lucky to have had the experience of being with my loved ones when they passed. Some people shy away from death and live their whole lives without the benefit of understanding impermanence. How lucky are we who can witness the transition at a younger age! It can deepen our compassion and encourage us to live thoughtfully and intentionally. It can help us see the bigger picture and set aside things that are less important. It can teach us how to love each other and love ourselves, and be gentle with those who suffer, (which is every single one of us in one way or another at one time or another.)

But, the worst of this experience is over for now, and it is good to rest and take care of yourself, and the ripples should slowly spread out and away from you with time, like a drop in a pond of still water. When you have a difficult memory, picture it slowly flowing away while you float in that water. Like all things, it is impermanent too, and you are going to be ok. Lots of people have been there too and are there to help you if you need help with the transition.

Sending you gentle hugs of loving kindness and compassion to help you through!
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Reply to DrowningDIL
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SharonGLPC Oct 28, 2018
Good information. Sometimes, however, the imprint of the memory remains strong and interferes with the rest of life. If the memory causes symptoms similar to a traumatic experience, seek therapy for this. KellyReg may have had earlier experiences that "feed" into this memory. In this case, time doesn't heal. Psychotherapists who specialize in trauma can help.
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Kelly, my most sincere sympathies for your loss. No matter how it happens , loosing someone we care for is hard dor the heart and for the mind.
I am no specialist, just a caregiver . In the past two years , I went twice to beeing by their bedside when loved ones passed away ( dad and brother) , I will share with you two things that helped me. The first one I learned at work. I was in a field where some of our staff were exposed to beeing first to arrive on accident scenes or have to assist and stay on the scene . A rule was put in place that we could never let an employee go home , or allow him or her to, if he or she had not had the chance to talk , in private, about what happened on the scene. For major events, we had a list of specialists who could come right away, but even for what would have seem to many, as a minor thing, the rule was that you had to be able to talk to someone neutral who was there to listen. We had employees that were trained to do that in addition to their regular tasks . I suggest that you find someone who can be your listener. Maybe , this web community is a little bit that and I hope you feel that even though we do not meet in person, we meet in our hearts. Some associations have telephones lines or volunteers who can talk with you, maybe you can look at what is offered where you live. The key is to not wait.

The second thing is something a friend said at my dad's funeral. He had just lost his dad and we both had the same very close relationship with our dads. When he arrived at the funeral, he hugged me and just said " with time, it is the good memories that you will remember". My dad's final moments were not what you wish for and these moments and images also were very vivid in my mind at the time. But as time passed, I remembered his words when , as he said, it was the happy things about dad that were getting to the surface. I have nor forgotten the sad, but it is no longer at the front of the emotions.
Sometimes we think we are very courageous, but I think that for many caregivers, the hardest thing to do is ask for help. It is ok for you to get some too and I trust that with all you did and went through, you know that sometimes little things can make a big difference.
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Reply to Letmelearn
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Kelly, you can't unsee that... only time can make it better. For me, I reconstructed my mom's death in my head- redesigned her final moments, if you will. After nearly a year I'm to the point where I've convinced myself she died much easier.

I don't know if this would be considered a 'healthy' exercise or not, but it worked for me and now when I think of mother, the memories are good ones of when she was alive and vibrant. When I do think of her death- like writing this- I remember the pretty pink nightgown she had on, that she was surrounded by her family, all the visitors she had, and that she wasn't alone when she drew her last breath... comforting images.

Find what works best for you because I think it's different for everyone. And kudos to you for being an outstanding girlfriend- you gave his mom a great gift by being there for her kids and I'm sure she would tell you that if she could.
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Reply to TekkieChikk
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I was on my way to hospice when my dad was dying. I didn't get the message that he had died on my way there. When I went in, I was lead to the room where he had died just a couple of minutes before I got there. For a long long time, when I would think of my dad the first image of him is the one of him yellow and grey. I would have to think real hard to think of him alive. I went on like this for about 7 months, then decided to seek grief counselling. It has really helped. I know longer see that image first. Hospice will provide counselling free of charge. Please contact them.
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Reply to darts1975
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Consider therapy--seeing a death shakes us to the core.
It can help to move your thoughts from the loop of the dying/death experience with an exercise of "then what happened?"
She was dying and her breaths were loud and agonizing.
Then what happened?
The breaths became shallow
Then what happened?
They stopped
Then what happened?
We wondered what to do next?
Then what happened?
We sat in silence
Then what happened?

Keep this up until you get your thoughts to a quiet peaceful time.
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Reply to Lynnnnn
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It is a horrible memory to have and carry around. I think you should talk to a good therapist who can help you work through this and put it behind you.

Call around a few therapists and see which one clicks with you.
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Reply to polarbear
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I am so sorry for your loss. What just happened is recent and in time the memories of this will fade and memories of happier times will begin to replace this. This is still very recent for you. This last part of your boyfriend's mom's life was but a short part of her life, and there was so much more of her life before this happened. It helped me when my mom was dying and afterward to pull out photos of happier times my mom had, vacations, etc. and I realized this ending was but a short part of her life. Give yourself time as the memory is still recent, and realize these last days were but a short part of a longer life. Try to remember happier times and be grateful for the time you had with her.
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Reply to Katie22
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