Time seems to freeze the moment you learn that someone you love has been given a prognosis and labeled as “terminally ill”. Unfortunately, as much as we dislike it, time and life go on after the diagnosis has been made. And that may include keeping your travel plans. But only YOU can make that decision.
The prognosis said we still had 3-5 months left with her. But for some reason, even after speaking to the hospice nurse who reassured me that the only reason she was so lethargic was because of the new pain medicine, I still had an uneasy feeling. Something just didn’t seem right to me. Regardless of how much pain she was in or how tired she was, she still always wanted to sit by the window and look outside. But for the past two days, she had only wanted to stay in bed. My heart was telling me to stay home because the pessimistic side of me kept telling me that it was going to be WAY less than the three month minimum they gave her. I know that sounds terrible to say. And trust me, I have never prayed so hard in my life. But I couldn’t shake that feeling.
My mother-in-law’s bone marrow had quit functioning and she was dying. We received the diagnosis one week before we were to be leaving for our surprise trip to Rapid City, SD. She wasn’t just my mother-in-law though … she was the person I looked up to for advice. She was my confidant and my husband’s rock. I admired her more than any other person on the planet. She was the most courageous and strongest person I had ever met. Whenever I questioned the way I was raising my own boys, I always asked myself, “What would Lora do?”. She was my friend – a Godly friend who sat on a pedestal in my book. She raised the man of my dreams … and she was dying.
We were faced with quite possibly the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make. Do we go on our trip, or do we stay home? The answer was simple once we really thought about it. It wasn’t about US right now. It was about our two little boys and what Nana would want for them. If she were more alert, she would’ve demanded we went. In fact, three days prior when we went to visit her, she was excited for us to go (as excited as she could be anyway). Even if she were only given a few days, Nana would’ve been furious if we decided to stay home FOR HER. So we decided to go. We decided to escape the past week’s stress and get away and when we got home, we’d spend the next months that we had with Nana by her side.
So we packed our bags, loaded the car and traveled 800 miles to our destination where we’d spend the next
few nights. We spent our first day having a blast, making memories and taking lots of pictures. That night, after the outdoor concert series in Downtown Rapid City, we swam for two hours in our hotel pool. We definitely had a fantastic first day and for once, our worries were pushed to the back of our minds. We finally had smiles and laughter again. The second day we had a full day planned. Mount Rushmore was up first. My 7-year-old had wanted to see Mount Rushmore since he first learned about it two years ago. We woke up Friday morning, showered, got dressed and were getting ready to walk out the door when we got the call.
Lora had passed away early that morning.
As we were loading the car to go home, my husband turned and looked at me and said, “You know we’re going to see Mount Rushmore, right?” I begged him that we don’t. All I wanted to do was go home. I didn’t know if my father-in-law would need us or my brother-in-law and his family. There would be company coming by, arrangements to be made and flowers being delivered and all I wanted to do was go home. So he agreed. Although, the whole way home I had to hear him say, “you know my mom is VERY upset right now that we were 20 minutes away from Mount Rushmore and we chose to come home – FOR HER.” Also, the part in Chevy Chase’s movie, Vacation, somehow came up … yes, that part … where Aunt Edna passed away and was strapped to the top of the car. MmmHmm. That is the Topinka humor for ya. Morbid, yet funny. Laughter is the best medicine in their family. And I think that’s why I fell in love with all of them.
For a brief moment on the way home, the world stood still. I tried to post something on Facebook about her passing but for once, the words didn’t come easy. I scrolled through post after post about what people were doing and pictures they posted and it only made me angry. Didn’t they know my mother-in-law just passed away?! Why is their life continuing while ours has stopped? And then the remorseful feelings came over. Why should I put a damper on their day when I tell them that Lora had passed away? And maybe I felt ashamed for going on our trip, knowing she had limited time. And I just didn’t want to deal with it yet.
We got some static for deciding to go ahead and go on that vacation. And to the people that told us we shouldn’t go, I questioned their friendship. This was an extremely personal decision that only WE could have made. If she were only given a few days, our decision would’ve kept us home. But we have no regrets to this day. We did what Nana would’ve wanted us to do (besides go see Mount Rushmore). The entire 11-hour drive home was spent reminiscing. There was a sense of calmness in the car that I can’t describe. We laughed and cried … but mostly laughed. She was the funniest Nana – and she loved to travel. She had never been to Mount Rushmore so we made a pact that in a few months, we will go back when our grieving period has subsided and our memories and pictures will be of happier times. And this time, Nana will be there with us – in spirit.
I’ve since decided that I can’t judge the ones who judged us for making the decision to travel that weekend. They’ve obviously never been put in that situation. And I hope they never will be either. But if they are, I hope that their decision comes easy like it did for us. The world is going to keep spinning. You can’t put a time limit on somebody’s life. When it’s their time, it’s their time. You just have to make the most of that time that you have and keep on keepin’ on.
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Have you ever been away on a trip when a loved one passed away? Or are you faced with the tough decision now on whether or not you should go ahead and go on a trip if you know a loved one is terminally ill?