Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-13 New International Version (NIV)
It’s now been almost one year to the day since Mom died. November 13th, 2017 was the day of her passing. It was the Remembrance Day weekend here in Canada. It is so fitting. I miss her so very much, and I know that the rest of her family and friends do as well. The quotation I have chosen to start this post is a biblical passage taken from 1 Corinthians from the New International Version of the Bible. It is often used in many funerals and weddings. For me personally, it fits to describe Mom. Although I don’t consider myself that “religious” anymore, I do consider myself spiritual. Somewhat, anyway. Religion usually refers to an organized set of beliefs by a group of people who see themselves as different from others. Spirituality deals with an individual’s beliefs and practices, and attempts to relate to a God, the universe, others, or one’s self. Spirituality is what I identify with for myself now, and here’s a little history to chronicle the events of last year before she died. I’ve learned again and again this past year what a privilege it was to call her my Mom … and my Mom truly defined the word love …
Last year near the end of June (2017) I was preparing to begin a new chapter in my life, my retirement. 2017 had marked my fortieth year in the sanitation industry, working in various capacities in management for four different companies. My time in this industry took me from my birthplace of Edmonton, to Calgary, then to Vancouver and the lower mainland area, and finally to Parksville where Brenda and I now reside. I was in my last week of active employment, when my brother Jeff called with the news that Mom was being admitted into the hospital.
Mom’s 2017 had a rocky start. At the beginning of the year she had developed an abscess on one of her ankles that was not healing well. She managed well enough at home with it, and with weekly visits from a home care nurse, they finally managed to get it healed to the point where she could resume her twice weekly visits to West Edmonton Mall to walk. She hadn’t been feeling all that well since the beginning of the year, but she managed to soldier on until June when she began experiencing some blood in her urine. She went in to see her family doctor, Dr. Peter Hum, and he sent her in for some tests that he wanted done. Dr. Hum had ordered some some x-rays, an ultrasound, and bloodwork for her. About a week after she had the tests done, Dr. Hum called Jeff on the following Monday night, and told him to bring Mom in the next day and to have her pack an overnight bag as he wanted to tell her the news in person with Jeff there, and then to have Jeff take her right to the hospital for some further tests to see to what extent the cancer had invaded her bladder. He also wanted to see if surgery was a viable option for her.
Jeff picked Mom up on the Tuesday morning, and they went in together to see Dr. Hum, where he gave her the news. Mom’s first words out of her mouth were that she knew that she had cancer, and Dr. Hum told her that she would have to go to the hospital for some more extensive testing. Jeff and Mom had to stop back at her condo to pack her bag though. She didn’t listen to Jeff when he told her to have her bag packed. Maybe she didn’t want to believe it. In her typical fashion, she accepted the news and she and Jeff went to her condo and packed her bag with the essentials she figured she would need. After Brenda and I received the original call from Jeff that Monday night, we had arranged to talk to Jeff again on Tuesday night and to discuss that day’s events after Mom and Jeff had visited Dr. Hum. Mom had made it to the hospital OK, and Brenda and I made the decision to drive to Edmonton the next day, Wednesday.
I was in the last week of my active employment with Diversey, and had so much to do when it came to wrapping things up, but getting to be with Mom was obviously more important. I had forgotten about the time that I would have to add onto the trip because now we were on the island and had to take the ferry over to the mainland to begin the long drive to Edmonton. I had originally thought we would drive right through from Parksville, but as we drove we decided that it was in our best interest to stop in Valemount and stay the night. We could then continue on our journey on Thursday morning.
Brenda and I got to the U of A hospital on Thursday at around 1:00 PM local time. Jeff and Marianne were there, as were Bryan and Jackie and Amy. Brenda and I walked into the room, and Mom was talking to one of the nurses and was facing toward the window, so she didn’t see us come in. When she realized that we were there, she teared up and Brenda and I hugged her and told her we loved her. You could just FEEL the love in that room. The nurse said she she would be back and we all got the chance to talk. It was difficult for me seeing Mom in that hospital room, and she had obviously lost a lot of weight. On our way out of the room, I took a moment in the lounge to compose myself. It was hard to see her in that condition.
Brenda and I spent the next couple of weeks in Edmonton, staying at Jeff and Marianne’s place, and making daily trips to the hospital. Mom had been going through a bunch of different tests, and the attending doctors eventually decided that they would have to put a catheter directly into her bladder due to the size and location of the tumour, and they needed to bypass the blockage it was causing. We did manage to find some down time to have some time together with Jeff and Marianne and Amy between our back and forth trips to the hospital, and the time spent with Jeff and Marianne and Amy was a welcome relief.
It was at this time that the doctors had discussed some of the treatment options for Mom, and they felt that they would have to pretty much rule out chemo as they didn’t figure that she could withstand it. They did however, feel that she would benefit from radiation, and they went ahead and booked some time at the Cross Cancer Clinic to have it done. Mom didn’t like the idea of radiation or chemo, and she resisted at first, but the doctors assured her that this was a relatively safe option for her and it would at least help to ease her of her pain. There was one of the resident doctors in particular though, that really upset her. When he discussed the available options for her and told Mom that chemo would be out “due to her advanced age”, she didn’t like that at all. Mom later discussed it with the nurses and let them know that she wasn’t happy with the doctor’s comment, and the word got back to the doctor. On his next visit the doctor avoided saying anything about her age, He had a small smile on his face as he was speaking with her. Mom had that little smile as well.
Brenda and I stayed a couple of weeks in Edmonton this first trip, and we finally went home around the middle of July so that I could attend a golf trip with my men’s golf club and be back in Parksville for the week after that so the landscapers could begin on the yard at our new house. Before we left, Brenda and I made plans with Jeff and Marianne to come back to Edmonton to be with Mom again in early September so Jeff and Marianne could go on a long planned vacation with their friends Gary and Marnie. Brenda and I began the long drive back to the coast, which we actually accomplished in one day. We left Jeff and Marianne’s house at 6:30 AM Alberta time, got through Alberta and through BC and to the ferry at Horseshoe Bay for the 6:35 PM sailing, and we were walking into our own Parksville front door at around 9 PM BC time. A couple of weeks after we had been gone, Jeff was allowed to eventually take Mom home, but that only lasted a couple of weeks or so until she had to go back to the hospital, and unfortunately this time it would be to stay.
Jeff took Mom home near the beginning of August. She had gone through a battery of tests and the indications were pretty clear that her bladder cancer was at a fairly advanced stage, but the doctors felt that she would be OK to go home for a time with the assistance of home care. Her cancer had metastasized to the point where it was going to begin showing up in different parts of her body, but nobody was sure just where yet. When Mom found out she was going home, she wanted to just be in her familiar surroundings, and to finally “clean out her drawers.” Cleaning out her drawers is something that she had wanted to do back in early July when Brenda and I took her out for a day pass while she awaited her surgery. She was obviously tired from her time in the hospital, and she spent her days just being in the little condo that she so loved, surrounded by her things. Jeff and I talked on a daily basis about how she was doing and coping. She really was happy being back home again, and her neighbours Audrey and Gerald were so very helpful and caring for her in that they would help her out with anything she needed. A couple of weeks after she had been home, Mom began to experience some blood in her urine again, so Jeff took her back to the hospital again. This time she wouldn’t be leaving.
Mom had gone back into the hospital sometime around the third week of August. Our daily calls with Jeff continued so we could remain updated on her condition and see how she was doing. It was becoming fairly obvious to Jeff and I after discussions and care conferences with the hospital team, that Mom would not be able to go back home again. She was going to need more care, and so Jeff began the task of researching some nursing homes where we felt she would be comfortable. Mom knew that she could not go back home, and she took as active a part as she possibly could in helping to determine where the best possible place for her would be. She relied completely on Jeff and trusted his judgment completely when it came to deciding where she should be. With the help of the social worker at the hospital, Jeff put Mom’s name on the waiting list at three of the places that we all felt would best suit her.
Mom made a real impact on the hospital staff. The nurses on the ward she was in had all gotten to know Mom, and marveled at her fighting spirit and her ability to face the road ahead of her with her resolve and quiet dignity. She was an easy patient to care for. She did have her moments, and one of the times that Jeff was up visiting her after work, she was upset because she needed her hair done. Mom had always taken trips to the hairdresser on a monthly basis, and it was one of the few luxuries she afforded herself regularly. On this particular visit, which was about a week before Brenda and I would be coming back to be with Mom so Jeff and Marianne could go on their vacation, Mom began to cry when she told Jeff she really, really needed her hair done. Jeff teared up as well, but in his typical fashion as her loving son, he quickly diffused the situation when he told her all she needed was to cover her hair up, and he took his ever present baseball cap off and put it on Mom’s head. The results of that action are readily apparent in the picture above. Thanks, Jeff.
Brenda and I made our way back to Edmonton the beginning of the second week in September. We would be staying at Jeff and Marianne’s while they were away on the west coast and crisscrossing between the the lower mainland and some of the other different islands in the southern Gulf Islands. It was the lower mainland where Gary and Marnie kept their boat docked. Mom was doing as well as could be expected for the moment, and after Jeff and Marianne left, Brenda and I settled into daily visits to the hospital to be with and spend time with Mom. On one of the days that we went to visit her soon after arriving in Edmonton, we walked into the hospital room and Mom had a couple of visitors that we did not recognize and Mom looked fantastic, almost like her hair had been done! We introduced ourselves to the visitors, and it turns out that the two visitors were actually the receptionist from the office at Mom’s doctor, Tammy, and her niece. Tammy’s niece was a hairdresser and Tammy had shown up at the hospital unannounced and brought her niece with her specifically to do Mom’s hair. Mom was on Cloud 9.
Of course Mom’s daily visitors included the doctors at the hospital. They would come by and talk to Mom and fill us in on the results from the different tests that they were conducting.
Brenda and I had a well traveled route back and forth between Jeff and Marianne’s and the hospital. It had gotten to be a daily ritual. Pretty much every day we were there, Mom would have had a visitor at some point during the day, often old or new neighbours and friends from her beloved TOPS group. The highlights for Mom were always the visits from her family though. She loved her family with all her heart, and visits from Brenda and I were a daily occurrence, but it was when several of the members of her family showed up at the same time that she really lit up. Often I would go in search would for a wheel chair from wherever I could find one, and I was often gone for 15 to 20 minutes while I scoured the waiting areas in the main lobby or the emergency areas looking for an abandoned wheelchair to take her down to the lobby cafeteria for coffee. She loved going down for coffee and just being amongst the hustle and bustle of people down there. She even had a visit from her eldest grandson, Craig, who had come up from Calgary for the day to see her and spend time with her. It meant the world to her to be able to see Craig, and the effort he made to come up to see her did not go unnoticed. Thanks, Craig.
Brenda and I stayed in Edmonton to be with Mom until the end of September, after Jeff and Marianne got back from their vacation. We also made arrangements to come back to Edmonton for Christmas, so we could spend it with Mom and the rest of the Edmonton family. This time on the way back, we stopped and stayed over night in Kamloops, and the next day we went the rest of the way to Horseshoe Bay and then caught the ferry into Nanaimo and eventually home.
Brenda and I managed to stay at home in Parksville for the entire month of October. Jeff was at the hospital on a daily basis after work, and it was during this time that we were all in kind of a holding pattern with Mom waiting to hear where she would eventually be placed. The social worker was working hard to get her placed, but as can be typical, it was taking some time to get her into anywhere because there were others ahead of her. November came, and along with it the usual colder fall weather.
Jeff called us late in the afternoon of Wednesday, November 8th, with the news that Mom was really struggling and in a lot of pain now. Her care team at the hospital told Jeff that she was entering into the final stages of her life. Brenda and I tried to get a flight out that night, but there was nothing available until late the next morning so we booked to fly out to Edmonton as early as we could the next day. We rented a car and went right to the U of A hospital. When we got there mid afternoon, Jeff and his family were already there. Mom was sitting up as best she could, and she was fairly lucid and talking and visiting with her family, but you could see she was very tired. We visited with her, but more with each other as she slipped in and out of sleep. Shortly before we left, we were saying goodbye to her, and she asked us to speak to the nurses to get some pain medication other than Tylenol, which was pretty much all she would take right up until this time. The nurses received an order from the doctor to begin morphine for Mom, and we went back to Jeff and Marianne’s to get some sleep.
We went back to the hospital the next morning on Friday. The nurses had begun giving her morphine intravenously after we left the night before, and she was now in a coma. Her body was beginning to shut down, and she would unable to wake up this time to interact with any of us. Jeff and Marianne and Brenda and I stayed at the hospital the rest of that day and made the decision to stay with Mom through the night. Little did we know at the time that we would be there as long as we would be.
It turned out to be quite a bedside vigil we would keep at Mom’s bedside. We were there the whole day on Saturday, and it was looking like we would be spending another night there with her. We were all pretty tired after the long night before and what had turned out to be another long day at the hospital. Sleeping in those hospital chairs was not an easy task, even though I am pretty adept at it at home when sitting and watching television late at night. We were all pretty tired, but we made sure that one of us would stay at her bedside with her while the other three would trundle off to the hospital cafeteria or Tim Horton’s across the street to get something to eat.
The nursing staff on Mom’s ward were absolutely fantastic to us. Anything we needed was made available to us, and they arranged for a gurney to be brought in that we could use as a bed. We could now take turns and actually lay somewhat prone while we tried to get some sleep. It turns out it wasn’t much easier taking turns and sleeping on the gurney, but it was better than the chairs. We made sure that somebody was always awake to be with Mom. and whoever was awake would just sit there and hold her hand, She was completely unresponsive at this point, but that certainly didn’t matter to us.
Saturday came and went, and we were now into Sunday and the beginning of our third day at the hospital with Mom. She continued to hold on, although her breathing was getting much shallower and her respirations seemed like such a long time between breaths. We would count her respirations and she was now at six respirations per minute which was about half what it should be. The attending doctor came in during the day and told us that Mom would be leaving us any time now, which is what they had told us late Friday afternoon and again on Saturday afternoon, so the four of us made the decision to settle in for the night again to be with her. We were all so very tired, but Mom kept hanging on and internally fighting. We would take turns and sit there and hold her hand and tell her it was OK to go, but it was looking like we would be there another night. It was now Sunday night. The four of us looked a sight, no shower and no changes of clothes for any of us for what it turns out was now the third day and into the third night, and we were all very tired. About 4:00 AM on the Monday morning, I was just waking from my three hour nap on the gurney, and Jeff and I quietly spoke about what we should do. Mom just wasn’t ready to let go yet, and the four of us were physically, emotionally, and mentally exhausted. Jeff and I made the decision that he and Marianne would go home and have a shower, and get some much needed sleep and a change of clothes. Later that Monday afternoon, they would come back and then it would be Brenda’s and my turn to do the same. Jeff and Marianne left about 4:30 AM, and Brenda then took her turn on the gurney to get some much needed sleep, and she pretty much passed out right away.
The hospital seemed so very quiet in those early morning hours, and now it was just me and Mom with me sitting there and holding her hand while she lay there. Brenda was asleep and I could tell by her steady breathing that she was sleeping well. Occasionally you would hear one of the night nursing staff as they attended to one of the patients. I just sat there, held Mom’s hand, and began to talk to her in soft tones. Mom had always loved Christmas with her family, and I know that is where my love of the season comes from as well. For the past few years, she would come to Vancouver at Christmas time and spend it with Brenda and I and whoever else was coming for Christmas dinner. We usually had about eight to ten people for Christmas dinner. She loved coming to our townhouse in South Surrey to spend the season with us. Brenda and I had sold our townhouse in September of 2016 and moved into our brand new home in April of 2017, and Mom had never seen it nor would she ever get the opportunity to. So I sat there, and while she slept I softly spoke to her about how we came to finding the lot in Parksville, the builder who would be building it, and how pleased we were with the end result. I went through the entire inside of the house in painstaking detail … the floors, ceilings, windows, walls, kitchen, bedrooms, appliances, hardware, lighting, window coverings, paint colours, siding, the positioning of the furniture, the attic … and pretty much everything I could think of. I finally finished the describing our new house that she would never see. When Brenda and I had gone home after our first trip to see Mom, it was to be there for the start of the landscaping and to get the contractor started so we wouldn’t have to live in the dirt anymore. Two of the nurses had come into the room to attend to the patient next to Mom (she was in a semi private room), and so I began describing the landscaping to Mom while she slept. As I was going through the details in the same painstaking manner that I had the house itself, I could hear one of the nurses whisper to the other asking who I was talking to, and I kept on describing the grass, the driveway, the fence, the shed, the garden beds, each of the shrubs, the trees we had put in. I went I right around the house beginning at the front of the house as if she and I were standing at the foot of the driveway and then walking around the outside of the house, she in her walker and me guiding it and explaining as we went along. I got back where we had begun at the foot of the driveway and was deciding what to tell her about next. Maybe the golf course Brenda and I played at now? The neighbourhood? Mom took a long breath, and very slowly exhaled, and then there were no more intakes of life giving oxygen, Mom had decided that she could now go and be with Dad and our brother Brian. It was 5:45 AM, Monday, November 13th, 2017.
I probably bored Mom with my painstaking detail about the new house, but what I really think was that she waited until Jeff could leave and get some sleep. I was always really close to my Mom, but Jeff was her baby and he and Mom had always had a very special bond. I prefer to believe the latter reason, and she waited until Jeff left. Mom could now rest.
EPILOGUE … Mom’s funeral was full of so much love. Jeff and I delivered her eulogy, taking turns as we spoke about her life and the love that she always spread and was now leaving behind as her legacy. Her greatest legacy was her love. The quote below was the ending paragraph of Mom’s eulogy. The poem that inspired me to write this final paragraph was from the poem that her grandson Craig wrote for Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary, and the the four ending lines from the last stanza in the poem are “Once upon a time, And they lived happily ever after. Fairy tale beginnings, storybook endings. Insert life in the middle.”
“When you really think about it some of us were here at the beginning of Mom’s life, and some of us were here at the end of Mom’s life. And aren’t we all so lucky? Because it doesn’t matter whether you were there at the beginning of her life, and it doesn’t matter whether you were there at the end of her life. All of us, every one who knew her, her family, her friends, her neighbours, and simply anybody she had the chance to interact with at anytime during her life, were touched by Mom’s life in some way. We ALL got to be part of the middle of her life. And that’s where life happens. That’s where Mom’s life happened. In the middle. We are all so lucky. Thanks, Mom.”
This past year has been a real time for reflection for me with Mom gone. I learned so many things from her over the years, but it’s what I learned this last year that has really hit home with me.
- I learned that I am the product of my Mom’s, and my Dad’s love. Deep down inside of me I always knew that, but it has really affected me this last year as I began living life without her. Mom showed me how, with her inner quiet strength, you can overcome any obstacle and overcome the life challenges that you are faced with.
- I learned how much I love my own wife, Brenda. Her extreme inner strength when she was fighting her own battle with cancer, her quiet resolve, her understanding, her ability to look at any situation and offer sensible and thoughtful advice when asked, and her love for me shines through. It always has, and I have always known that, but I have come to appreciate it in new ways during and after Mom’s passing.
- I learned that my brother Jeff was a strong, steadfast, loving son and brother who is a true man of his word. Jeff made a promise to Dad when Dad knew that he was not going to be around too much longer. He promised him that he would take care of Mom and see her through whatever tough times that may be ahead for her when he was gone. Mom surprised us all by being resilient and much stronger than we initially gave her credit for, but it was Jeff who stuck by her all those years after Dad passed. He was there to take her to the doctor, he was there to take her to get her groceries, he was there to go and have coffee at her condo with her on a regular basis at lunch with one of his work colleagues, he was always just there and no task was too big or too much of an inconvenience to him to do for her. Dad was and is proud of Jeff, and so was Mom. I am too. And I learned that I am especially honoured to call him my brother. Thanks, Jeff.
- I learned once again the importance of family, and keeping in touch with them. There will come a time when our earthly existence here will end, and any chance to spend time with your family, to communicate with them on a regular basis, and to show your love for them and to them, should be taken at every opportunity. I want to make sure that I take every opportunity to show and experience that love. This was probably Mom’s most important message to all of us as she lived her life. Love your family, love others, love yourself, and show it every day and every chance you get. Spreading your love leaves your heart open to receive it.
- I really, really miss my Mom. Oh what I would give to her her voice again, to go to her little condo and have her cook up her favorite dish for us, which was anything with chicken in it. She loved chicken, and were reminded of that when we cleaned out her condo for the last time. Just “Shake and Bake” it, Mom, that will be fine.
- Always face the sun. From what has always been my favorite and the words of Helen Keller … Keep your face to the sunshine, and you can not see the shadows.
Thanks for reading this long post. I’ve probably bored you too, whoever you are. Love each other. Mom would want it that way.