I've heard that the closer you live to the equator, the more rapidly the sun sets. My mother, who grew up in northern Ontario, seems to be taking the polar route to her own sunset, drawing out each beautiful moment.
When I last wrote about my mother, I mentioned that she had been admitted to hospital with severe abdominal pain, and that they had found a large mass in her lower pelvis, roughly where she had had colo-rectal cancer about a decade earlier. She had been released to go home, pending an outpatient biopsy the following week.
She didn't last a week at home before the pain again overwhelmed her and she went back to the ER. When the time came for the biopsy, however, she steadfastly refused the procedure. She was adamantly clear that she understood what this meant; she was at peace with approaching the end of her life, she wanted no more tubes and probes and machines engulfing her.
All she wanted was a peaceful, pain-free farewell. That was on the first of June.
She was moved to a quiet palliative care hospital in southern Ontario.
|Mom with her husband, Harry, in the patients' lounge.|
For the past month, we have sat at her bedside while she fades in and out of consciousness, the "out" times now outnumbering the "in."
She's had some low moments.
|Mom fiddles with the blankets, during a moment of agitation.|
She's had good days, with walks in the sunshine.
|On a walk along Lake Erie.|
Several times we have been told that she has "hours or days," and each time, she has defied them. Her seven children have scrambled to be near her each time we'd been told that death was imminent.
"Do you think she will last the night?" I asked one nurse, after a day when Mom seemed to be fading faster than usual.
"That's the million dollar question, isn't it?" he answered. All he could do is tell us what physical signs we might see when death is imminent: skin mottling on the extremities, changing in breathing. "But I've had patients take a dramatic turn without any of those signs. And your mom seems to be a real fighter, so there's really no telling."
My sister, Pat, and I stayed with Mom all night that night and greeted the morning with her. She was more alert than she'd been the previous day, and even ate a little breakfast.
There have been times when the pain medications have been too low or too far between doses. Those are the worst times, when she is afraid and agitated and in pain.
"I don't want to cry," she said. I told her it was okay to cry, that the nurse would be here soon with relief. After her injection, we counted to 200 before pain released its grip on her. "You're doing such a good job," she tells me, and I am humbled.
And so the days have gone. One day she will be awake, aware, talking to visitors, even telling her older, frail sister who came for a visit, "I know that Jesus will greet me."
|My mother with her 90-year-old sister, Vera. It was such a wonderful day for Mom. (The arm belongs to my cousin, Eleanor.)|
Each day has had its moment of sweetness -- a bright patch in a grey sky.
|My sister, Christine, reads to Mom as she rests.|
My mother's husband has been buoyed by each rally and depressed at each progressive relapse as she never comes quite back to where she was.
But I can't say that it's worse than the relatively sudden passing of my father 20 years ago: he had a massive heart attack and died five days later, having never regained consciousness. With Dad, we had no chance to say a proper goodbye, no time to accept what was coming.
With Mom, we've had some sweet conversations as she holds our hands. We've had time to think about how things will play out after she passes.
We've had time to watch the sun setting.