Category Archives: Conversations with My Mother

Conversations with My Mother: Every Moment Counts

The conversations I have with my mom these days are changing rapidly because her ability to speak is decreasing daily. We all in our own way wait for those moments to arrive when my mom’s personality is able to emerge through her illness and medication. All of us have different ways of being with her. My brother likes to make her laugh and hold her hand, one of my sisters works hard to make sure she is comfortable, my other sister made sure she was fed throughout the day and had lots of magazines to read when she was still home.

I don’t seem to be able to make my mom laugh and I’m not particularly good at care taking although I can do it. My speciality is to sit and hold her hand.  Yesterday was a glorious day here in Ontario. My mom has a huge window in her room that looks out on trees that are changing colour. I sat and held her hand as we watched the wind blowing the leaves here and there, the birds gathering around the bird feeder. Autumn couldn’t have been more spectacular than it was at that moment.

Sometimes I can feel her press my hand a little harder or shake it when she hears music she loves. I press back  to say that I really like that music too.

Just when we were both dozing off a volunteer came in and asked if either my mother or myself would like therapeutic touch. I asked my mom what she thought  and she said, “Are you kidding me. I’m half dead. Too old for that nonsense.” I looked at Lynn and said I think my mom said no. I giggled because that is so typical of my mom. Then she looked at me and said in her almost non-existent voice, “Don’t you have anything else to wear?”  Ahhh forever a mother.

Just as I was ready to leave for the night and I thought she was dead asleep she opened her eyes wide and said in Dutch, “You know what I feel like having?” and I said “What?” “An ice cream cone. Strawberry, chocolate AND vanilla.” Wow” I said, “well you haven’t eaten in a month so you must be hungry.”

So it comes down to this. And maybe this is what Morrie Schwartz was trying to say  when he said that once you understand how to die you understand what it is to really live. Watching my mother die is as close to dying as I have ever been. And I think what he means is this. The apartment that my mom has loved so much for the last 40 years and all the lovely things she has collected to make it her home are now meaningless. The clothes she loved to buy no longer matter. The car she loved so much isn’t even thought of. The only thing I think she cares about are the people she loves and having them around her. She wants love. And love is the only thing that we can give her that matters.

Dorothy Ley Hospice to date has been an amazing experience. They understand that comfort and love is all that matters at this point in life. I don’t understand why the government would cut their funding…..


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End of life care decisions: Dorothy Ley Hospice

It was very difficult for us as a family to realize that we couldn’t care for Rosie at home. The truth was that the idea of caring for my mother at the end stages of her illness  was for most of us a scary prospect both emotionally and physically. And yet for me that wasn’t the absolute deciding factor.  After talking to a wonderful social worker called Cathy Mahuran we realized that there were things that were going to happen to my mother physically as a result of her illness that would make it a challenge for us to keep her as comfortable and as safe as possible.

Responsiveness to pain management and the ability for my mother to be able to undergo paracentesis (fluid drainage) once or twice a week to keep her comfortable were all deciding factors.

Truthfully bringing Rosie to longterm care was probably one of the most difficult things we have ever done. My mom who is extremely mentally alert was all of a sudden confused and terrified. She couldn’t figure out where she was or why, she kept asking us how she got there and how would she know how to get home and worst of all she was terrified of the personal care workers. Even though we met some amazing people at McCall Longterm Care (particularly nurses and social workers) the fact that she was afraid made it hard to leave her there.

We heard that because she was already considered to be out in the community that her chances of getting into a hospice were very small. Even so we kept her name on lists and worked with the social workers and coordinators to make sure they understood how important it was to my mom and us that she be in an absolute quality end of care facility. Short of being accepted at a hospice we would spend as much time with her at the facility as we could.

I’m not sure how it happened but the day before yesterday we got a call that a bed had become available at Dorothy Ley Hospice. As soon as we arrived I think we all had a collective sigh of relief. The surroundings are beautiful and the are staff absolutely amazing. Rosie deserves to die in love and comfort. Thanks to all the people who volunteer their time so generously to hospice care, to the fundraisers and staff who make these jewels a reality.

“Spiritual care lies at the heart of hospice. It says we are here. We will be with you in your living and your dying. We will free you from pain and give you the freedom to find your own meaning in your own life – your way. We will comfort you and those you love – not always with words, often with a touch or a glance. We will bring you hope – not for tomorrow but for this day. We will not leave you. We will watch with you. We will be there.” Dr. Dorothy Ley

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Conversations with my mother: Laughing our asses off in spite of it all

Well, these are not easy times in my family’s life. Rosie has terminal cancer and has been moved to longterm care until we can get her into a hospice. For now we have made her place as cosy as possible with flowers, pictures and us! It is the oddest thing but amidst all of this there is as much laughter as there are tears.

Rosie has never been one to mince words and this is true now more than ever. Yesterday we hung out and giggled and laughed our arses off. It wasn’t easy making the decision to leave her in longterm but we are making the best of it by giving her endless love. . I already have so many incredible memories of this ridiculously hard time.

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Dying isn’t for the faint of heart

The truth is that dying hurts. It hurts for the person who is dying and it hurts for the people around that person.  I’ve learned that it’s hard watching the body of a person with an alert, active mind, slowly fall apart. I don’t know because I haven’t experienced it first hand, but I imagine it’s equally as hard to watch someone lose their mind to illness. It doesn’t matter if you lose someone who is young or old, loss possesses a unique sorrow for each and every one of us.

It’s true what they say…that you go through stages. From the time I could first remember I dreaded the thought of losing my mother. I swear I used to worry about it in bed when I was eight years old and I would pray to god that nobody in my family would die. And then I would list all of their names and if I missed anyone  I took that as an omen of doom. I was prone to suspicion as a kid and these thoughts plagued my small mind.

Now years later that I’m faced with it I’m thankful for the stages…because they’re true. I think you have these stages because letting go of someone is a process. It forces you to focus on now. More importantly it forces you to focus on your heart and your mind.

I am visiting my mom right now in my old home town where I grew up. She stayed and I left. This is something I think about a lot. When I wander around at night after visiting her in the hospital I feel the memories of this place where I grew up collapse into a single evocation of so many moments and feelings in my life. I feel the past pulling me as hard as the present.

My mom says to me that she likes to be with her memories. I wonder if this is her way of letting go.

The thingI like about her at this stage in her life is her honesty.  I like very much that she talks directly about dying. About the things she is facing. About the finality of her life. About the fact that she just isn’t into this anymore.  I don’t know if this is courage or just the honest truth spoken plainly by a dying woman. But I feel it is helping to prepare me.

The other things I worry about are that people won’t see beyond her body. That she will be consigned to the invisibility of old age. I want them to see the rich life she has led. Her sorrow and her joy. Her love and her broken heartedness. The young dutch girl, the married woman, the mother, the wife, the friend the dancer, the harmonica player, the laugher, the prankster.

That’s what I worry about.

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Because I love lists… 25 more things about Rosie


1. loves Dancing with the Stars.

2. loves attention.

3. loves to dance.

4. met her best friend Aggie in high school in Holland. They still are best friends.

5. and Aggie sing Dutch songs together and talk about how Aggie met her Canadian husband after liberation in a dance hall.

6. used to roller skate with her girlfriends.

7. loves to cook.

8. loves President‘s Choice Apple Blossoms.

9. loves to walk with her head up to the sky humming as she goes along.

10. values her independence.

11. gave up on marriage.

12. has cancer.

13. likes going to the movies.

14. said wow many times while watching Avatar with me and Dave.

15. wore a pretty red shirt and lipstick when Dave arrived.

16. can be very particular about things in her house.

17. used to like being alone but doesn’t anymore.

18. is a flirt.

19. can be very sweet and funny.

20. can be very direct in an uncomfortable way.

21. loves shopping.

22. is friends with Dave.

23. loves watching sports on TV.

24. having fun.

25. really digs her purple socks.

26. can’t stand Olive our cat (but she doesn’t really know her well enough.)

27. loves her children.

28. can’t buy enough hand bags.

29. thinks Obama is very cool.

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Conversations with my Mother: Saying “Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii” like she means it

Defeat of Jessie James Days

Image by GSankary via Flickr

Ever since my mom has gotten sick she says hello (and goodbye for that matter) much differently. She used to say “hello” by doing this “Hoi Hoi Hoi Hoi” until I told her to stop or until I repeated it after her. Or sometimes she would say things like “Geboodle, Geboidle, My Mutha is a Toitle” which really cracked her up. More recently she has started saying “HUUUULLooooo” which requires a sound clip to get the full effect.

But these days she answers the phone in a raspy voice that she’s had since her surgery and she answers it this way…”Hiiiiiiiiiii” just like that, real long with a tinkle, like little alarms are going off, like she wants to wake up the world, as if  she’s saying “hi” like she really means it. And I think she does. And I like it. I really, really like it.

Note: the above image is not, I repeat, is not my mother. But it easily could have been.

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Worst Possible Moments: Reflections on Death and Other Stuff

Well that’s a pretty dreary title but I’ve had a lot of time to think about things due to forced relaxation (errrr ahem read unemployment). The worst possible moments, you know the things you fear your whole life, have a way of landing on everyone’s doorstep at some point or another.

At first I thought unemployment was going to be the zinger. Then on the same day I found out our unit was cut, I also learned that an acquaintance of mine had suddenly lost his 19 year old daughter. Somehow it made me feel embarrassed that a healthy, able bodied person like me could feel badly about something so mundane as being unemployed.

Shortly after this news, my mom went into surgery in April to remove a growth in her colon. It turned out that the growth had already spread and that there wasn’t anything she could do. Now this time, the feeling of dread was much more palpable. This was something I could truly be scared about.

So I went home to visit my mom in Toronto. For the first time I felt really unsure about seeing her. What would she look like, how would she be, how would I be, how do I stare cancer right in the face, what are we going to talk about?

It turns out she felt the same way. She said she was worried I wouldn’t recognize her. I said “Do you still have those big brown eyes?” she said “Yes”, I said “Do you still have that crazy head of curly hair?” and she said “Yes”. And I said “Then I’ll know you anywhere.” and she laughed.

When I arrived home I first saw the back of her little curly head and then she stood up to hug me. I looked into her big brown eyes and wrapped my arms around her. This is my mom and it felt so good to have her there and to be able to feel her so close.

Then we sat down, she demanded a glass of wine and we chatted about this and that. At 7:00 pm she said she was going to bed. Usually my mom and I would stay up until 1:00 in the morning with me begging her to go to bed.

Over the next three weeks we talked about everything from the ordinary to the fact that her life was ending and how she felt about it. I found it hard and I found it easy. I felt like we were covering new terrain but at the same time it felt so ordinary. That this is just what life is about and I’m grateful that we can have these kinds of conversations that seem ordinary but really are quite extraordinary. To me this is the essence of human closeness.

This summer has been full of these kinds of bittersweet moments. I feel like I am living in full techno colour both here on the coast when I’m home with Dave or when I’m back in Port Credit with my family and my mom. We laugh, we cry, we bug each other and then we come together again.

I still worry about things like getting a job but I also know that the time I have is limited. So I enjoy every single thing I have and am thankful for my family, my amazing friends and especially Dave and Reuben.


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