The last two weeks of my Mom’s life were very hard–for me, my Dad, my siblings, her grandkids, and I suppose hardest of all for my Mom. Not that she was very lucid anymore. What started out as breast cancer had metastasized to her brain making her appear for all intents and purposes as one who had advanced Alzheimer’s.
In the last few months of her life, she had celebrated some milestones. She and Dad celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary on September 25th. It would be her last really good day. In October, she went to Ottawa to receive the Mother Theresa award from an organization to which she had dedicated a good part of her life. That would mark her last public address (and despite the brain cancer, she spoke without notes). In November, she got a tour of the new School Board building–a project which she had a hand in initiating in her time on that board. That tour would mark her last time leaving the house.
After that it was a quick decline to a hospital bed in the living room, visits from palliative care workers, and round-the-clock bedside vigils. She hung on for an improbable, impossible 2 more weeks. It reminded me of the time I spent about 10 days going into false labour with my middle child. It would seem like now’s the time, and then, oh wait, it wasn’t.
We learned a few things about bad signs during that time. These are signs that things are not going well:
1) When you find yourself googling “death rattle.” (Folks, it’s a real thing, not just something in gothic novels.)
2) You become part of some mysterious lasagne/casserole chain
3) Mouth swabs make their appearance
4) The doctor gives you his cell phone number and says call anytime
5) There is a do not resuscitate order stuck to the fridge.
But there was beauty amidst that pain too. There was a care worker who was so gentle and loving with Mom as she bathed her and who we found crying as she left the house. There was the morning after a night we were sure she wouldn’t make it through. She was able to sit up, eat a boiled egg and drink some hot chocolate. When my sister tried to gently give her some more hot chocolate my Mom affectionately pointed at her and said “Bugger off.” It seemed like high comedy to us.
And then there were the birds. We placed her bed by the window and put the bird feeder and suet cage on a branch that was easily viewed. We watched the chickadees and finches in the bright cold of that winter while we listened to music and visited with each other and the people that came to pay their last respects.
And then on December 3, 2010 at about 5pm she died.
I missed the event itself, as I had gone home for some reason and then lay down for an exhausted nap. Apparently, it was full of the regular chaos of family coming and going and I’m sure she wouldn’t have had it any other way than at her beloved home full of the life that she had created.
The birds have remained a beautiful reminder of her and her life. Both my Mom and Grandma were people that noticed the small things, the blooming of the crocuses, the cat that would follow at a subtle distance, the small bird hopping through the branches.
Sometimes the birds seem to have indicated her presence. For instance, there was the time I received a phone call offering me a part–a part for which I had not even auditioned. Let me set that scene for you. I was at a cabin in the woods, got a phone call on my cell, and while I was on the phone with this person trying to understand that I was being offered this incredible opportunity out of the blue, a chickadee lit on an empty suet cage that was hanging outside the cabin. The suet cage was the exact make and model of the one that hung outside the window of my parents’ house. And to top that coincidence off, rehearsals started on my parents’ anniversary. Thanks Mom.
My new company, Classic Chic Productions, has a bird theme too. We’re an all-female ensemble dedicated to performing the classics. So we’re the Classic Chicks. Get it? It’s a kind of happy accident. My Mom is a woman who made things happen, and that’s what Classic Chic is all about, making things happen.
So, today, I’m noticing the birds and all the signs of birds–feathers, wings, and eggs–and I invite you to do the same in honour of an incredible and incredibly missed woman.