Losing my mother and finding her again

One night last week, my 92 year old mother went to sleep and didn’t wake up.

When the phone call came the following morning, my initial reaction was shock. It wasn’t completely unexpected but when I’d talked to Dad a couple of days earlier, there were no warning signs; nothing to indicate that the end was so near.

I went through the motions that day, showing up for my treatment and shedding a few tears behind my radiation mask, but as I thought about it, I couldn’t help believing that it was for the best. Mom died in her own bed in the building next to Dad’s in the care complex where they’ve lived for the past few months. She didn’t linger in a hospital bed and we didn’t have to sit helplessly by and watch her suffer.

The timing bothered me because, in the middle of radiation treatments, I couldn’t simply drop everything and fly out to Vancouver. The family has been wonderful, however, agreeing to postpone gathering for a memorial service until my treatments are complete. Dad, ever the stoic, put my needs before his own, feeling it was important to ensure that everyone who wanted to attend would be able to.

And so we wait. I don’t know about the rest of the family, but in the past few days, I’ve begun to experience a sense of closure. In a way, my Mom has already been gone for a very long time. She started to sink into the depths of dementia a long time ago. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I had a real conversation with her, one where she was fully cognizant and engaged, one where she truly knew who I was. In recent years, she’s been trapped in a body that was blind, incontinent and confined to a wheelchair. More recently, she’d started to lose her ability to swallow and could only consume pureed food and thickened liquids. In spite of it all, she managed to retain her sweet spirit, but that’s no way to have to live.

Dad burned himself out trying to care for her before finally recognizing that he couldn’t do it any longer and worrying about the two of them was hugely stressful for the rest of us. Now it’s over. She is at peace and we have only Dad to worry about. As I work on writing her eulogy, I can begin to put aside the agony of watching her mind fade into the mist of confusion and her body fail. I can dig deeper and revive some of my earlier memories, the warm and funny memories of a mother and grandmother who loved her family above all else. It’s actually a pleasant way to mourn.

In preparation for the memorial service later this month, I’ve been digging through boxes of old family photographs that are stored at my place and flipping through my photo albums putting together a pictorial display of Mom’s life. In the process, I’ve been finding more than pictures; I’ve been finding memories. Stories that Mom told us about her early life have been coming back to me and I’ve been reliving births, graduations and weddings as well as the day to day events recorded in the pictures. I even found a photo that I don’t ever remember seeing before. Here we are, Mom and I, when I was under two!

Mom & I

In losing my mother, I think I’m beginning to find her again!

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25 thoughts on “Losing my mother and finding her again

  1. Thanks so much for sharing. I started reading to myself, then read a paragraph or two out loud to Dave. Then I stopped and read to my self again, then read to Dave. After the third time, I said, “It’s all so good, just let me finish it.” I only teared up once. We will be praying for you. How soon will you get to have the memorial service?

    • Aww… thank you, Helen Ann! The service will be on Saturday, July 26th. I have my last treatment on the 22nd so please pray that the side effects, which often don’t peak until a couple of weeks after treatment ends, aren’t too severe.

  2. So sorry for your loss, Elaine. My dad passed away six years ago – he went to sleep as well with help from some morphine. He had quit eating three weeks before – he was incontinent and needed two workers to assist him to the washroom. I think he just had enough….he also didn’t recognize family anymore although let on that he did. May your Mom rest in peace.

  3. Your mother was a beautiful, caring woman both physically and spiritually. That’s a beautiful picture of the 2 of you.

  4. Elaine I am so sorry for your loss. We both know that she is in a better place. Take heart my friend. I pray for you constantly.

  5. Thank you for sharing Elaine. What a reminder to all of us regarding the importance of making memories with family and friends whenever the opportunity is given.

  6. So beautifully written, Elaine. Blake and I can only imagine how deeply you have been touched with the passing of your mum after so many years of being “absent”, in addition to your own daily walk of radiation and hospitals. Our love reaches out to you as you process it all. I find it delights me that you are now finding again the mother who loved and kissed and nurtured you as she filled your childhood days with joy. Blessings to you and your family, Elaine. xox

  7. Elaine, I am so sorry to read about this and I am sorry that I just found out 😦 I’ve been hibernating in my own cocoon too much this summer that I lost track of the blog and read less too.I remember that your mother just came out from hospital, that she recovered and was doing so well. I am sure the memories you shared will last a lifetime. You look like her, by the way πŸ™‚ Our deepest condolences to you and the family and God bless – Ida, Roberto and the boys

    • Thank you for your very kind thoughts, Ida. We are flying to Vancouver next week as soon as my radiation treatments are complete and we’ll be having a memorial service for Mom on Saturday, July 26.

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