Farewell

31 08 2009

Nature_Flowers_Yellow_rose_petals___Flowers_008379_On Wednesday July 22, 2009 at approximately 9:30 am, I headed to the Palliative Care ward of the Grey Nuns hospital in Edmonton. Bob, my mom’s fiancé and partner for the last 10 years had been at the hospital all night. He was spending his nights in my mom’s room since she had been moved to that facility almost 2 weeks earlier. Bob, my sisters, nieces, brother-in-law Mike, and I had just been through a weekend that all of us wished dearly we could forget. Today would be a peaceful, yet tearful day I thought as I rode the elevator to the 4th floor.

I met Bob, and we chatted for a little bit. We went downstairs to grab a couple of coffees. Bob looked like hell. He was going home briefly to shower and change while I stayed with my mom who was at this point in a coma.

On the prior Friday, I was visiting my friend Gareth and sipping on a beer in his garage at about 11:30 at night when my sister Monica phoned. She told me that mom’s condition was dire, and that the doctor had told her to gather family together because things didn’t look well. I headed home, grabbed some clothes and left Calgary around 1 am. I arrived early Saturday morning to find my mom in terrible shape. She was highly medicated and restless.

That entire day was like a nightmare. To be there and witness my mother in unimaginable anguish constantly crying out for help, trying desperately to get out of bed and go home. Her feet and legs had swollen up as a result of her kidneys and liver shutting down, all the fluids in her body settling at their lowest point. She barely had the strength to open her eyes yet wanted so badly to leave that place. She never accepted the fact that cancer was killing her.

As her heartbreaking struggle continued into the evening, a violent thunderstorm moved into the city with a fierce plough wind uprooting trees and causing the most wide spread storm damage the city has seen since the tornado of 1987.  Throughout the day, we all tried to calm her down and reassure her that we were with her. The drugs she was on made her delusional, hallucinating and speaking nonsense for much of the time, however she would fleetingly become lucid every so often. At one such time, I was alone with her and told her that I loved her. She responded in a voice hat sounded so much like her former self, “I love you son”. I never cried like that before.

We made a decision late that night to have a powerful sedative administered that would put her into a coma, relieving her of the pain that was wreaking havoc on her entire body. At 1 am early Sunday morning, she finally slept.

The next day she barely moved. Her heart was still beating strongly and she was breathing normally. Although it was heart wrenching to know that we would no longer be able to communicate with her, we all thought that at least she would no longer be in pain. The next day, Monday, was different. When I arrived in the morning, she looked as though she was coming out of the coma. The amount of sedative they were giving to her was increased on an hourly basis, yet she was moving and a number of times tried to speak. Her face would grimace and contort in pain, and several times it appeared that she was trying to lift her head. It was early evening when the doctors decided to switch her pain medication back to morphine, as the new drug it seemed was not working any more and she had enough sedative in her body to knock out the entire ward. With the switch in pain medication, she finally calmed down and rested.

Tuesday was fairly uneventful. She was still breathing normally, but towards the end of the day, it had slowed a little. Our family was emotionally and physically exhausted. The previous few days had all seemed to be blended into one long bad experience. My mom was so afraid of being alone, we all wanted to make sure that someone was with her at all times.

So on Wednesday, July 22ndwhen I arrived at the hospital to relieve Bob, I patiently sat with my mom, speaking to her sometimes and holding her hand even though I was unsure if she could hear me. At 11:50, a nurse came in to take her temperature. She tried twice, but my mom was so cold that she couldn’t register a reading. Bewildered, she left the room and I walked over to my mom to express my astonishment. “Mom”, I told her, “I can’t believe it. You’re so strong mom. You can’t even register a temperature but you’re still breathing. Your heart is still beating.” I broke down and cried as I told her “You don’t have to fight anymore mom. We are all going to be okay. You don’t have to keep fighting. I love you mom”. As the last word trailed off of my lips, she opened her mouth, raised her head slightly and took her last breath.

We buried her the next week in a plot overlooking a road she had walked down hundreds of times. Right up on a little slope. Close to all the action. It’s been over a month since she passed away and our family is still grieving. She was a lot of things to a lot of people, and although at times I distanced myself from her, I know in my heart that she knew I loved her. To me, that is the only thing that matters.

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