This all started in the last couple of weeks. I heard from Stephanie that Dad was starting to have trouble with Mom, particularly at night. She would be disoriented, and argue that it wasn’t time to get up and use the facilities. Then she fell a few times (more of a slow collapse than a fall) when her legs gave out between the bed and the bathroom. Dad was able to handle these situations (barely, with trips to the chiropractor), but they certainly weren’t positive signs.
The first real indicator for me that things really weren’t going well was Stephanie telling me that Mom had trouble remembering that she and the kids had come over with a birthday cake for Dad. It was Sunday the 12th, and Stephanie called me in the evening to let me know that. That was troubling, given that it would have been a very memorable event.
Monday the 13th was the day that everything went sideways.
Stephanie was over at Dad’s when Mom collapsed on the way back from the bathroom again, and this time they couldn’t lift her. It was in the short hall to the ensuite bathroom, and there wasn’t room to maneuver. It was time to call 9-1-1. The paramedics arrived and tested her blood and gave her a shot before moving her. She was off to the hospital. She was at Victoria General for two days before she could be moved to the Hospice. Her bloodwork was showing a major imbalance in calcium and other minerals.
Stephanie was calling me constantly to let me know. That’s the beautiful thing about modern technology: video calling is perfect for these emotionally-laden calls where just a voice would not be the same as being able to see someone. I called my boss Brian on Monday to let him know this had happened. Both he and Jim the VP had let me know in uncertain terms that if I had to go, I could. Family comes first, as Jim put it. I was concerned, but I wasn’t making any immediate plans. Brian and I had discussed this a number of times in the past. With the type of work I do, my schedule is variable, with hard-and-fast workshops interspersed with long writing or analysis tasks. We’d agreed to hope that when Mom’s situation worsened, we would be able to rearrange things as needed. Monday’s conversations with Stephanie ended with a “wait and see” over the next couple of days. Dad called in the evening, emotional, as you’d expect. He wanted to tell me himself what had happened.
Tuesday was the first day of a security workshop with the City of Calgary, and I was attending and taking notes, with one eye on my messages, waiting for any word from Stephanie. The whole day passed with nothing, and when I got home, Stephanie called me. She wanted to tell me that she was very worried about Mom. Her colour wasn’t good, her breathing was getting erratic, and her disorientation was getting worse. She didn’t want to alarm me unduly, but she wanted me to know. The one thing that was confusing Stephanie as a nurse was that Mom was still eating very well. So I started packing a suitcase. I was either going to fly late that night if things got worse, or Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. As I texted to Tammy: “Silence was not golden”. I spoke to Dad that evening, and he was more upbeat, so I knew I didn’t need to jump on a plane immediately. I bought a ticket for Wednesday evening. If this was only a temporary setback, I would enjoy a visit with Mom. If not, I would be there.
Wednesday, June 15th
I notified Brian after I bought the ticket, and outlined all of the meetings and projects that would be interrupted. Unfortunately, that included the afternoon of the second day of the Calgary workshop, and the whole of the third day. I attended the workshop until 1:45, then got changed, cycled home, had a shower, and then Tammy drove me to the airport. Figures that a major headwind would be blowing out of the northwest on my way home.
Stephanie picked me up at the airport with a big hug, and then we drove to Royal Jubilee. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was a shock when I got to see Mom. She had had a pretty good day, but by the time I got there after six, she was barely aware enough to acknowledge that I was there. When she did, though, she had a huge smile and wanted me to hug her. She could barely move her arms, and had trouble forming words. I knew that she had been sliding downhill since I saw her in March, but I hadn’t seen any pictures or done any video calls. Her colour was good, and she had had a good dinner: half of a big portion of spaghetti and vegetables, as well as a couple of bites of chocolate ice cream. We didn’t stay very long, because she needed sleep, and Dad had been there for the whole day and was ready to go. I was beginning to think that we would have a long-ish time with Mom in the hospice.
When we got back to Dad’s, I ate my dinner and FaceTimed with Tammy, and Dad was on the phone with Aunty Button, Peggy and Al, Aunty Audrey, and Uncle Jack. I got to say hello to Peggy and Al and Uncle Jack. Dad and I stayed up until about eleven chatting before I hit the hay on an air mattress on his living room floor.
Thursday, June 16th
Dad and I were both awake early and up by six. We weren’t in a rush, and aimed to be at the hospice for around ten. Nevertheless, we arrived about quarter past nine. Mom was not awake.
She had had a rough night. She hadn’t eaten any breakfast, and she was congested. She was not really lucid at all for the morning, and Dr. MacGregor’s assessment was not particularly encouraging. He doubted mom would become lucid again before the end. It was such a change in direction. I had thought she had stabilized, but this was upsetting. I was wondering if my last interaction with Mom had already passed. I hadn’t really had a chance to say much of anything. I texted Tammy, letting her know, and she texted back
On that unhappy note, Stephanie, Dad and I went to White Spot for some lunch. It was a lovely day, with sun and some cloud. The surprise was that when we got back, Mom had been changed and she was awake. She was lucid, and was talking. She smiled, and even laughed. We talked to her for at least a half hour before she started to drift again. She was cold, and we got her some more blankets, including the peach-coloured one that Mrs. Rowan had knitted for her. She said that she wished she could hear Rosanne’s laugh. It was hard, in its own way. Mom is definitely there, but having real trouble forming words, and making herself clear. She is getting Fentanyl for the pain, which helps, but knocks her out again. She didn’t have lunch, and only wanted a few sips of water.
Stephanie was out for the afternoon, and Dad and I spelled each other off. I took a walk around the hospital, and enjoyed some of the gardens.
At one point, when Dad was out for a walk, Mom barely woke up, and wanted the head of her bed raised a bit, which I did for her. Then she wanted to hold my hand, which she did until she fell asleep again.
She was still asleep when it was time for us to leave. Dad’s back was killing him from sitting in the chair, and he wanted to take some Advil. We didn’t try to wake Mom up when we left, and on the way home, Dad muttered something about feeling guilty leaving. I told him that he could always go back, and not to let me being around stop him. We got back and were flipping between the NBA finals and news programs, when Dad got up and announced he was going back. I was not surprised. I wasn’t invited to join, but I would have wanted him to go and have the time alone anyways.
As Tammy put it in a text when I passed this along: “I know that they couldn’t pry me from your side.”
I stayed home and had a good cry. I composed the memorial page on the ii News for Mom, leaving the date blank. Dad stayed at the hospice until 9:30 when Mom was freshly medicated and likely to sleep for hours.
Friday, June 17th
The third day started much the same as the second, with a relaxed morning with Dad. Stephanie showed up and drove us to Royal Jubilee. Mom was much less able to speak today, and that was frustrating when she was agitated and obviously wanting something. Whether that was medication or just getting moved, it was difficult to tell. Dr. MacGregor decided that Mom would get a CAD pump for the painkiller, to help level out things. She would then not have the states of agitation in between the peaceful periods.
We were out of the room for a good hour and a half in the morning, when the nurse was changing, cleaning Mom and her linens. It was while we were waiting that Aunty Button and Sandy showed up. We visited for a while in the general visiting area until Mom’s attending to was done.
Once it was, we went in. Mom was awake, but only marginally lucid. Aunty Button said a few words to her, but didn’t stay long. Sandy declined talking to Mom: she said she would break down. I fully understand, especially having lost her Dad so recently. Soon, Mom became agitated again. She didn’t want to be on her left side any more, but we could move her. They would move her when they installed the pumps. Dad held Mom’s hand and stroked the back of it with his thumb for about a half hour, and she calmed down and slept.
Dad, Stephanie and I were in and out. Mom wasn’t really awake after the pumps were installed. At this point, I suspected that Dr. MacGregor’s earlier prediction might be true this time: a return to lucidity may not happen. The weather continued to be beautiful.
For the record, my last words to her alive were: “Bye, Mom. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
We had dinner at Jasmine’s Restaurant in Colwood. Stephanie dropped us off and Dad and I had another quiet evening, this time watching episodes of Jay Leno’s Garage. I wanted to hit the hay around 10, because I’d been getting less than six hours’ sleep per night, plus all the stress. The downstairs neighbour and his friends were having a get-together, but I crashed off anyways.
Saturday, June 18th
This was the day we were dreading. It all ended suddenly.
Dad’s iPhone rang at 4:30 in the morning. I was instantly awake. Dad says it was instantaneous: “I know what this is.” They told Dad that Mom’s condition was changing rapidly. Later, we talked to the nurse who was there, and Mom’s breathing had gotten laboured an congested. They were going to give her a drug to relieve that…
Dad called Stephanie, and we got ourselves ready to leave. We imagined that we would have a longish day at the hospice, but as we were leaving Dad’s place, he got another call. Mom was gone. She’d passed away at around 5:15. Even if we’d raced, we wouldn’t have been there in time.
Stephanie drove us to the hospice. We got there, and Mom was arranged on the bed, with a couple of flowers in her hands on her chest. Stephanie added a sprig of lavender that she had plucked the day before from the garden around the hospital. We had teary goodbyes, and Dad signed the release for the funeral home and called them to let them know that Mom had passed away.
Our day at the hospice, expected to be long, was over by 6:30 in the morning.
We returned to Dad’s where we kept each other company until it was late enough to start notifying relatives and friends of the fact. Dad continued to demonstrate his strength, managing to make all of the calls himself to Aunty Audrey, Melody, Uncle Jack, Aunty Button and Al and Peggy for starters. He has made more calls during the day as more people came to mind, including the Rowans and Aubreys.
Stephanie left around 10, and Dad and I stayed for a bit, then he wanted to leave. He has been anchored to the condo, attending Mom. There were too many ghosts, and he wanted to get out. I had suggested that I wanted to go to Murchie’s while I was here to get some tea. So together, we drove downtown and parked. We went to Murchie’s and got the tea, and stopped in at Munro’s Books, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, and Roger’s Chocolates. We looked for the game store that used to be on Fort Street, but it wasn’t there any more. Dad wants me to mention the beautiful job he did of parallel parking the Subaru.
We were going to stop for lunch on the way back home, and Dad suggested stopping at Jasmine’s for lunch, and who did we find there? Stephanie, having lunch with her friend Michelle. What a coincidence. We said hello, but left them to their own chat session, while we had a couple of monte cristo sandwiches and talked.
We went grocery shopping at Superstore, and have whiled away the afternoon watching TV and talking from time to time. Dad talked to Uncle Jack again, and got some family history data from him. I updated Mom’s record in my genealogy system.
Stephanie and the kids came over in the evening and we had a visit. Brianna had ants in her pants. Dad and I had a sip of Southern Comfort.