My mother died seven years ago today, December 31, 2006 at 9:00 p.m. If she had lived another 18 days, she would have been 99.
Not that I would have wished another 18 days for her just so she could reach that landmark. She began to show signs of dementia in her early nineties and her last couple of years were difficult. Then she caught a norovirus that was going round the nursing home where she lived. She recovered from that, but it left her so weakened that she only lived a few more days.
She lived with us until she needed more care than we could provide at home. Then we placed her in the Mennonite Nursing Home at Rosthern, Saskatchewan. This was a wonderful place. It helped Mom that in her confused state she decided this was the house her Uncle Pete had built. Uncle Pete’s house must have been much smaller than this sprawling nursing home complex, and it was hundreds of miles away. Never mind, it made Mom feel like she was not in a totally unfamiliar place.
Mom did not want to get dressed in the morning, because the clothes the staff wanted here to put on were not her clothes. The trouble was that the only clothes she would have recognized by this time were the clothes that she had worn 75 years ago. The staff people were patient with her and eventually coaxed her to let them help her get dressed anyway.
She fought when they tried to give her a bath and the staff asked for permission to sedate her at those times. We gave our permission, but they never did use a sedative, finding ways to get her bathed without too much stress.
When our daughter was expecting her first child, almost five years earlier, Grandma was the first person she told and Grandma rejoiced with her. Later, Grandma had a dim understanding that Michelle had a second child. Now, in Grandma’s very last days, Michelle brought her third child, four months old, and showed her to Grandma. The smile that Grandma gave was a little glimmer of light in that dark time. We weren’t sure by then if Mom even knew who we were anymore, but the sight of the baby must have brought some happy thoughts.
The funeral was in Moose Jaw, where Mom had lived for many years. We were touched by all the family and friends who came to show that they cared. There were a few more details to look after and then we were left with our memories.
The memories of the difficult lady my mother became in her last years have faded and I am left with sixty years of memories of the wonderful, sweet lady that my mother really was. She was born with congenital hip dysplasia and in later years told me that she had never walked without pain. Yet she went on walks with me when I was little, even ran foot races with me. She was a hard-working farm wife, cooking, baking, canning, and all the other tasks of making a home. I remember her singing hymns in the vehicle whenever we drove any distance. She loved to read and was my first and best teacher.
When I married, she accepted my wife as a daughter and they became very close. She was delighted when a new generation began with the birth of our daughter. When we moved to Eastern Canada she came and spent a couple of weeks with us each year. We tried to get back to Moose Jaw every second year. When Michelle was nine years old and my wife was going through weekly chemotherapy after cancer surgery, Mom came and spent several months with us, keeping the home running smoothly while Chris sometimes felt so tired. Just having Mom there made this time easier for us all.
It doesn’t lessen the pain of parting to know a loved one is near death. When the earthly ties that bind us together are cut, there will be pain. Healing comes from in facing that pain and going through a proper funeral, sharing memories with friends and family, and accepting that this person who has been part of one’s life forever is not here anymore. When the pain of parting has healed, the good memories come flooding back.