This is a beautifully written story by Catherine Porter formerly of the Toronto Star. I took a peek at the story and couldn’t divert my attention.
What’s weird is that at a webinar this morning, there was a demonstration about putting your life’s priorities first before taking on the other less important but time consuming tasks. People were given a empty bowl along with 2 bowls. One had small gravel representing the many urgent but not important tasks in life. The other bowl had large rocks representing things like health, passion, love, family – the important things in life. They had to fill the empty bowl with the contents from those 2 bowls without going over the top of the bowl.
Of course, if you filled the bowl first with the small gravel, you couldn’t add all the big rocks in. The trick is to put the big rocks in first and then pour the small gravel so they fall all around spaces left by the big rocks.
Sometimes I think life sends us messages in many different ways.
I got an email a few weeks ago that my uncle passed away. I didn’t know him that well. He had 2 wives and growing up, we only saw the cousins from his first wife. There were already emails alerting us that his health was very poor and he was already on “do not resuscitate”. So his passing wasn’t a surprise. I think my relatives are relieved that my uncle passed away in his sleep. His physical suffering is now over.
A few weeks ago, I was messaging with a friend from Xanga. We had chatted a few months ago and he told me he was expecting his second child in February. I didn’t hear anything from him so I emailed him. So he messaged me back the next day with updates and pictures of his baby boy. He also chided me for not having Facebook where he posts all his updates. His baby boy looks exactly like him. I liked the photo where he and his daughter are both kissing his son. We chatted for awhile. I then told him I needed to make dinner. He told me his daughter was cuddling him while he’s feeding his baby boy. It reminded me at one point in my life, I wanted to have a child. I feel sad that I can’t make that dream a reality.
Life goes on.
My sister told me one of her neighbours passed away. I didn’t really know him. No one did. He lived alone and did everything on his own. He moved in after I moved out so I don’t know much about him. It’s a sad case. The police broke into the house when a relative couldn’t get in touch with him. I was told the house was a mess, covered with garbage, cat feces and dirt. The neighbours helped out with the lawn, shoveling the snow, wiring etc… but apparently he’s not a sociable guy. I think he was a recovering alcoholic. There won’t a funeral. Aside from that relative, I don’t think he had any friends. No one visited.
I worry I will end up like that man.
I was at a hospice recently to attend a service. It was my first time there although my sister has been there a few times. We were there to attend a remembrance service to honour those that have passed away recently. The service was held at the front lobby which the emcee described as a sacred place. There were names of those who have passed on a large banner against the wall. While my dad passed away at home, the hospice provided support for us.
After the service, I chatted with someone who lost her husband. She told me this was a very special place. It was small (only 1 floor) and there is a volunteer staff that cook homestyle meals daily. She talked a bit about the wonderful staff and referenced back to the lobby as sacred and special. I thought about all the names on the large banner and figured that was what she meant. She then said the hospice’s philosophy could be summed up with this: “You come in through the front door and you leave by the front door.” When someone dies at the hospice, the body is carried through the front door. The staff wait at the front lobby with candles and there is a simple ceremony. There isn’t a back door where death is quietly ushered away.
I never thought about death in those terms before. It’s not an easy subject to write or to read about. Maybe there’s a lot more on my mind than I want to admit to myself.
I held his hands and told him what an awesome dad he was. I thought he moved his fingers a bit. I watched as his breath grew shallower and slower. I yelled for my siblings to come to the room. We watched him take his final breath and said our goodbyes. Just moments before I thought I could sense my mom but maybe it was my imagination. He wasn’t in pain or discomfort. We made sure the there were enough meds. He had his last rites just hours before. Our house is just a modest home but to him, it was his castle. He loved it and died there.
Goodbye dad, I love you. We’ll miss you. Give mom a hug from all of us. I’m happy that you’re with her now and free of the pain and suffering from your illness.
A few years ago, I lost my mom to cancer. At least, that’s what I tell people. She was diagnosed just before winter and passed away in the summer. She knew she didn’t have long to live when she went into the hospital. It was for a tracheotomy. The tumor was creating a lot of pain in the neck area and slowly choking her. All she wanted was just a few weeks – preferably at home. I remember her laughing after the surgery. We tried to make the hospital room as comfortable as possible. The nurses and staff let us use the second bed. We brought in a CD player and her Chinese newspapers. I would bring in my photography magazines so she could look at some of the wonderful outdoor & wildlife photography. Everyday she would ask what day it was. Eventually we would just tell her the date right once we showed up. Her bed was too low and too far from the window. All she saw was the sky. We would describe the scenery to her.
One day, my dad said “listen to this”. In her new guttural voice, she said “Happy Birthday” to my dad. My dad laughed. It was the first time both of them laughed in the hospital. I had forgotten it was my dad’s birthday. She started to talk cautiously about coming home and to see her garden. I wondered how we were going to handle this but was glad that there was a chance of her coming home.
Then the cruel daggers of reality struck. Several times a day, her throat had to be cleared of mucus. It was a tube sucked the mucus out. She struggled and it was a painful ordeal. The nurses wanted teach us how to do it. Both my sister and brother tried. I didn’t. I couldn’t bear to see her struggle as if she was being choked. There was also a rotten smell from the opening. My mom’s sense of smell was very keen and I don’t know how she coped with it.
One day, my sister and I were with her. She wanted to go to the bathroom. I had done this before with my brother. I held on to her while my brother wiped her. I felt her shame. This time my sister was there so I thought it might be a bit easier. But as she went into the bathroom, she fainted. I held on to her desperately and let her body leaned on mine. I had the wall to support my back. But my arms couldn’t hold on to her. I slowly slid down the wall to the floor while holding on to her. The nurses came in and took over. I felt so useless.
When I spoke to my mom afterwards, she didn’t remember what happened. A couple of days later, I got a call from my sister early in the morning. My mom wanted to meet with all of us. When we got there, she told us in that strange new voice “I want to die.” I didn’t say anything. I noticed my dad slowly walking out of the room. He put his head to the wall and started to cry. I walked over and just put my hand on his shoulder. The next few moments are a blur. A priest came in to give her the last rites. I mumbled the Lord’s Prayer. Later that day, a nurse removed the tube for her peritoneal dialysis. Her doctor saw us afterwards and assured us the diabetic coma would be painless. There was a part of me that was numb to all of this. One night, it was just me and her in the room. She was asleep. I started by rattling off the date. Then slowly as I held her hand, I thanked her for being a wonderful mom and for raising me. I struggled because I had to speak Cantonese. I felt like a child again. I told her she would see her mom, dad and sister. Then I said she would see her beloved cats. She suddenly smiled and held that for about a second. I knew she heard me. I just wanted her to know things would be ok.
She passed away while my brother and I were in the funeral home making arrangements. I realized then why she kept asking us for the date. She hung on 1 day past her wedding anniversary. I knew she didn’t want my dad to associate that day with her death. The cancer didn’t beat her. She was brave to the end and died on her terms.
To my readers, I’m sorry if all of my recent posts have been grim. I need to slowly get this stuff out of me.