This has been a painful few months and I haven't been ready to talk about it. I can now but I still can't believe it.
In September of last year, my mom started to exhibit symptoms that suggested that something was going wrong neurologically. She was forgetful, emotional and was having trouble processing information.
My sisters and I were getting quite concerned when we added up everything and so got mom to go see a doctor. He was given her list of unusual symptoms as well as our heightened concern and sent her for an CT scan.
The scan came back suggesting that mom had a brain tumour and further investigation led to a diagnosis of GBM - glioblastoma. Stage 4 brain cancer.
We were stunned. How could this be happening to our otherwise healthy, active mom?
She was sent to a neurosurgeon who hospitalized her and had her ready and waiting for surgery.
After her surgery the surgeon was extremely pleased with her outcome! He said that she made it look easy. She came through the surgery and bounced back almost to how she was before everything started happening.
The plan was that she would then get 3 weeks of radiation treatments to get the rest of the tumour that the surgery had to leave behind.
Mom had been told that without surgery, she could expect to have "weeks" but with surgery, she would at least have "months" plus more options for treatment.
She opted for the surgery, She had plans to celebrate 6o years of marriage to my dad and had a number of growing great grandchildren that she wanted to have more time with.
The surgery had gone so well that I really thought that the worst was behind us and by the time "months" had passed, we would have time to find an effective treatment for her.
Before her radiation treatments even started, we noticed, not only a return of symptoms but also worsening. Another MRI was done but I was not made aware of the result at the time.
I work full time, Monday to Friday so I would spend every weekend with my parents. My oldest sister cared for them during the week so while I was with them on weekends, it gave her a chance to get a break.
She was off work at the time and so didn't have to worry about missing work.
Mom struggled with the radiation treatments but she kept smiling and remained optimistic through it all. We would talk and laugh and enjoy our weekends together.
From the end of September (when the tumour was discovered) through to the later part of November, I firmly believed that we just had to get through this rough part and then mom would get better and we would face whatever came in the coming months.
Although she was getting radiation treatments, she continued to become weaker, but I thought that was due to the treatment and that she would feel better once the course of treatment was complete.
I spent the weekend of Nov 16-18 with my parents as had become our new normal. We talked and laughed and made "to do" lists. I was determined not to cry in front of her. She didn't need the burden of my grief while she was still alive, plus, as hard as it was to see her struggling with this illness and treatment, I still thought that soon the worst would be over and she would be on her way back to health.
When I was back at home that week I was told that mom's appointment with the doctor didn't go so well. The radiation treatments weren't helping and her tumour had regrown almost as if it had never been removed. I was frantic. How could this be?
That was a Wednesday and I was heading back to my parents' place on Friday November 23rd, after work anyways. I had not been given any updates on mom's condition except that she had accepted the doctor's update and decided to decline further treatment.
I wasn't prepared for how much she had declined in that week. I had seen her when I left for work the previous Monday and when I got there on Friday, she was bedridden and needed a LOT of support to move around at all. When I saw her that Friday, I finally understood that she wasn't going to make it. The disease had gotten the upper hand. I asked my sisters when this extreme decline happened and they told me it had happened shortly after her appointment with the doctor but they hadn't wanted to tell me. Hadn't wanted to tell me? I needed to know!
During this time, I started listening to a Christmas album I had by For King and Country. The music soothed my agonized heart and soul. Songs of Hope. Songs of Jesus' purpose for coming to earth to save us and heal us.
I barely left mom's side that weekend. She knew that her illness would end with her slipping into a coma and then passing into the presence of her Lord in Heaven, so she kept asking me if she was in a coma yet. I had been in a coma years before, and so I would tell her that, although she wasn't yet there, when she was, she would feel the deeply peaceful, very real presence of God. I assured her that when that time came, she would know she was ok.
She seemed satisfied with my answer each time but it was also evident that she was wishing she was there already. She could feel the tumour and often asked me to press against the side of her head, putting counter-pressure against the tumour to relieve the pain it was causing. I put my hands on her head, told her I loved her and prayed that God would let her suffering end soon but grateful for every minute that I still had with her.
At one point, she asked, "Why doesn't God want me?", not understanding why she was still alive and suffering rather than being in Heaven yet. Her question broke my heart and I told her "No no no, He wants you but in the Bible we are promised that our mansion is being prepared for us. Yours isn't quite ready yet but it almost is. They're just rounding up a few more pictures of your grandkids and greatgrandkids so your mansion will be perfect and you'll love it! Then He'll take you there." I had to choke back tears as I told her, knowing she would soon be there and so knowing that soon she'd be gone.
But her peace of mind was so much more important to me than my breaking heart and so I gave her the comfort I knew she needed.
On Saturday, November 24, my sisters and I were keeping busy at our parents' place when my niece's daughter came up to me and told me about a letter she'd written at school. She told me that the kids at school were giving her a hard time about it and so I asked her to explain it to me.
She told me that she had written a letter to Santa, asking him to make Christmas come early because her great-grandma would die soon and she wanted her it to make to Christmas, but the only way that could happen is if Christmas came early.
I told my sisters about the letter and we said, "Why not? Let's do it!" and we rushed to the grocery story at about 11pm that night and quickly bought everything we'd need to make a Christmas dinner for the whole family the next day.
We put up mom's favourite Christmas decorations, filling her room with lights and beauty. By this time, she was no longer able to get out of bed but she could see the decorations and loved them. Mom always loved Christmas so we told her that she had made it to Christmas. We played Christmas music and after a wonderful turkey dinner, the whole family gathered around mom's bed and we all sang Christmas carols. Each of us setting aside our own grief so that we could give mom one last beautiful Christmas celebration.
She hummed along with the music and hugged everyone. Mom LOVED babies ever since she was a young girl and she had a special place in her heart for every new baby that was born into our family. As she lay in her bed, she said, "Somebody bring me a baby" and one of the many babies present was laid in her arms.
Finally the evening ended, the dishes were cleaned up. I stayed over that night as I had been doing for several weekends and left for work the next day.
I hugged and kissed mom and said that I had to go to work but that I'd come back after work.
That day was the first day of training for a new girl at work and I was the one training her. Because of that, I wasn't able to check my phone for messages until we took our lunch break.
There was a message on my phone that was an hour old. It was from my brother and he just said that I should call Elizabeth (my oldest sister) because mom was having difficulty breathing.
The message was an hour old and it would take almost an hour for me to drive from work to my parents' home.
I immediately called my sister and she told me that mom's breathing was very laboured and that it wouldn't be long. My heart pounded and my breath caught in my throat. I just remember hanging up my phone, turning to the doctor I work for and simply saying, "I have to go", and I ran out.
It was pouring rain that day and visibility wasn't great. I got on the freeway and started out driving quickly, while trying not to go too fast. I cried out, "Wait for me mom, please!" but then I would say to myself, "You can't ask her to wait. You know she needs to go, she wants to go. You have to let her go". Then my tears would blind me and I'd cry out again, "Please just wait! I'll be there soon".
Then I looked at the road and the weather and had to slow down. My kids were losing their grandmother that day. It would be cruel of me to risk ending up in a ditch - or worse - on the same day that my kids already had to deal with more than they could bear.
I spent that whole drive speeding up, slowing down, praying for my mom to wait, reminding myself that she needed to go. It seemed like it was taking way too long for me to get to mom's side.
When I arrived at my parents' home (they lived in the basement suite of my oldest sister's home), it was such a surreal moment. I opened the door, my nephew (niece's husband) greeted me silently. Without saying a word, he just waved me through so I ran past him. Upstairs, my brother in law was playing the piano with such flourish, such grandiose style. It was music fitting for such a solemn, holy time as this. As I ran around the corner to mom's room, I suddenly saw that her room was full of family. My kids weren't there yet but there were many of us there. I just ran in, reached out for mom's hand and held it tight.
I slid in right beside her and whispered in her ear, "It's ok, mom, I'm here now. I love you. You can go. It's ok." I bowed my head, trying not to cry, then I looked at mom's face.
The look in her eyes told me she was seeing another place, another world. She was no longer aware of the world where her body lay. She gasped and took 2 more breaths after I took her hand, and then she was gone.
She had waited for me.
My aunt took me aside later and told me that they thought mom had already gone. It had seemed that she had already taken her last breaths, and then I got there and she took 2 more breaths.
In my grief and pain, God gave me a beautiful picture of that brief final moment I had with my mom...….
"As her earthly vessel bumped against the shore of Eternity, the King smiled and stretched out His hand.
"Look!", He said, pointing behind her. In that moment of hesitation, I slipped my hand in hers and squeezed gently.
"It's ok, mom, I'm here now. I love you. You can go. It's ok."
I dropped my head, never letting go of her hand.
As soon as I finished speaking, she turned to face the King and stepped forward into His warm embrace.
"Welcome home, my child", He said. "Well done. Enter into your rest."
I miss her with every beat of my heart but am comforted with knowing that she is healthy and pain-free as she walks with her family and friends and others who have gone before her and lives in the physical presence of the Almighty God.
One of my grandsons was waiting for her there, so when she said (and I KNOW she did!)
"Somebody give me a baby", the baby given to her was her precious greatgrandson.