Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Alarm bells

Despite that my mother spent the better part (actually the worst part) of two years dying from cancer, the fact she was actually dying seemed to escape me until the last month. Mom spent the last month of her life in hospital being cared for by the women she had worked with for eleven years.

We spent most of our time at the hospital. There are no visitation restrictions on the ward of death and our family took full advantage of that. Someone was with Mom at all times. Many a night, I slept on that couch listening to the sounds of the machines dripping fluid into Mom's veins. Listening to the sound of her raspy breathing. Listening to the sounds of other families holding the same vigil for their loved one.

In that first week of the last month, things seemed to be okay. Mom was not going downhill as fast as they had predicted and, while we were not given hope things would change, we were feeling as though we had some time yet. After spending most the day at the hospital, we all retreated to our separate homes. I went back to my apartment with my good friend who had driven down from Calgary at my panicked call a few days before. We spent the evening chatting and I was starting to feel a semblance of normal. Then the phone rang.

It was my aunt staying at Mom and Dad's place. Dad was spending the night at the hospital and all the other aunts and uncles had returned to get some rest. My aunt had just spoken with my mother's brother and, in a great misunderstanding of epic proportions, understood that my mother was not expected to make it through the night. The alarms were being sounded and all my siblings were heading to the hospital.

I put down the phone and started shaking. I couldn't formulate words, I couldn't think. I told my friend I needed to get to the hospital immediately. She had to drive. I couldn't do it. We drove through near white-out conditions as fast as we dared in the surprise spring blizzard. I jumped from the car before it came to a stop and told my friend I would call when I knew anything. I ran into the hospital.

They must have seen the panic in my eyes, because the night staff buzzed me through without question. I ran up the steps to the fourth floor as I knew the elevator would be too slow -- too inactive -- for me to reach my mother as fast as I needed. I flew down the halls, through the ward doors, around the corner and into my mother's room.

She was sitting up in bed, sipping her Coke, chatting and laughing with my Dad. They were surprised to see me. Mom asked why I had come back and I told her (with all the calmness I could muster) that I had come to say goodnight. I calmly asked my Dad to join me in the hall and I explained why I was there. He was confused. It appeared my uncle had misheard something or my aunt had misheard the explanation. There was no danger of Mom dying that night. My siblings entered the ward at that moment and received the same explanation. It was all fine -- for now.

It was in that moment I realized my mother was, without a doubt, going to die. And it was then that I turned into my brother's arms and finally broke down.

I've been featured on Five Star Friday.


  1. "with all the calmness I could muster" Oh, honey! :'(

  2. That is funny. I don't remember that incident at all, and I don't remember Shelley being there, either. Was I there? Had I got back from North Battleford yet?

  3. I remember the incident. I don't know exactly when I figured out Ella wasn't going to make it. I guess I kept expecting a miracle.

  4. I think that's the worst moment in the entire death process. The moment when it all becomes real.

  5. I remember this. It was really funny, for all that it was completely horrific.

  6. I swear, if you make me cry one more time at work I am going to shoot you. From a distance so you don't see it coming. Or I'll tell you my mom story and make YOU cry at YOUR work. And given that I love you too I'll probably cry after I've shot you. But I'd still so do it.

  7. Joy: Thanks

    Ky: In my head, you were there. Not sure if that's true, but I thought it was.

    Dad: Someone had to keep the faith.

    Billie Rock: You said it.

    Lyn: It really was. It's funnier now to me though. At the time, I wanted to shoot uncle.

    crazybarefeet: Oops. Next time, I will call ahead and tell you to skip that day. I don't want to get shot.

  8. Found this via FiveStarFriday, excellent writing, heartbreaking post.


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