Archive for February, 2007

Honesty – A promise not kept.

February 26, 2007

The conversation was animated. We had been asked to prioritize our values. What was important to each one of us? Compassion, Freedom, Honesty, Loyalty, Money, Trust, Timeliness, Competitiveness; Security? When we introduced ourselves to the other class participants, we then chose the most important value to us. When all were introduced, we resumed the lesson, reviewed the tally and learned that eighty percent of Canadians believed that Honesty was the most important value to them.

There were a few that chose other values. Elena who had escaped many years ago from one of the Soviet Bloc countries said that freedom was the most important. If you had to lie to get freedom, what did it matter, really, in the balance of your life. Life in itself was a value. Another former refugee felt that food and water were values. If you didn’t have them, you didn’t have life. Ensuring necessities of life was a driving value.

There was an argument about money. Was money a value? Or was the love of money driven by other values – power, hunger, insecurity or vanity.

Vanity (nobody would confess to this one) was felt to be a negative value. But what was wrong with looking good or presenting your best face to the world? We talked about pride. It depended on what you meant by it and then it could be a positive or negative value. Looking after oneself, dressing well, presenting your best foot forward. That was good. But pride that turned into snobbery or that put people down was a negative aspect.

While I was training as an Ethics Champion, I attended all the employee information sessions and then, when they felt I was prepared to do so, I started to lead the sessions myself. I never would picked Honesty as my most important value. It was a value that lived on a continuum in my estimation. Would you tell someone you found ugly in appearance that they were ugly? It would be unkind. It was better to see the inner beauty and comment on the colour of someone’s clothing than to tell someone that they looked awful.

Ah yes, in the courts, honesty is important. If someone asked you where you were on the night of the murder, then one had better tell the truth. In business, truth is better than not, but you don’t have to tell it in an aggressive way. And admitting to a mistake is better than trying to cover it up. As the saying goes, “Truth will out”. If you had proof that someone had stolen money, then your confidence in them would be broken. I had no doubt that it was important to be honest. But I had some reservations as to where it sat on the priority scale.

I remember an exhibition I saw in a small museum in the south of France. It was in Montpellier in the early eighties. Some patron of the arts about the time of the Impressionist movement asked several artists to do a portrait of him. He sat in the middle of the room, posing. Twenty artists arranged themselves around, painting from the live model, each with classical training. doing photo-like realism tinged with the new impressionism. The exhibition displayed the portraits of this man by Sisley, Caillebotte, Fantin-Latour, Monet, Manet, Van Gogh, Gaugin, and several others, positioning the paintings as the artists themselves would have been ordered in the atelier. Each one was different and yet the essence of the man was in each painting. It was a marvelous exhibition. Each portrait also carried the viewer’s vision implanted on the physical characteristics of the patron. So which one was the true one? Honesty had different faces depending on your point of view, your education or nurturing, and your ability to tell the story.

When it was my turn to say, I chose Freedom as my most important value. It got the conversations going. If you didn’t have freedom, perhaps you didn’t have the luxury of telling the truth. If one were escaping from a country that would kill if a person crossed the border, one would lie about where they were going; lie about one’s intentions; perhaps carry false documents. Survival and freedom were a higher value than honesty in this situation. There were variations on truth.

Diplomacy and tact were important. How you said things was as important as what you had to say. There was a continuum between the bald truth, a tactful truth and an overspun one. At what point did dishonesty kick in? And was lying by omission dishonest? One was not obliged to tell everything to everyone.

I put forth the question: “Would you lie to your mother? And if not, would you ever spin what you told her?” With my mother, you couldn’t tell her everything. I knew where the hot points were, most of the time. If I bordered on one of those, I simply wouldn’t tell all. She could become very agitated and distressed. It was better to keep her on an even keel. “You don’t have to tell your mother everything!” I concluded.

In my private life, I stepped onto an ethical teeter-totter. I found I was spinning truth faster and faster with my dear mother. She had become very dependent on me and became almost terrified that I wouldn’t come back. When I went shopping on a Saturday, she wanted to know every move that I would be making, every store that I would be going to and when I would be back. It was daunting. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she was absorbing all of my “free” time and not leaving me any time to recover from my stressful office job and my care at home for her.

I was determined to take Saturdays as my free time, so I would stretch the truth. Going shopping was an insufficient description for her, so I would list off all the possible places I might go – dry cleaning, post office, groceries, the produce store, picking up paintings from the framer, getting a watch fixed. Every week I tried to find something that would satisfy her insatiable need to know where I was or how long I would be.

Coming in from work at the end of the day, she would agonize over my late arrival. She was fearful of the wicked men in the streets that would abduct women; the bad drivers that might run a person over; the dark lanes where hoodlums might lurk to waylay me on my journey home. Day after day, I would arrive at home to find dear mother sitting in her walker at the front door which was open but with the screen door locked, waiting for my return. She would clap her hands like a delighted child when she saw me and exclaim “Here’s our Kay! I’m so glad you are home!”. It was touching and distressing at the same time. She would be so excited that I had finally arrived that she could hardly manoeuvre to back up form the door and let me in. From the minute I walked in to the time I got her settled in bed, we spent the evening together. Making dinner and eating it; An hour or two of television; reading the daily mail; talking about financial reports that came in; getting her dressed for bed (now, there was an hour gone!); dealing with her medication ; grooming her hair and her nails; reassuring her that the household was settled and we had successfully navigated another day.

Then in September of 2005, Mother suddenly became listless and tired. At the door, in the evenings, she had her head down on her lap. She couldn’t hold it up. She put her head on the table when it was time for dinner. In her whole lifetime, I had never seen her do that. She had an enormous amount of dignity and such behaviour was simply unacceptable.

In addition, she would not eat or drink. I had a little banked vacation time from work and I took it to stay home with Mother, She would not be able to fend for herself. I was afraid of her falling in her weakened condition.

Her lethargy continued day after day and I worried about it. In this condition she could not go to the doctor. Instead, I went to the doctor and asked her to come for a house visit. A mobile lab service came to take blood samples. We always called this nurse Miss Dracula because of her principal task. Days later, when the lab report was done, I was called back to the doctor’s office. Mother’s haemoglobin count had dropped from 125 to 100. It was significant. Something was wrong. Either my mother had internal bleeding or a slow spreading cancer had been triggered. There was little to be done. She was too frail and too old to operate on. If they found where the bleeding or the cancer was, then they could not treat her. Chemo would kill her. She might survive another five years or go in one. It was impossible to tell. The doctor recommended that we get her into intermediate care of a residential care facility and then just keep her happy and as comfortable as possible.

“But,” the doctor said, “do not tell her. It’s the right thing to do. It will only worry her and she will fret. She will imagine pains and panic. She will give up hope and be unhappy in her last days.”

The prognosis said she would be fine for a while and feel no pain, but when the cancer decided to manifest itself, she would then need long term or palliative care. She needed to be in a home. Mom’s home was not properly laid out to help her. She needed a hospital bed. She needed medical people around her twenty four hours, seven days a week. To provide that at home was excessively expensive and impractical. And so began the year of the big lie.

The Area Health Services were wonderful. They arranged a respite centre for her for December so that I could go back to work but there was a limit of thirty days per year. She had already used a good number of days. She could only stay another week and in that time, I would have to find another place for her. She should not stay at home. It was too dangerous for her – the risk of falling, the isolation, the irregularity of meals and lack of contacts in a day.

I was given names and a list of residential care facilities. The Provincial Health Services were unable to cope with the increasing number of seniors needing intermediate and long term care. Little was available. The alternative was a private hospital. Only one in our area had a hope of a vacancy and also had a decent reputation. I signed her up despite her protests. The alternative of staying at home was unacceptable. But there was nothing available immediately. I was at wit’s end. I couldn’t manage her at home. I couldn’t lift her. I had no energy left myself. Even if I could, I was falling apart and I had to earn a living.

As an interim measure, the Health Services found her a place in the Municipal Hospital’s geriatric respite centre. I took her there one frosty clear morning on a stretcher by ambulance. The frost sparkled on the lawn and the winter foliage. The sun was bright and brittle. The air was crisp and fresh.

I held her hand all the way. From the moment we entered the hospital, we were on a different planet. The building was built in the seventies of pre-formed and pre-patterned concrete. The hallways were hospital green and the floors were glazed concrete. Her room was drab and forbidding. The one window in her room looked out onto a concrete wall and a light well. It had a large slat venetian blind in cream colour that must have been placed there in the 1970s and hadn’t been cleaned or repaired since. The walls were a dirty off white and the accommodation had an aspect of hell in disrepair.

The hospital beds had those grey woolen felted blankets that were army issued during the Second World War. Heavy flannel sheets with either blue stripes or pink were rough from the institutional laundry, were heavy and hurt her parchment like skin. The bedside table was also army issue painted in khaki army green. Sunshine did not reach this ward in any way. Residents wandering up and down the hall in self-propelled wheelchairs or walkers groaned and talked nonsense. It was grim, like something medieval.

The whole situation screamed at and attacked her dignity. Her privacy was simply gone. Her independence was stripped. Though I had furnished some lovely pink pyjamas with a snow flake on the pocket and an alternate powder blue pair as well, same make, same snowflake, I always found her dressed in a blue cotton hospital gown, barely attached at the back. Her clothing had to be marked by the hospital, they said, and it wasn’t back from the laundry. Although I had given the clothing to them on her day of arrival, thirteen days and many angry phone calls had passed before the laundry workers had fulfilled their part of the task. It was close to Christmas and they were short staffed with the holidays coming up.

The day before I left on a journey which I had planned for six months and could not cancel except at great cost, my sister Heather came to run interference with the hospital on our mother’s behalf. I gave Heather a list of all the problems we were trying to solve – getting her laundry-marked clothing back; getting a comfort fund set up for her additional needs; dealing with a number of issues of appropriate food and care. In addition, Heather and Otto were to phone around and get another place for her once the two weeks we had her there were up. Christmas came between. Our mother would go home for Christmas.

When I came back from my journey, mid January, mother was in the Victorian Order of Nurses respite centre. There, the attention was individual. The nurses were lovely and gentle, not like the public nurses who were overworked and dissatisfied with their lot. Every night, the late shift nurse would sit with our mother and talk to her until she was sleepy and nodded off, comforted by the attention around her. Once a week, the nurses themselves would dip her in a deep tub of water and let her soak up the warmth of the bath. They would wash her hair and set it until she was beautifully coiffed. Morning breakfasts were prepared to individual order while the nurse was talking to the resident. Mother had a habit of demanding hot coffee and whether the coffee was lukewarm cold or hot, she would send it back for a reheat. At the VON, this was graciously done at every meal. Mom was treated like a princess.

I won’t bore you with the transition we had to make to get her into the private residence when the VON time ran out. We had meeting after meeting trying to help mother understand why she had to go into residential care. Otto, my brother, wanted her to stay at home. I couldn’t convince him of the danger that option presented, nor the impossible weight of care that placed on my shoulders.

“If you just didn’t play games of free cell and went to bed before midnight, you could do the little extra that is required,” he would sulk. He wasn’t offering is own time and services.

It was a contentious issue and he kept undermining my efforts to have her understand why she needed to go.

Finally two nurses ganged up on Otto and Mother; they patiently and relentlessly went over the reasons why Mother should not be at home. Bless their support. And finally, Mother agreed to at least see the lodge I had been able to muster for her next placement. The three of us went to see it and I felt such relief to see how caring the staff seemed to be with their charges. This was the place! This place solved my worries. Mother would be well taken care of.

But nothing is ever so easy. Mother agreed to an interim stay at this residence, but no sooner had we gotten “home” to the VON, than she had forgotten. She couldn’t remember the meeting with the nurses and Otto. She couldn’t remember the residence. She couldn’t remember what had been said, and moreover, she absolutely denied that she had agreed to go anywhere!

Her short term memory was rapidly worsening. Trouble was, her long term memory had always been fabulous. Her cognitive skills were intact. She could hold an intellectual discussion with you and she understood all the fifty cent words that you could stuff the conversation with. – and she could surprise you with a few that she knew and you didn’t. But she couldn’t remember that she’d had the conversation nor the substance of it two hours later. So everyone thought she was able to deal with her own choices. It often left me looking like a fool.

Why do I have to go, anyway? What’s the matter with me? Why can’t I come home? she wailed.

And then she would be defiant. “I won’t go!” And then we would repeat the explanations again.

Trouble was, I had not told her about the progressing cancer. I couldn’t. So by omission (you ethical watchdogs) I was lying to her about the reasons she had to have better care than I could provide. It didn’t weigh well with her that it was just because we thought she might fall during the day, nor that she would have company from fellow residents. It seemed like flimsy excuses.

She was past the age of wanting to make new friends. Further, she could barely see, with her macular degeneration, and she couldn’t hear. How could she have a conversation with people and make a connection? It was furthest from her mind. She just wanted to go home.

January 30th, her stay was finished at VON. I had to collect her. With only a very reserved consent from her, I had signed her up the residential care facility. Little did she know that I had made an onerous commitment for her continuing care at an astronomical cost. I could not tell her these things.

We picked her up by eleven, drove right to the new home and deposited her in her new room I had brought her bedspread from home and her bedside lamp in cut crystal and brass. I had purchased a new flat screen television that would be mine, but on loan to her until she needed it no longer.

I had bought pretty sheets for her bed and some lovely ivory coloured hand towels with a contrasting motif in light brown, an almost golden scroll work on one end. Mother was a classy lady and she was going to have classy furnishings so that she felt the place was worthy of her presence. There was a large bouquet of flowers to greet her by the window that looked over the stately elm trees and the park.

I had arranged her clothes in the drawers and cupboards that had been provided. I hung Lizbet’s paintings of a large cheery red poppy on one wall and another of hers, two carousel horses, up beside her bed. On the night stand, there was her home dial telephone. She understood how it worked. Linked to this was the amplifier that allowed her to hear the telephone conversations she received. I stayed with her until she was ready for bed and ready to sleep and slipped away into the night.

“When you get better, mom, you can come home.” I promised. It fed her for a month or two and then it became a debatable subject almost every time I visited, which was almost every day. She never would come home, her dear home that I was living in, and I knew it. But I couldn’t tell her and so I lied.

And lied.

And lied.


A promise kept

February 23, 2007

I was standing in a telephone booth, Avenue Langlet, in Rheims, shouting (or so it seemed) to be heard. It was beginning to rain and Franc was half in half out of the booth dancing from foot to foot somewhat impatiently getting soaked while I talked. I had a fistful of brassy ten franc coins in my hand to put into the slot. When they were gone, the call would be over.

In France it was a national pastime to cheat the system. Many Sundays, we would go far afield in the city to find one of the phones that could be tricked into thinking one was making a local call. Students and foreigners would line up by the booth waiting for their turn to call home. Then you could talk as long as you wanted unless you got mobbed by the group of individuals waiting their turn.

Franc had called me many times like this during the summer when I went home to Canada to earn more tuition for Art School. Whenever he got a “free” phone, we talked a long comforting talk. When he didn’t, it was a hello-good bye conversation. “Everything OK? When are you coming back. Call you next week.”

But I digress. I was shouting to my Mom, asking how Dad was. He had suffered a second heart attack while in the hospital for his a check up on his prostrate operation. I telephoned home every Sunday to send my love. Somehow I never thought he would die. A bit silly, I know now. Everyone does sometime.

The news was not good this week. He was sleeping a lot, not responding. Otto and Heather were in town and had seen him regularly. My coins were rapidly disappearing into the machine. I only had one left. I said a quick goodbye and heard one in return, then the line cut and I was alone with Franc.

I was living with Franc by that time although I never put that in my parent’s faces. They were strictly religious. The hippie idea of “try before you buy” was odious to them. It broke the Ten Commandments. I think we tacitly both knew I was living with him. We just didn’t talk about it.

Franc and I had been operating a second hand, curio, antique shop, selling anything of interest. It was a fascinating business and we both loved it, but there had been a recession in the economy and businesses were falling like flies. The statistic for Rheims was thirty five percent bankruptcy since the beginning of the year. A small affair like ours could not hold on. We would have to do something else. We had actually officially closed our doors at New Year’s Eve and were prepared to find something else to work at. In the meantime, the law permitted three months for us to liquidate our stock.

We travelled a lot to fairs – Nancy, Paris, Metz, Charleville – and had just returned from the one at the Porte de Maillencourt on the edge of Paris in March early the next Sunday morning when a telegram from Canada was delivered saying that Father had died, the memorial service would be Thursday next and please come home.

The story of how I got back to Canada in a hurry and how I stayed in Canada, leaving Franc to fend for himself in cleaning up everything, including all my affairs, is another story. Stay tuned.

The point is, I got home and Father was gone. Just gone.

I couldn’t say good bye to him. I hadn’t been able to tell him how much I loved him or thank him for all he had done for me. My grief was unbridled. I gulped back tears and soaked up handkerchiefs all through his memorial church service. During the tea afterwards, I dissolved into tears every time someone came up to me and told me how much they loved Dad or how wonderful he was. I couldn’t get a hold of myself. I was truly distressed and was dripping from my screwed up eyes to prove it. Mother came over to me and said sharply “Get a grip on yourself.!” My behaviour was not seemly. I was the prime embarrassment to the family.

In the aftermath, I stayed in Canada, found a job, at first odd jobs, then with a temp agency, then I got a stint with the company I’ve just retired from, and the rest is history. But I lived with mother for the first six months. I was company to her in her grief and it was an advantage to me until I had the wherewithal to pay food and rent and be independent. We got along quite well, except that I lived under some draconian restrictions from my hippie point of view. It was as if I was still a teenager and had to report home by six or suffer the consequences.

Again I digress. The point was that I loved my father deeply. He was an thoroughly honourable man and an deeply ethical man; a man devoted to his church, and proud of his family’s accomplishments. He was from a poor immigrant homesteading family in the Interlaken district of Manitoba. whose prime purpose in coming to Canada was to provide their children with opportunity and education. Dad had not only got his education but became an educator. Academia was a ticket out of poverty; a badge of honour and his lodestar. He was 59 when he got his Doctorate and his full professorship followed.

He provided each of his children with a home while they got their education and each of us got a Bachelor degree; two went on for their Masters, but that wasn’t me. I barely got my degree, and it was only through the patience and love of my father that I really, finally got mine.

I was from the narrow five year group of people that where considered the hippie generation. Rebellion was our banner. My sister before me had dutifully obeyed and followed the strictures of the post war culture, joining a sorority in college, attending fraternity balls and studying well into the night to ensure she succeeded in her studies. She followed up with a great career in teaching. My sister who came after had seen the disasterous example I had set and returned to the post war model of behaviour. She too became a teacher. Twenty four years later, she is still teaching in the same school. But I was the model of what not to do.

I had taught school for four years with my art education degree in hand, and married a draft dodger from the Viet Nam war, divorcing him just three years later because of his abuse of drugs, alcohol, money and me. I fled from him into the Kootenays and taught another year of school to make a living. It was how I made money and I loved teaching the children, but I hated the system, true to hippie form. By the time our divorce had been finalized, I had a packet of money from the sale of our house and I was determined to do what I had always dreamed of doing – going to art school. That my lodestar. I wanted to earn my living as an artist.

It was my younger sister who put the idea of Europe in my head. She sent me the list of schools she had applied to and I applied also. She asked only that we not attend the same school. If we had, we would both have spoken English together and she was going principally to learn French, the art was secondary for her. In July we both left for Europe, agreeing to meet up in Holland where our relatives lived. I arrived in Amsterdam on the 14th of July. It’s Bastille Day in France. That’s how I remember the date.

But, back to Father. I was talking about Father, and ultimately, I will get back to my story of Mother which is what this blog is about when it’s not about me.

One day when Mom was talking about Dad and her trips down to the hospital, her conversations with him as he was dying, the participation of the other siblings, she let drop a bombshell. She said. “ at the end, Father kept repeating ‘We’ve lost Kay!, We’ve lost our precious Kay”.

That turned in my head for years. What had he meant by it? Had he meant only that I had not been at his bedside when he was dying; that he hadn’t been able to bring my soul to his succour in his last days? Was I lost just because I was living in France and couldn’t or didn’t get home to be by his side?

Did he mean that I was lost like the prodigal son? Or that I had turned “bad” in the manner of a remittance man (woman) – one who had lost their way according to the religious principals that his church demanded, and had to be paid to stay away? Was I lost because I smoked, drank, partied, went to art school, did life drawings of nude models? Was I lost because I was living in sin, that is, not married to the partner I was living with? Or lost because I was not making a living at a respectable job, in Academia or some other benevolent profession? Or that I had gone far away to find myself, grow up, and I hadn’t come home? Or that I hadn’t found the self that was believed by my parents to be my destiny? I was the prodigal daughter and I had not returned.

I loved my father deeply. The comment twisted in me. Changed me. Tortured me. Saddened me. Made me change. Made me look at myself. Made me re-think what I was doing.

I began conversations with my father. His body was gone but his spirit was not. I held conversations with his spirit and sometimes he answered me. Sometimes I felt he put opportunities in front of me and if I only thought things through well, I could take the opportunity and advance in the right direction. All his early teachings were still within me; I had only to use them as a compass for me again.

One of the things he had often said after he retired was that he would surely die before mother did. Dear Father loved our Mother profoundly and honourably. Sometimes he would be at odds with my mother over some household expense or another. Mom really liked to decorate and to put on a fine table. She felt that Hostess was a profession that was adjunct to Professorship. She supported my father in his profession by ensuring they entertained the right people. To do so, she had to have a respectable residence dressed up in a House Beautiful manner. And that cost money.

Dad was of the opinion that his academic career hinged on his authority of knowledge and professional conduct. Household decoration was secondary.

Point being, Dad would tell us that he was careful with money because he was trying to ensure that mother would be well provided for in her later days without him. Men lived to be 74 on the average. His father had not; Dad only expected to live to 74. Women on the other hand, expected to live to 80. Her mother had died at 109, a fantastic old age. Who knew how long Mother might live?

He wanted her to be comfortable and at ease financially. If he was being frugal to a point of annoyance it was because he wanted to ensure her security. He wanted her to have a maintenance free house and a family that would rally around her to protect her. He entreated me to care for mother when he was gone.

As mother progressed in her aging even in the most difficult situations, my promise to my father was what guided me through. It has been twelve years now since I first came to live with her. She was a fiercely independent, intellectually active woman with a large dose of prairie grit in her constitution. Slowly, very slowly, she became totally dependent and not long after, she died. I’m putting together pieces of how that happened, like a puzzle. It was a harrowing task some days, beautiful on others. The last moments were sacred. I don’t regret one minute of the commitment I made.

And there endeth today’s blog. For love of father. For love of mother, I took to heart that I would look after her. It was a promise, especially for Dad. I would fulfill his wish that I would look after mother until she died.

If I did so in good faith, I might no longer be lost.

Omen 3 Parallel Lives

February 21, 2007

Our head office in Toronto was undergoing changes in management. Efficiency experts were raging about. The shareholders had been asking awkward questions. Fraud had been discovered two years earlier in the upper echelons. Ever since, the company had been half in defensive mode, half in aggressive restructuring mode. In the previous year, I had been named Ethics Champion for the organization. I had been relieved of some of my duties so that I could spend time on this important issue. Then in January, a year ago, I returned to my unit to take back up the work I had been doing before this interesting hiatus.

By April, we had been told that our jobs would disappear. We could keep on working for the company, but the nature of the work would change. We might be doing something else. Where there had been twenty three of us in our unit, we would be reduced to three effective positions. Mine was one that would be kept, but I didn’t want it. It was onerous. I was exaggeratedly responsible for more than one person could manage without substantial help. Now the support for the position was being taken away and the pressure would increase. It was impossible.

We were encouraged to find jobs with other organizations. Everyone started to search. We were already down to seventeen from twenty three. Now, rapidly, five more found jobs elsewhere. The place seemed to be falling apart. One found a government job which was a tidy promotion for her. We held a party.

Another retired after five years temporizing on her decision to go. My job was seeming less and less meaningful. The leadership was less and less sure of what they were doing. Eight months afterwards, we were told that the management had changed its collective mind. Our target date for downsizing was three years away instead of four months. But this friend and colleague had had enough. We held a party for her.

Then Karen left to work with a property management company. It was expanding. Two others from accounting went shortly after, to the same company. I was sad seeing the heart of our group go elsewhere. The corporate memory was walking out the door in droves. So were my long term friends I had made. We held a party.

Another colleague found a job in another section of a company and no sooner had she accepted she was offered a job and a promotion two steps up in the company she left when she joined us. It was getting confusing. We held a party to speed her on her way.

Not only were we losing colleagues from the baby-boom retirement, we were losing them to other companies.

My manager flatly announced that those who didn’t find jobs would be considered losers. The plum jobs would be available now. Later, when the announcement of our downsizing was made, other employers would look at who was left and think they had no ambition nor motivation.

So I applied for a Manager’s job in a sister company. They weren’t downsizing. There were plenty of postings. I was successful in meeting the initial requirements but when it came time do go through the testing and the interviews, I bowed out. I barely had energy left to manage my own job. Familiarizing myself with a new company, managing people I had never met and a subculture I didn’t know, learning the sister company’s goals and aspirations, their goals and directions – all this seemed beyond my capabilities. I was visiting Mom every night for three hours. I was tired and no longer able to concentrate at work. How would I feel if I was unsuccessful in the next steps of qualification. Unsuccessful was equivalent for failure. I couldn’t face it and I couldn’t study. I was overwhelmed.
I bowed out by explaining that my mother was dying and it was not good timing for me.

Then our organization posted an Ethics Champion job for Montreal. If ever the position was to be staffed in our region, they would draw from the successful candidates on the Montreal competition. I sent my letter in and was informed that I would have to go through testing on my knowledge and my abilities. Then I heard no more for months. Finally in December, I was asked to go to Montreal to be tested. If I didn’t go, I was out of the competition, no ifs, ands or buts.

Mom was deteriorating and I would have to leave her for three days. I would arrive in Montreal with jet lag and have to get up three or four hours earlier than I usually do, and then write an exam. Twenty years earlier, this would have been a no-brainer. Ten years ago, I would have said “no problem”. I hesitated. I took my e-mail which I hadn’t filed since I left my Ethics Champion post over a year earlier and started to weed it out, file it, delete that which should have been deleted much earlier. It was true that the hours were less onerous. It was true that it was interesting to listen to people’s stories as they wrangled with their own conscience about right and wrong. I had no trouble conveying the company’s goals and aspiration, and the company’s ethics policy to anyone in the organization. But I hadn’t liked the answers. We were getting too picky. One couldn’t support a charity on office premises – no more Food Bank boxes; I was the bearer of bad news. “No, you can’t collect donations for the Union Gospel Mission on the work site. No you can’t put your own pictures up in the office. No you can’t go to a lunch hour presentation held at a contractor’s workplace. No you can’t do this; you can’t do that. Did I want to go back to that? Did I want to count statistics. Did I want to write position papers I didn’t necessarily agree with? Did I want to tell people that what they proposed was not ethical when I didn’t support the party line myself?

Well, what did I want to do? My wants were defined in negatives. I didn’t want my former position; I didn’t want an easy position where my heart was not engaged; I didn’t want to be working when it came down to the bottom line, that very business-like bottom line.

I didn’t want to live the remainder of my life going to work at seven, leaving work at four, going to moms by five; coming home by eight; having a what-ever-I-could-find dinner, collapsing on the couch for an hour, beginning my housekeeping and accounting at ten, bedding down at twelve or one or two and starting all over again at six.
Nagging at me were the things that I hadn’t gotten done. Mom wanted to see her friends – a tea with one of the fresh fruit cakes from Fratelli’s.bakery. Something small. No work, you understand. “I don’t want to overload you. You already do so much for me”, she said. “Just here at the Lodge. In the solarium, mid afternoon.

I wanted to go and buy her an ice cream cone in rainbow colours. I wanted to to take her out to see the ocean again at sunset time – only a drive by because I couldn’t lift her out of the car by myself now. I wanted to show her the Christmas lights, even thought she could only half see them through her peripheral vision. I wanted to take her to her beloved club for the Christmas open house and again for the Christmas Seniors luncheon.

Besides the things I wanted to do for mom, there were the things I wanted to do for me. I wanted to write. I wanted to collect and privately publish as much family history as I could, I wanted to paint again. It was my life work and I had done virtually nothing over the last five years.

With our downsizing, we had been moved to a different floor. My work station looked out onto a beautiful historic building that I loved to watch changing colour as the day progressed, back lit in the morning, bathed in a glorious golden glow in the early evenings as the sun set. Some days the green copper roof blazed against a dark storm cloud making it look like an old fashioned spaceship ready to take off. Other days, the shadows on the garret windows would move around the limestone walls like a sundial creating fantastic shadow forms.

I took my camera to work and photographed the shifting light and the changing shapes. I could look far down to a flat roof that had heating and ventilation equipment on it which, when taken as an abstract view, produced some interesting images as well. The day it snowed, someone walked across the roof leaving a trail of black footprints. All the dark shapes on the roof had become white, changing the aspect entirely.

But when the day went dark, instantly the window turned into a mirror. I saw myself slumping into my swivel chair, staring back at myself. I was getting heavier and heavier. I was getting no exercise, working here at my computer all day; driving to my mother’s residence; sitting with her all evening. I was falling asleep at my desk. Was that any way to work for an employer? And yet, the few hours of sleep I was getting before I had to get up and go around again were not enough to keep me alert at my desk. My work wasn’t interesting. I was bored.

And when had I developed jowls? And how was it that my hair had decided to live in the bad-hair-day camp on a permanent basis? I hadn’t had time to get to the hairdresser. I was beginning to wear the same thing to work two days in a row, for I hadn’t had time to iron a washed top when I got home from my evening visit. Was I going to look at this lovely image, day after day, for another two years? That was my goal for retirement. Two years.

So I burned my bridges. I phoned to Montreal, gave a politically correct reason and my regrets, bowed out of the Ethics competition and made a decision to fly the coop, come out of my cocoon, activate the chrysalis; re invent myself.

My boss caught me the next day and asked me if I could spend a bit of time with him. Of course I said yes. He wanted to tell me what he had done to ensure I could continue to work in our unit without going back to my own position, that onerous behemoth of a position. We met, but I prefaced the meeting before he could speak, with my announcement that I would retire. Not tomorrow but next month. Six week’s notice. Christmas came in between. I had planned to bring Mom home over the holiday, and then there were statutory holidays of Christmas, Boxing Day and New Year. All told, it left me four actual working weeks. Wrapping up and passing things on to others, filing masses of e-mail and tidying up my work space were going to take most of that time. I didn’t spell all of that out but he knew. It changed everything.

If my world was dismantling before me, so was his. He had virtually no staff left, trying to do the same amount of work that they had done with seventeen bodies. The organization had been so understanding with me that my work load had been light, for once in my life. No pressure. But I had been there to advise temp staff and I had a twenty three years of corporate history that helped. I didn’t envy him his dilemma.

A weight lifted off my shoulders. A young colleague asked “Were you scared to tell him? Or nervous?” I was old. At least I felt old. There was nothing they could do to me, really. “No, I wasn’t nervous. It felt right. It still feels right. It’s time for me to go .”

Omen 2:

February 18, 2007

Omen two:

She fell on December 13th. Didn’t break anything, or so it seemed. The nurses didn’t call the doctor. She said she was all right. But you couldn’t trust the Care Aides. They didn’t come when called, she pointed out.

“I called and called,” she said. “It took them five minutes to come, at least”

“How did you call them? Were you able to ring the emergency bell?

“ No, I was in the bathroom. I just hollered out, Help! About five times.”

‘There is a call button just beside the toilet”.

“Oh, I didn’t know. When did they put it there? Really, I don’t think it rings anywhere. It’s just to fool you.”

“No, Mom, you are supposed to ring the bell”

A combination of memory loss and fear. What good were bells if one was afraid to use them? What good to ring the bell if one feared those who would come would hurt you? What good were bells if you couldn’t remember where they were? What good were they if you couldn’t hear what someone said over the intercom when “they” replied?

“They are not what they seem,” she said. Paranoia reigned. “They don’t come when you call. It’s not like they promised”.

I held my tongue. Nothing would convince her. Five minutes was infinitely long when you had fallen and no one came. Her voice was tiny now. It was a miracle that someone heard. Probably they had just found her on a routine check.

If she had been at home (and it happened more than once) it would have been hours before someone found her. Now she was so frail it was critical. That’s why she was in the residence, so that help was nearby and the help had medical training.

She hankered to come home and this was the time we had promised to bring her. I took the last of my annual leave from work at Christmas and we brought her home. Otto and Hugh carried her wheelchair up the front steps with her in it. There were no elevators to fear here but it was infinitely less safe; There were two stalwart men who could lift her into the house, but she was more trapped than in the care residence. If they were not both there at the same time, no one else could lift her in and out. I shuddered at the risk!

Baking powder biscuits were in the oven, warm and ready for her tea when she arrived. I was going to tempt her with home cooking. At the end of tea, her biscuit was still there, spread in smaller crumbs around her plate. At dinner, I had a special pureed soup. She always loved my soup.

She had a half cup before the meal and it was all gone. “Success!” I thought, but when I asked her how she had enjoyed it, she said, “Not really”.

The limit switches on the elderly are as effective as those on young children. They say what they want and their truth, as undiplomatic as it may be, is what comes out.

Everything had to be done for her. She could no longer get up by herself. She could not transfer from wheelchair to bed or from wheelchair to a comfy chair. Every personal care needed to be done for her.

I had Care Aides come to help with her dressing and morning care. Same in the evening.

Though they treated her with utmost care, nothing could protect her from her own deteriorating bones. She cried out with pain when her knee was moved. She winced when she was shifted in her chair. She could sit only for a few minutes before she needed to be resettled in a different position. She was not only frail. She was brittle.

She stayed four days. On Christmas Eve, her lifelong contemporary friend from University came to share dinner with us. A Christmas orphan, my friend, came to share as well. Her travel plans had fallen through and she was alone for the holiday season. Mother was in her element, entertaining. She was once again queen of her household. She glowed.

But her plate was scattered with crumbs of dinner. There was just as much food on it when it left the table as had been put on it to start. She was getting lighter and lighter. Soon she would be air.

On Christmas morning, she awoke as I was coming in to see how she was and if she was ready to get up.

“Where did Mabel go?” she asked.

Mabel is her sister. She died several years ago at the age of ninety six with Altzheimer’s disease.

I have gotten used to asking her cagey questions about these seemingly curious statements she sometimes makes. “Did you see Mabel this morning ?” I asked, as if it were a reality.

“She slept with me last night. She kept me warm.” she asserted.

“That’s wonderful, Mom” I answered in a laconic and even voice. “That was nice of her to keep you company and look after your comfort.”

“Was she not here, then? asked Mom.

“I don’t know Mom. Only you can tell. Perhaps her spirit came to take care of you during the night. I think that’s pretty nice, don’t you?” I had not questioned her basis in reality and she seemed comforted by that. The Care Aide did not arrive and I dressed her, lifting her dead weight body to the commode and to the wheelchair, finding unorthodox ways to get her clothes on.

Christmas Day was much the same. Nephew Ron and his wife came for breakfast and the traditional opening of gifts. His brother Hugh and his father Otto were there. Once again, she glowed to have them around her. It was a wonderful day, she told me. Hugh cooked. What would I have done without him? I would not have had time to cook.

We ate our traditional dinner. At the end the Care Aide, this time a recent immigrant, refugee from Somalia, came and waited while we finished our meal. I was struck by the display of obvious wealth and its contrast to this poor refugee woman. What could she be thinking? She would not eat with us, but she took a package of food home with her and a present hastily assembled for her son who was waiting for her.

With utmost care, she lifted mother onto her commode. She bathed her and put her in her pink pyjamas with the snowflake on the pocket. She lifted her into the bed and tucked her in. All this, with the utmost care.

But mother’s cries of “she’s hurting me; she’s hurting me” distressed me. Something more was wrong. It was certainly not this careful, deferential woman, this caring and tender woman, who was the cause of the pain. She was rather the bearer, the facilitator of the pain that was already inside my mother.

On Boxing Day, all the festivities were done. There were no visitors. I would not have her home with me again, I knew. I couldn’t manage. Did she know?

We spent the afternoon before she slept, talking about this and that and death. Where did she think she would go when she died? Did she think she would see my father, her husband? Her sisters and brothers?

She mentioned that she saw Mabel and her mother often now. They were waiting for her. Mabel had been her elder sister; mother was the youngest. There was ten years difference between them. Even later in life, Mabel had been known to take her by the back of her clothing and prevent her from crossing the street at the corner when a car was hurtling towards them. Mom had to be fifty when this happened. Mabel never gave up her role as protector.

She talked about what she wanted. No service. No eulogy. Cremation. She was looking forward to no pain. It was a privileged conversation. An intimate and trusting conversation. I was unlikely to have another one of these. I savoured the details of the moment.

The day after was the day to go back to the residence. She slept in the morning and then after a very short and small breakfast, she was tired. “All I want to do is sleep” she said. She slept.
She slept right into the afternoon, and then I took her back. I stayed with her during dinner.

Her residential friends were glad to see her. Everyone loved her. They missed her conversation and missed me as well. The daughter that came every day. The daughter who brought in the outside world; who stirred up the conversation into a big stew and doled it out for everyone to hear.

Mother faded at the table, exhausted with her days away. Exhausted from an internal source. I took her back to her room and got her prepared for bed. She lay down her head and slept.

I was exhausted too. I went home and I slept. And I slept.


February 14, 2007

Omen one:In August, her pink fleece pyjamas with the snow flake embroidered on the pocket and the satin piping around the collar sagged around her shoulders. The scapula and clavicle could be cast in clay from the outside. Only a thin skin covered them. Was she starving herself? Or was something else going on, like the slow spreading cancer the doctor suspected, growing in her abdomen somewhere. Too frail to do exploratory surgery. Too frail to treat with chemo. She was dying.

Oh yes, you will say. We are all dying. Well, she was ninety four and counting to her ninety fifth birthday. How long could we hope to keep her with us? How could we improve her quality of life with her haemoglobin dropping and her weight dropping at the same rate – a few counts per month?

I went into my manager’s office and wrangled about how I might take some time off to be with her to fulfill some of her dreams – seeing Gisele before she died, having a tea party with Ella, Rose and Roberta, three friends who had been good to her. Simple dreams of closing the loop. Saying thank you. Saying goodbye.

He was sympathetic, but I had this to finish and that to do. When those were done, perhaps a week or two off. Tell him when I wanted to go. Give him dates.

“I was really thinking about months off. A half year. I don’t know how long. How can you predict when someone will die?” I ended up with.

I saw my manager’s manager, a woman. Very sympathetic.

“I didn’t want to cry” I said as my face screwed up into an unattractive ball. Crying is always ugly. I swiveled away in the office chair to help regain my composure.

Different story here. “Of course” she said. “This is a life event. You only have one mother. You won’t get to do this again. You have to do it right. Take the time you need. Just let us know when you want to go. We’ll figure out a way to make it work for you. We can get someone to cover for your duties.”

Already the company had been super sympathetic. I’d had a light work load. I’d taken my vacation so that I could take her to appointments, on short notice. This had been going on for over six months.

“Here’s a calendar” said my boss days later. “Mark off the days you want to be away. Give it to me by the end of the week”

I looked for a way to take leave without pay. What would I live on? My retirement savings? My holidays were all gone. Work sixty percent of the time? Maybe, but I was already on eighty percent time through doctor’s orders. I was too tired. I couldn’t do work and look after mom too. Where does one buy energy?

I spent two days agonizing over the calendar. I only had two weeks of annual leave left from a stock I had built up over the years. Eleven weeks had melted into two. With sisters and brothers, we decided to have a ninetieth birthday party for her at the end of September, family only. Keep it simple. Keep it small. And so I picked a few days from the week before and the week after. Before, to prepare; after, to collapse and recover.

We rented a mansion for a morning and ate in the same room that Prince Charles had dined in many years ago when he travelled through our fair city on a North American tour. Lizbet and Heather were assigned getting Mother there – dressing her was a chore. No matter what the occasion, she needed to be elegant and perfectly turned out. Keeping her nerves in order was another of Liz and Heather’s chores. At the end of the day, they would take her back and spend the remainder of the afternoon with her so that she would not feel she had been entertained then disposed of, dropped and put back in her gilded prison.
The bruncheon was fun. Nephew Hugh cooked, having become a chef putting himself through school during student days. He prepared a varied, delicious menu. Otto was chauffeur, bringing Mother and her contemporary friend from University days to our venue. Lizbet wrote the Queen of England and Prime Minister Harper for birthday letters. Mother, born second generation Canadian of good English stock put much store by the Queen and dreamed of getting a letter for her hundredth birthday.

Heather planned décor and menu; she helped with protocol and etiquette. Otto devised a speech that linked Mother’s birthday with events in time; Heather’s husband picked up balloons to decorate momma’ s place at the table; Lizbet read her favorite poem.

Mother glowed. For four hours, she was Queen, herself. The centre of attention. Noticed by the Queen of England and the Prime Minister of Canada! Surrounded by family and very close friends. Wearing her finery and her jewels. But she ate nothing. She drank nothing. Adreniline high, she returned to her residence, had a cup of tea and took an hour or more to prepare for a nap, divested of her finery which could not be left there. She had no dinner and slept a long night through.

She was exhausted and it showed, next day. She had escaped her gilded prison for a day, but here she was back again. No cajoling could make her happy.

Continuum theory

February 8, 2007

Primulas are flowering in the garden, joyously outraging the white Christmas rose. The daffodils, scilla and tulips are pushing hearty leafage through the early spring soil.

Where did it start?

Was it the day I picked up a stunned baby robin, fallen from its nest, and brought it to my mother? She helped me feed it and comfort it, stroking its tiny soft head, gently eye-dropping water into its hungry beak. We prepared a box and a soft dusting cloth for it to rest in. It did not recover despite my young ministrations.

Mother had many stories that were brought out on occasion, as lessons, such as the blizzard in 31. She lived in a home with one of the homesteading families. On one stormy day she asked the farmer whose home she lived into take her to school where she taught during the depression. He scoffed. He wouldn’t take any of the animals out in this weather. If she was going to go to school, she would have to do it on her own steam. She walked to the school and found two children who had made it through the storm. “What if I had not turned up” she asked us. Those two children would not have been looked after. She took them to the pastor’s house across the road and they were cared for until the storm abated. Admittedly, it was foolish to walk out alone in a blizzard, she confessed now. One learned from experience. This had been a lesson for the need of advanced planning, communication, responsibility, learning from other’s experience. If the farmer would not take his animals out in such conditions, it was a good sign that she should not go out, especially alone, on foot. One needed to set our parameters establishing when one must come to school and when one should stay home.

The fallen robin was another. It was a story of kindness and caring. I became a rescuer, a care giver, compassionate for those who were mistreated, abandoned or lonely. Mother held dear this story because I had worried her with a childish question “What will the mother robin do without her baby?”

Had it started there? Or was it just being born into a family that expressed love by actions of caring and responsibility?

Then there was the occasion when father was growing strawberries. His success was limited by the number of birds that would come feast on his crop before he could bring them in. To protect them, he constructed a tent of netting across the strawberry bed, only to find, next day, that a towhee had become entangled in the webbing and was suspended upside down, still struggling but barely, to free itself from its panic and from death.

Mother brought out a bright red plastic laundry basket. Father disentangled the bird and then it was placed under the upside down basket to recover on its own, safe from the predatory cats that often traversed our back yard in search of game.

Hours later, the bird was released and flew away. The netting was gone and would never be put up again.

Much later in my life, I found a quail, equally trapped by fishnet in my own garden. When I released the shivering bird, it ran twenty feet forward into the bush that surrounded my house, then stopped. It looked back as if to say thank you, and then continued its escape towards mister quail who had been waiting with a wrenched up heart, thinking that he had lost his mate to a man made trap.

That was the end of my garden protection. If the quails got it or our two chickens, so be it. I couldn’t bear to see the helpless animals caught and terrified.

But I digress. I was talking about generically about starting points, who we are and how we come to be doing things. Or more specifically, if I could only get to the point, how I came to be looking after my aging mother.

So perhaps this story started after I separated from Franc twelve years ago and hadn’t yet decided where to live. My mother was in her mid-eighties and fiercely independent, living alone. After my separation, I’d done a six month assignment for my company in a mid-prairies town and was three provinces away from my where my work base was. I didn’t have a home. Everything I owned was in storage.

I hadn’t been settled a week into that new job on the prairies before I learned that Mother had fallen and broken her left arm. We talked often on the phone which helped her cope with her enforced seclusion and boredom, but I was not able to help her with groceries or laundry or any of the myriad daily tasks that needed two hands.

At the end of my assignment, we skirted around the idea of living in the same house. There were some obvious advantages. She could be independent and stay in her own home longer, perhaps until she died. At least she would be able to avoid residential care or moving to an apartment for many more years.

I didn’t like apartments. I don’t think mother ever lived in one. I wasn’t sure that I liked living alone. I had only done it a few times and I hadn’t really liked being entirely on my own. It was good to share one’s day with another person. There were advantages. I could have the whole basement and room enough to do my artwork – a work bench, storage for my paintings, a garden to work in and flowers to enjoy.

But there were disadvantages too. My mother and I had had a history of not seeing eye to eye. It had been much better since I’d found a respectable job with the government. But I had been a horrible hippie. A flower child. A back-to-the lander, even though I virtually gave up any pretensions to being self sufficient in food production once I had saved the quail.

It was a risk. Would I be able to be myself in this new equation or would I be the eternal child obeying my mother’s vision of what she thought I should be? I felt I might be facing the equivalent of a new marriage. She was very much the matriarch. I was very much her child. Could we be friends? Sisters? Companions?

I could see that she needed to make a major decision – sell the house and go into an apartment, or find some way to make living at home viable. How many times had I come in to visit her over the ten years since dad had died to find her sitting alone, in the dark (to keep electricity bills down) staring at the room around her. Bridge club and seniors centre, aquacise and walking clubs could not banish the loneliness. Eating for one was making her ashen. “I can survive for a week on what’s in the house” she would state fiercely. But the fridge held little but milk and bread. Her meals came from tins. She wasn’t eating properly.

In fact, we did decide to live with each other. Each of us put our expectations out for discussion. She wanted her independence, fiercely. So did I. We discussed our living arrangements in detail. Upstairs was hers. She wanted nothing changed. I was not to slip my favorite milk jug into her cupboard or even think about changing pictures on the wall, or leaving one of my afghans on the couch. It was her house.

What I did downstairs was my business. Aside from the guest room and the laundry room which were common space, I had for myself a bedroom, a work room for my art and plenty of storage space for it. I had a small room to show the work which doubled as a mini living room for guests. You don’t need all the details. Only that the upshot was that we agreed to live in the same house. Was this where this story started?

For a few years this was how we lived. I put up with a few steely looks when I didn’t get home from work on time. “Where have you been! ” she would demand as I came in the door. Her husband, my father, had been an engineer. Time and precision were de rigeur. Dinner was at six. Missing it was not good.

I put up with directions although I was fifty and had cooked for myself perfectly well enough for me for thirty of those years. Soon she began to like my cooking. “Don’t buy green peppers,” she would say. But I continued to bring them home and she started to like eating thin strips of them. I had to be out of town for work and when I returned she said ” I sure missed the fresh vegetables. Will you get some of those green peppers.”

All of that to say that we adjusted. She began to like some of the things I brought to the house – news from the outer world, stories of friends, and then my friends. At first, she was not too happy about this, but soon she began to find out that my friends were not all hippies any more. I didn’t disillusion her. They were hippies gone underground, disguised in corporate clothing. She had taught me that you can’t judge a book by its cover and that clothes make the man. Little did she know that I was sneaking “former” hippies into her friend circle. And she liked them!

We don’t see the years pass when we live with someone. We morph into someone the different and yet still the same. Here was my mother with her same sense of humour, her intense sense of dignity, her love of family.

But slowly she came to depend on me as earlier, I had depended on her.

Her mobility diminished and she needed someone to run her errands, her banking, her shopping. I can still see her bending in the garden to pull weeds out of the lawn and the flower beds, just like my grandmother had done before her, and remember somewhat later that it was no longer wise to do so as she became unsteady on her feet.

We bought various devices to assist her reading – better glasses, magnifying glasses of varying sizes, wrap around sun glasses to protect her from UV and bright light as macular degeneration picked out her vision, rod and cone , until there only remained a bit of peripheral vision. We got large print books; a larger television; then talking books. Finally we read to her until she could hear no more. We got hearing aids for her. There were headphones so she could hear the television; amplifiers for the telephone. We talked directly into her one ear left with a bit of hearing capacity.

When did it start that I was putting her to bed; getting her ready for breakfast in the morning; dressing her; dispensing pills like a nurse; diagnosing the easy problems; being her helpmate and her ears at the doctors? Taking her to all appointments; arranging for the hair dresser; the dentist; the rounds of doctors?

Again I digress. To the point, mother had become dependent. The commitment I had made to look after – I faltered some days – was a fully embedded one now. In trade for a safe haven I had a woman becoming child to look after. I remember her giggling behind me as she held my hand like a child to steady her as we travelled from her bedroom to the kitchen. I remember tucking her into bed and going through a list of things we needed to do before she could sleep – brushing teeth, putting away the hearing aids, cutting fingernails, finding bed socks, setting out clothes for the morning. I remember the days I would come home and she would be waiting, sitting on her walker at the front door, to welcome me home, day after day after day. Her childlike delight as she saw me coming up the lawn slope to the front door.

In her frustrations some days she would be short and sharp and then always, she would temper it with a thank you and a recognition that I was carrying a responsibility for the two of us. And thus, to the end of her days.

The close members of our family and some wonderful friends sat by her side in the last few weeks of her life, holding her hand until the end, night and day.

And now the question filters through my thoughts. My lovely mother. Little princess. Butterfly. Pillar of the community. Pillar of strength. Where was the start to this? Is her death an ending or a beginning? Is birth, life and death just part of a continuum? Did I ever choose to become her prime care giver or did I just evolve there? Where did she go? Or is she still here in spirit, guiding us?

Just Saturday, when we held a memorial tea, I noticed in a jumbled Christmas planter just inside our front door that one innocuous leafy filler had produced a single bloom, white and pure. It is a peace lily. I take it for a sign.

the sky cried

February 4, 2007


I thought

that the sky opened its clouds

in memoriam

and cried

and cried

until the earth was soaked

in bitter tears

In memory of my mother who passed away at the age of 95 on January 30th, 2007