Coping With a Difficult June

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve posted, and sadly this one isn’t writing-related. Those who’ve been reading my blog know that my mother suffered from dementia and was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer one year ago. By March the cancer had spread to her liver and our family doctor estimated that she had only two or three months left. My mom’s dementia made her oblivious to her dire situation. Even when told the truth, her emotional response seemed dim, and within minutes the diagnosis was forgotten.

My mother passed away in hospice care on June 23rd . Neither my sister nor I were there. I’d seen her the day before and had been out all day at an event that Sunday. My sister had planned to visit, but her significant other suffered a heart attack on June 12th and she was exhausted from the worry and daily commutes to the hospital. (It was touch-and-go for a while, but it looks like he’ll be okay. A medical procedure is required but rehab is underway).

It sounds strange to write this, but we were stunned by the call from the hospice nurse. We truly believed we’d have a little more time with her. We’d met with the doctor on Wed., the 19th, who thought she was doing well under the circumstances, and might have four to six weeks left. We understood that this was a guess, and our family doctor cautioned me that pancreatic cancer is wildly unpredictable. She was in hospice three weeks and two days before she passed.

I should have picked up on the signs that the end was near. When I took my son and daughter to visit her on the 16th, she’d been unusually alert and conversational She blew us kisses the last time my sister and I saw her—something she’s never done in her life. She apparently had the nurse help her call her sister in Toronto that Sunday afternoon. For weeks she’d not felt well enough to talk on the phone at all, let alone make a phone call.

Also on June 23rd, my daughter’s good friend, and matron of honor at her upcoming wedding, lost her grandmother that same day.

Flowers for MimoFive days earlier on the 18th, I had to have our twenty-year-old cat Mimo euthanized, as he became too ill to go on. The beautiful flowers in the photo were sent by our vet’s staff who’d been overseeing his care since we brought him in for his first shots back in August 1999. Also on the 18th , my future son-in-law’s family lost their beloved dog to cancer.

I took time off from the day job to reflect, to rest—or try to—but I’m now back at work, which is fine. I like the routine, to focus on other things for part of the day.

Memories swim through my head. I have a room full of her furniture and some belongings that I’d moved out her assisted living apartment two days before her death. There are things to sort through, legal things to take care of.

But there are also things to look forward to, such as my daughter’s September wedding, quickly followed by a move into their new home. My son also began an exciting new career the last week of June. I’m getting back to writing. My lovely coworkers are giving me a rose bush to plant in Mom’s memory. It’s perfect. She wouldn’t want any fuss and mourning or feeling sorry for ourselves.

I’ve learned a lot this past year about life and death, and many things. I’ve said goodbye far more than I wanted to last month, but I’ll cope and move one step and one day at a time. And I’ll remember.

 

Serendipity: How a Dire Situation Became Something Better

Serendipity is what I’d describe as chance encounters with unexpected and excellent outcomes. They don’t happen often in my life, but our family experienced it twice this week, and we needed them both.

I won’t bore you with descriptions of the many phone calls, pharmacy trips, assessments and stress that happened in April and May to try and get my 84-year-old mother more frequent and professional care for her dementia and pancreatic cancer. My sister and I were her advocates, and our family doctor initially thought professional home support and medication would be enough. But as her condition rapidly deteriorated, we began lobbying the powers that be for either palliative care treatment or a hospice.

Everyone tried to be helpful, but there are rules and protocols before one qualifies for hospice or long-term care facilities in British Columbia. As it turned out, impromptu assessments by R.N.s without my knowledge or any feedback from them resulted in their underestimating the depth of my mom’s dementia and relying on inaccurate information from her.

When it became clear that she wasn’t eating solid food, but living on ginger ale and Boost for several days, my sister got on the phone. She wound up talking to a sympathetic woman who suggested that a palliative care doctor could come and assess Mom, and this time, they invited us to be there, so I went. Twenty-four hours later, the doctor’s office told me that she would be placed in a hospice, but at a facility that was still a fairly long drive away. We were hoping for one closer to home, however no beds were available,  but  at least she was going where she’d get the care she needed.

Twenty-four hours after that I received a call, I received another phone call saying that a bed had just become available at a hospice five minutes from my home, and asking if I could bring her there at 2:30 that day. It was both a welcome surprise and a huge relief. She’s currently in a wonderful, caring environment.

MojoThe next dilemma was what to do with her fifteen-year-old cat, Mojo. I’d placed a poster at the vet, boarded him there a few days, asked friends, associates, and work colleagues, and did a shout-out on Facebook. As our family and friends were already inundated with pets who would not welcome a newbie and the cat shelters were all maxed out (we checked), we reached the conclusion that he’d have to go to the SPCA. A phone called to the Vancouver branch assured us that they have a high adoption rate, and that a number of people would be interested in adopting a senior cat. Still, life in a cage seemed depressing.

As it happens, my sister has a part-time retirement job as a cat-sitter. Although she fractured her kneecap last September and doesn’t take on new clients, she has a small number of long-term clients. The day before we were planning to take Mojo to the SPCA, she was tending to a client’s cats when a vet technician she’d met months before showed up to give one of the cats an injection.

They began talking and as my sister updated her about our situation, the tech volunteered to find Mojo a home. She apparently volunteers with a couple of cat placement centers. She told my sister that she’d make a couple of calls and see if she could find him a foster home right away, then look for something more permanent.

We held our breath, hoping she’d come through, and sure enough, she called the next morning. We were to bring Mojo to her workplace, where a foster family would take him home. Given that Mojo’s a Himalayan (not purebred) with gorgeous blue eyes and a friendly personality, we have every confidence that he’ll be placed in a permanent loving home.

Sometimes it takes prayer, other times visualization, or staying positive to achieve the best possible outcome in a tough situation. I think I used all of the above, and I’m thankful for the people who appeared in our lives to help us through a difficult situation. When the opportunity arises, I plan to pay it forward.