Updated: Jan 21
I was 19 years old sitting beside my dying mother in the hospital and she was trying to comfort ME!
“If all of us would make an all-out effort to contemplate our own death, to deal with our anxieties surrounding the concept of our death... perhaps there could be less destructiveness around us.” - Elizabeth Kübler-Ross
“I had a pretty idyllic childhood. It was full of team sports, birthday parties, BFF bracelets and family vacations. "
I grew up on Vancouver Island which is a slice of heaven. I grew up extremely privileged from a very extremely privileged part of the world. I didn’t realize that then. It was my normal. I ignorantly thought this is what every child experiences growing up. My life was swimming along just wonderfully until I was 19 years old.
My mom came home from work one day and had a sharp pain in her stomach. It was so bad she took herself to the ER at the hospital. It turns out her body was full of cancer. Full. They couldn’t confirm the origin because it took over so many parts of her body. She died six months later. So much for her spinach salads, daily vitamins and endless aerobics.
She didn't allow anyone to speak the "C word” in our house.
She passed away in August, but I remember I felt like I lost her when she was diagnosed in February. I think emotionally she was in shock. Ironically, she was the one who taught me to talk about feelings and emotions, but she went silent. The mother I knew was lost to me, even before her body stopped working. She went into survival mode. I don’t blame her. She spent her days laying down on the couch in the living room, completely nauseous from chemo treatment. She blocked out the world, pumped chemicals into her body like a warrior, and didn’t allow anyone to speak the “C” word in our house.
I surprised myself at how resilient I was while witnessing my mother’s body fading away. I guess it was some sort of innate way of stepping up to life’s challenge. In hindsight, this is what I did for the next big challenge of my life too. My mantra, "life is tough, but i am tougher", was my saving grace.
Her body literally just disintegrated. Over the period of six months she had three different surgeries, each time they removed a different chunk of her body. First a hysterectomy, then different parts of her colon. The doctors, bless their hearts, we’re trying to put Band-Aids on the Hoover dam.
I remember being at the Victoria General Hospital after her last surgery and she was telling me how one of the things she will miss the most is seeing me as a mother. Even though I was using all my force to keep from crying, I couldn't manage and tears began to stream down my cheeks. She began to comfort me. There I was, a young adult, sitting beside my dying mother and she was comforting me! This speaks to her strength, her compassion and her deep knowing that "all is well, even when its not".
She had a colonostomy bag. Most of her colon was gone and her intestines ended at a hole in the side of her body attached to a bag. I remember sitting on the porch two days before she passed, I watched her eat something and within about 60 seconds it arrived in the bag. Food passed through her body like she was hollow. Her body was not absorbing anything. It was frightening. It was like she had already stopped existing. Her body was not functioning at all, it was just there, maintaining her soul for a few more days.
My poor father had quite the intense 3 years. First, his father died (my Granddad). The next year, his mother died (my Grandy), and the following year, his wife dies. FUCK! After my Granddad died, we decided to take my Grandy in to our house for the end of her life. I remember going on walks with my mom at night and she would talk to me about death. She would ask me how I was feeling about having Grandy at our house and she would make me feel comfortable and explain to me the stages of grief after a person dies. She was preparing me. This was months before we knew that she herself was about to die. She was teaching me about grief and all the while, her body was riddled with cancer at the time. The foreshadowing is haunting. She was so wise. She left her body 20 years ago and to this day I am still processing and integrating lessons she has left for me.
“You know Taylor, you might not remember someones name or even what they say to you but you will ALWAYS remember how they made you feel." - Joanne Daly
Fast forward a few months and here we are, on the same bed, lying together while she takes her last breaths. My brother, Reagan, was there too. We were on either side of her, holding her, just as she had held us for so many years. We were comforting her and letting her know that it was okay to let go. She was high from painkillers, and rambling nonsense. Every once in a while a structured sentence would come through though. I was desperately listening for some meaningful last words of hers.
I remember her saying “Rock ‘n’ Roll, let's do this”. I remember smiling and crying. She was ready to go. She was ready to leave her body. She didn’t though, until Reagan and I had left the room.
Our house at that point was like a hotel. Various relatives coming and going. Hospice workers coming and going. She died in the wee hours of the morning and I was sleeping on the couch in the family room and I overheard some family members whisper, “she’s gone”.
I remember feeling relieved, and I went back to sleep.
I was in the middle of a Psychology degree at the University of Victoria and after I lost my mother, I thought, “life is too goddamn short. I want to see the world while I can”!
So I took the next semester off, bought my first big backpack and went to the local travel agency. Kids, if you don’t know what a travel agency is, ask Siri.
My mothers' death took me places; psychologically and geographically. I am grateful for her life. I am also grateful for her all her death has taught me.
First stop: Indonesia.
“Respond to every call that excites your spirit." - Rumi