Mom went into the hospital the Wednesday before Mother’s Day with back pain. Her extreme thinness alerted the doctors to something more serious going on. I (Heather) started posting on Facebook more regularly after she had been in the hospital for a couple of weeks, when her continued decline became evident despite a slight improvement after some infections were cleared up.
On this page, in sequence, are the posts concerning her illness and her death on June 10. I have been encouraged to preserve them for a wider audience. I have included a few of the more substantive comments out of the dozens elicited by each post.
Some of my Facebook posts were more about her past than about her current journey, so I have put them in the Gallery (see menu) rather than on this page. They were part of our “celebration” of her life while she was still with us. When I reviewed them with her in the hospital, she was happy that people were learning more about who she was, and impressed with range of people and the comments expressed.
Thank you to all who read, liked and commented; it felt wonderful to be supported by a wider community, and Mom appreciated that too. There was something greater happening, however: we were contributing to the normalization of talking about death and the dying process, a cause close to both our hearts.
Her husband Charles (Doug) has added his reflections on a separate page.
May 12, 2014
I spent Mother’s Day with my mother who’s in the hospital. She loves arranging flowers, so I bought out our local florist in Western Shore, with the help of my distant siblings who sent money for it, and we played florist shop. She directed. I cut and placed. It’s her creation, and the best treat we could have provided.
May 21, 2014
Those who pray or do distance healing, please include my mother, June Maginley, in your circle of concern. She has been in Bridgewater hospital for two weeks. Her condition has stabilized and investigation is focusing on her liver. Healing for her liver, strength to her bones, wisdom to the doctors, to herself, to her husband Charles and her children for drawing correct conclusions and making the best decisions as they come up. She wants to live many more years in good enough health to write her memoirs and enjoy life.
This post was followed by dozens of comments offering thoughts, prayers and healing.
May 26 (comment to the above):
Thank you, everyone, for your good wishes, prayers, Reiki etc. Update: still no diagnosis; awaiting test results and a bone scan. She is frail, weak and has pain from a compression fracture in her spine (T11). The daily drama is around the usual digestive input and output. She gets great pleasure from the evolving bouquet of flowers that is now sporting contributions from her own garden. How much she will ever get to enjoy the garden itself again is a question, given her current condition. And such is life.
The diagnosis we’ve been waiting for, and dreading though we knew it was dire. A diagnosis that allows her to accept and prepare, though she doesn’t want to leave this world yet. Cancer in the liver and pancreas.
I salute the man I have come to call my stepfather. He had no part in raising me, but he has been part of my life for over 30 years. People’s best qualities shine at times of crisis. He is clear-thinking, realistic and proactive, while being very loving and caring, and he realizes that he needs to take care of himself even while being attentive to my mother’s needs. We are of one mind regarding her care. May his valiant heart not break too badly, and may he publish all his books (longhillpublishing.ca).
Note: By this time, my three siblings, as well as my aunt and cousin, were with us or on their way (from Ontario and Alberta).
As my sister Pamela has wisely observed, by bringing family together now, we are having a celebration of my mother’s life while she is still with us and able to be part of it. It helps us all move on with more peace, including her. Part of my bit is the photos and updates I’ve been posting. You can consider yourself part of it, just by reading them. Photo from last Christmas.
(June’s sister) Shirley arrives tomorrow with her daughter April. Mom is perfectly lucid and having good visits, though she’s extremely weak. She’s not in much pain as long as she is lying down. Going to the bathroom with helpers is as much physical activity as she can manage.
Amazed. In less than a week, my mother has gone from thinking she was going to get better, to being able to pass on her most precious treasures to her daughters with an acceptance that allows her to joke about getting her pearls past the pearly gates. But the latest Tilley hat? “No,” she said, pointing her finger like the Grim Reaper herself, “you can’t take that until the death certificate is signed!” Hilarity.
Virginia Louise Bell:
Apart from the four of many wonderful characteristics I treasure and admire seeing in your Mom,…. serenity, great dignity. grace and humour, I add to my list…courage. I love and respect her to bits. I am so enjoying your posts.
It’s Sisters Day. Mom and her sister Shirley are (from what I hear; I’m not there) looking at old photos that Shirley brought and having meaningful talks. As a friend noted, cancer can be generous in giving you some time with the full knowledge (assuming you have a diagnosis, that is) of how precious and finite these moments with loved ones are. And that knowledge rubs off on others. This photo is from 10 years ago.
Today in the hospital I showed my mother my recent Facebook posts and photos about her. We read all the comments and she was happy to know that people were holding her in their thoughts and prayers. She was particularly pleased that people would know about her university education as it took a great effort to achieve while raising 4 kids and when she was between marriages.
The view from the hospital bed. Mom took one of these pictures herself. She is getting great pleasure seeing her daughters wearing her jewellery and clothing – especially Carol who fits into everything and flies west tomorrow with an incredible new wardrobe. But many tears were shed today too. Last goodbye forever, in the physical. “You have my permission to haunt us.”
I was only seeing my mother once a year in the early days of her second marriage and wasn’t much involved in that stage of her life, but I’m seeing the fruits of it in the strength of their bond; a mature relationship going through its final trial with a richness of emotion and concern for each other.
Yesterday I went to the hospital wearing one of my mother’s scarves (not the one in the photo but equally gorgeous) which pulled the colours in everything else I was wearing together into a harmonious whole, as she taught me to do when I was very young. When we got there, she was dozy from a recent injection of pain medication. I draped the scarf on her bed and she enjoyed playing with it, seeing how the colours changed when viewed from different angles. During the whole visit, she wasn’t able to speak out loud, only whisper and gesture (I think her larynx is congested). As I prepared to go, I asked her if I should leave the scarf. Who needed it more, me or her? She indicated that I should wear it. As I walked out, she called, out loud (!) hoarsely “You’re looking good!” I stopped and said, “That’s the best compliment I’ve ever had, because I know how much effort it took.” She answered, “Yes!” out loud, with a smile and a wave.
I hesitated to post this photo from 2 days ago because some might find disturbing how thin she has become. This is the face of cachexia, the wasting of the body that often accompanies cancer. It was a new word for me a month ago, but a major sign of alarm for the doctors. Then I remembered that back about 1970 when we lived in Antigonish, my parents first attended a talk by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on death and dying. I post this now on my mother’s behalf as a statement of her own interest in normalizing death and dying, just as she has taken a downward turn (mostly unresponsive, eyes half-open, not moving). The vigil begins.
Prasado Berta Klooster:
Heather … What an amazing journey you and family are on with your mom … your posts have been so touching and beautiful. Although I don’t know your mom well … this wish of hers to contribute to normalizing death and dying seems so like her. Thanks for including so many of us in the journey. Such grace. Such love. Blessings.
I know my mom admired your mom very very much!!
Sending my best wishes and prayers for you and your mom and the family. This is such an interesting and challenging time, but so inspiring that you have been able to really consider and talk about death this way.
And we very much need to “normalize” death and dying. The work of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross needs to be part of our “life curriculum”. June is showing us the way.
Blanca Maria Nanette Baquero:
I think that it was wonderful that you posted this. It is part of life and one should be prepared to know and witness all aspects of life…especially when related to family, friends and acquaintances. I see nothing disturbing…only bravery. My heart goes out to you and your family during this period.
Mom and I yesterday: thin, wasted away from the cancer she has silently been fighting for who knows how long. So much of her nourishment she has struggled so much to take in has gone to feed her cancer rather than her body. But she has such good times…even to the last…
June 8, evening [Mom’s body had become mostly unresponsive, eyes half open and unmoving (except for a couple of memorable occasions), body mostly still. One must act as if the person is totally present, because she probably is. Seeking to give her pleasure, we started to sing, and we reached out on Facebook for ideas.]
Singing songs with Pamela and Dorcas. Danny Boy, Loch Lomond, Today while the blossoms still cling to the vine, Moon River, Somewhere My Love… looking for a response from our audience. The flicker of an eyebrow, a more peaceful breath… maybe you could help her with some requests.
Comments (I listed or clicked “Like” for songs we sang and added happy faces for ones she really responded to.)
Heather Holm Somewhere over the rainbow
8 June at 22:22 · Like
Ma Bell Early one morning. An English Country Garden.
8 June at 22:22 · Unlike · 1
Linda Wheeldon My buddy
Over the rainbow
8 June at 22:28 · Like
Joanne Purchase-Renaud You are my sunshine.
8 June at 22:30 · Unlike · 1
Heather Holm Good ones. Thanks. Fun to look up the lyrics on the spot.
8 June at 22:30 · Like
Karen Runge Let It Be
8 June at 22:31 · Like · 1
Karen Runge Kumbaya 🙂
8 June at 22:36 · Like
Heather Holm Joanne she liked You are my sunshine. Raised her arms up.
8 June at 22:38 · Like · 2
Karen Runge Nothing Compares to You
8 June at 22:39 · Like
Joanne Purchase-Renaud Oh Heather!! Thank-you for this. There are so many people with you right now. ox
8 June at 22:41 · Unlike · 1
Heather Holm She smiled for Embraceable You!
8 June at 22:42 · Like · 2
Heather Holm Kumbaya 🙂
8 June at 22:44 · Like · 1
Karen Runge What a Wonderful World
8 June at 22:47 · Like
Heather Holm And did those feet in ancient times 🙂
8 June at 22:56 · Like · 1
Heather Holm The Rose. 🙂
8 June at 23:02 · Like
Heather Holm Country roads by John Denver 🙂
8 June at 23:08 · Like
Heather Holm Time for more pain meds.
8 June at 23:09 · Like
Heather Holm Thanks everyone for the ideas. She knew you were there, and responded a lot to the songs, some in particular. Charles is going to sleep here tonight.
8 June at 23:11 · Like · 2
Bonnie Cook Hard Times Come Again No More
8 June at 23:21 · Like · 1
Mercedes Brian I gave my love a cherry that has no stone
8 June at 23:43 · Like
Mercedes Brian I’ll Fly Away
8 June at 23:44 · Like · 1
Polly Violet As I go down to the river to pray… Not sure the actual name… Also Glory to Thee
Yesterday at 13:36 · Unlike · 2
Janis Aylward Hallelujah!
Nearing the end. Today Mom moved into the end phase, mostly unresponsive, lying with eyes half open and unblinking, long pauses between breaths. At this point one should assume that she is still fully aware. Talk to her, not about her. Moisten the mouth, apply lip balm. But she can’t swallow so no water. We talked to her, read poetry. At times there was a response – a twitch of the eyebrow. A long, metaphysical poem by TS Eliot seemed to elicit movement. But it was probably a pain response as it was time for another shot. Only once did she open her eyes wide and saw me for just a second. Then we started singing. And it was clear that she was responding, although the eyes stayed half open unblinking. Arm movements. Even a smile! Since she couldn’t ask for songs, I asked Facebook and got great ideas. Between my music therapist sister Pam, my memory and hospital wi-fi, we had a pretty big repertoire. Highlights, based on her response: Jerusalem, Embraceable You, You are my Sunshine, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, Early One Morning, Kumbaya, The Rose.
Kimberley Rankin Reagan to Heather Holm:
You and your mom are helping to change the way folks experience/view passing over to the “next” I remember how Kate Mortimer shared her journey and how that influenced/opened views for folks. Thank you, June and family for sharing it helps widen the view.
A nurse who doesn’t have Mom on her roster today, but has worked with her a lot in the past weeks, came in to say hello and pay her respects. “You’ve done this really well,” she said to her. “And you will continue to do it well. And you have a really lovely family.” And friends – it has been a day for visits. Quiet time now. Contemplating my beautiful mother. Trying to guess at her needs when she is virtually unresponsive. The rarest twitch of an eyebrow or nostril is all the feedback available. Nana Mouskouri is singing for us right now.
And she’s off to her next adventure; God is at the helm. Today was a good day to die.
Taking our leave. All of us gathered together, coming and going in the hospital room, doctor and nurses dropping in to pay their respects. Some [of our family group] felt the need to go out and do something trivial [after all the intensity of recent days]. Pam, Dorcas and I helped the nurse wash the body. Added a delicious rose glycerin infusion to the wash water. Packing up her things. Ready to leave.
Six of us descended on the funeral home to meet with Bob (who is related by a marriage or two) then on to see Mike the crematorium guy, who greets you with a sincere and solemn “Sorry for your loss” (which really is the perfect thing to say when you don’t know what else to say), and loosens up when he sees you’re loose and shows you which buttons to push. A last look at the empty vessel that was our mother’s face – she’s gone, gone – and we close the box and reverently push it into the oven. Over to the nearest lunch counter at the LCLC where we all have BLTs and crack each other up (“She’s a-hunk a-hunk a-hunk of burning love”, the Cremation of Sam McGee, etc.). Grief giggles. Giddy release. Very life-affirming.
[Subsequent posts have been moved to the Afterthoughts page.]