A couple hours north of Toronto, the winter has been harsh. For days on end, my friend Deb and her family were snowed in.
“This week it was minus 36 degrees celsius,” she wrote, “not counting the wind chill! It was so cold that the trees sounded like they were exploding; like shotguns firing nonstop.”
But something sacred is taking place inside this home.
Deb’s mother Gladys, who lives with her, is declining in health. Week by week, something else fails. Two weeks ago, her feet swelled to the point where her shoes couldn’t go on. Gladys is getting weaker.
“Every day is a gift”, Deb wrote recently.
I know what this means. When time is limited, when every day is a gift, one uses time differently.
Every day, mother and daughter try to create – or simply appreciate – moments that bring joy.
Joy comes in many forms.
It comes from listening to music that Gladys enjoys. “We try to fill the house with her favorite songs from opera to Frank Sinatra.” She particularly enjoys Maria Callas and Andrea Bocelli.
Doing things together brings a special kind of joy. Gladys, an accomplished artist, still loves to paint. “Sometimes,” Deb says, ” Mom has enough energy to sketch with me or show me how to paint a picture. Sometimes it means just sitting quietly together in front of the fire and reading.”
Joy comes from simple things like deciding what to cook. “I pore over the recipes and ask her opinion. Then I try to tempt her to have a little, though her appetite has waned.
“I still offer her a glass of wine or a hot chocolate spiced with something special. And Mom still enjoys her peanut brittle, though she has to suck on the pieces rather than bite them (90 year old teeth)!!!!”
They take joy in nature. Gladys often sits in a comfortable chair beside a large window. On the other side of that window is a bird-feeder and beyond that, acres of woods and a snow-covered lake.
“We watch for the many different birds that come to the feeder right by her chair,” says Deb. “We watch the snow swirl around the house and whistle through the trees. We are amazed at the snow sculptures — also known as snow drifts!”
There’s also joy in laughter. The two women watch funny movies together. Like “The Heat”, with Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy. They laughed so hard, they cried.
When friends drop in, they enjoy tea, cookies – and laughter.
And then there’s the kindness of others. “The nurses that come every second day have been so kind and are gentle in spirit.”
Gladys faces each day with a mixture of hope and acceptance. She points out that the doctors are experimenting with a new injection that seems to be helping to give her some strength back. And she also says: “My bags are packed and I am still waiting for a clearance on the runway of life…… That is what snow blindness can do to you. Illusions??? Think positively! Spring is coming!”
Indeed, there are signs of rebirth in the air. Just days ago, a new baby was born – Gladys’ third great-grandchild. It’s a joyful occasion, and Gladys looks forward to meeting the newborn soon.
There’s much sweetness in this time. And sadness. And wonder.
Deb notices that, whatever they’re doing, Bailey, the family’s pet retriever, “spends a lot of time at Mom’s feet as if he knows something.”
As her mother nears the end of her life, Deb finds herself reflecting. “I take Bailey out for a walk every day to breathe….to catch my breath, and pray. To find solace in nature….. to marvel at the snow. I spy two moose in the forest, a mink sliding across the driveway. I tell myself that all I can do is my best. The rest is up to God…the when – and the how – of how this will come to an end.”
She says Gladys is “calm and brave”, her sense of humour and memory still sharp. She surprised Deb recently by reciting a quote from a book she received on her tenth birthday, 80 years ago:
“Deem it not an idle thing
A pleasant word to speak
The words you use, the thoughts you bring
A heart can heal or break”.
It’s moments like this that bring tears to Deb’s eyes. Some days, all it takes is “a word, a song, a story Mom tells.”
But there’s a lovely sense of grace in this home, perhaps reinforced by the words from a prayer by St. Francis which Deb frequently recites: “Make me a channel of Your peace”.
Dedicated to Gladys and Deb, and to all those who’ve had a similar experience.