A Good Home, Artists, Courage, Daughters, elderly Parents, Family, Family Matriarch, Family Stories, Gratitude

An Extraordinary Letter

Remember Debbie and Gladys, from the story titled “Every Day, A Gift“?

Blog Photo - Tea time

It’s about a daughter’s efforts to bring joy to every remaining day of her 90-year old mother’s life and it touched the hearts of many of you from around the world.  Late last night, I got an extraordinary letter from Debbie.  I asked and got her permission to share it with you.  It’s simply titled:

MOM

There is a Holy bathroom here at the hospice.

You go in to use the toilet ( please forgive the graphics here), after days of not being on a normal routine, when – suddenly – you find yourself shouting out to God that what Mom is going through is not fair!  That you are mad  — at God!

And then you get an answer.

You’re told that you have been on a journey and now it is ending.  You cannot micro manage any of this like you have been…. appointments, drug refills, nursing care, then hospice care, micro managing the nurses here, mom’s injections … the when and the how and the what kind of everything!

You’re  told that YOU ARE DONE!

It is out of your hands.  She is about to start HER personal journey with God WITHOUT ME.

Gladys creates one of her last paintings
Gladys creates one of her last paintings

I have done my job….a job well done….but a job that has finished.  I cannot, no matter what I do, change the when or the how.  I have to let it all go.

I have said my goodbyes each time  in the past day that we thought mom was dying .   I know she loves me and she knows that I love her.  We had the opportunity to say all the important things. And yet I have said them over and over again.

When I flushed my troubles down that toilet, with the realization that I am NOT IN CONTROL, and that it is totally in God’s hands, I felt a huge relief wash over me… a letting go… a handing of a precious package in to His care.  I left that washroom feeling tremendous relief and with a smile on my face that has not been there for a long time.

Back in her room, I wished Mom a wonderful journey.  I told her to have fun.

I told her as my guardian angel that I was going to keep her busy and see some of the world that she didn’t see.   I told her to do the same.

“What the heck …  take a spin around the world in the arms of the angels and have them show you the mountains and oceans, fly over the jungles , spin around the Eiffel Tour, buzz over Europe …see it all.  Have the angels soar through the heavens….have a blast.”

She told me to look for her in the first dandelion that I see.   I will wonder at that gift.

Often Mom and I would think of something at the same time and say it at the same time.  I would joke with her as to who really had the first thought.  Before Mom and Dad moved in with us,  quite often I would pick up the phone to call Mom and find that she was on the line.  The phone didn’t even have the chance to ring.  We had timed it at the same instant.

So maybe when I’ll be doing something and think of Mom, maybe at that very instant mom is up in heaven thinking of me.

She is very peaceful now as she has been put into a medically-induced coma.  She won’t feel the anxiety as her body fails her.

So my friends, grab a glass and fill it with something like a fine wine and raise your glass in a toast to my Mom.  Here’s to a life well lived, to a job well done.  Here’s to all the love she gave and received back tenfold.

May we all be as blessed.

Deb.

Thank you, Debbie, for sharing this loving letter with us.  I am asking everyone who’s read your letter to raise a glass to Gladys. “Here’s to a life well lived, to a job well done.”

A Good Home, Afternoon Tea, Art, Birdfeeders, Birds, Childhood Memories, Coping with Chronic Illness, Country Living, Courage, Daughters, elderly Parents, Family, Family Matriarch, Family Stories, Homes, Inspiration, Laughter, Life Challenges, Mothers, Nature, Storms, Winter

Every Day, A Gift

A couple hours north of Toronto, the winter has been harsh. For days on end, my friend Deb and her family were snowed in.

Blog Photo - 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.

Blog Photo - Gladys Painting 2

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.”

Blog Photo - Gladys paints

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)!!!!”

Blog Photo - House overlooking Lake

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.

Blog Photo - Bird at Feeder

“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.

Blog Photo - Tea time

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.”

Blog Photo - Bailey in Snow

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.”

Blog Photo - Moose in Snow

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.

A Good Home, Family, Family Matriarch, Family Stories, Spiritual

Aunt Rose’s Wise Words

One of the most compelling personalities to grace the pages of this blog is Aunt Rose.  Readers from around the world responded to her with admiration and even awe.

Aunt Rose passed at 6:15 this morning. She was 107 years and 9 months old.  Her daughter True, who’s worked tirelessly to care and comfort her mother, was by her side. As were her son George (“Sonny”) and son-in-law Devon. As a family, we can’t thank them enough, and their sibling Goldie – and many other family members –  for their care and attention to Aunt Rose.

True to form, our last conversation took place when Aunt Rose asked her niece Glenor to phone me late one night recently so she could say goodbye.  After the call ended, a flood of memories washed over me. I’m sharing two things she told my husband when he asked her, at age 100, the secret to her long life.

Aunt Rose at 100
Aunt Rose at 100

“Never go to bed angry”, she said.

And:

“Don’t hold on to regret.”

Thank you again, Aunt Rose, for these and many other pearls of wisdom. Rest in peace.

For the original story about Aunt Rose, please click here

A Good Home, Faith, Family, Family Matriarch, Family Stories, Gratitude, Inspiration, Thanks

The One and Only Aunt Rose

The phone rang. I grabbed the receiver.

“Dah-ling?” she said in that lovely  lilt that always reminds me of the women in that generation of our family. It’s as if they adopted an accent and made it their own.

“Hello, my dear Aunt Rose,” I replied.

“How are you?” she asked.

“I’m fine, Aunt Rose. Especially now that I’m talking to you. How are you?”

“I’m fine too, Dah-ling.”

aunt Rose with her son, great niece, and great-great niece
Aunt Rose with (l-r:) her son, great niece, and great-great niece

Her voice took on a slightly aggrieved tone. “But why don’t you call? I can’t hear from you at all.”

Before I could defend myself, she continued: “At my age, I shouldn’t have to be the one calling all you young people all the time. You should be calling me.” Aunt Rose lives with her daughter and son-in-law in the U.S., but her relatives are all over the place: England, Jamaica, the US, Canada, and so on. We were obviously not keeping up with the person, who – by dint of both personality and  seniority – has become  the family matriarch.

“That’s so true, Aunt Rose”, I said. “You’re absolutely right.”

“If I’m so right, why don’t you call more often?”

“Aunt Rose, I do call. I left a message on your phone just last week. Did you not get it?’

She was not backing down. “No,” she said firmly. “I didn’t get any message.”

I tried a different tack.

“So how are you, my darling Aunt?”

Her voice softened. She recited a short litany of ailments. Followed, as usual, by: “But I’m still here, giving God thanks.”

Gratitude. It’s one of the many things I like about her. To Aunt Rose, every day is a gift.

Aunt Rose, centre, with nieces

Aunt Rose, centre, with nieces

She asked about my siblings, uncles, cousins.  And my children.  And, of course, her favorite person who lives in this house.

“How’s my boyfriend?” she asked, suddenly giggling like a schoolgirl.

“He’s fine,” I replied. “Always sends his love for you.”

“Well, you tell him I send my love for him too!”

My great-aunt has a crush on my husband, and she never lets me forget it.

She called one day while my husband, the real chef in our family, was cooking dinner. Aunt Rose had insisted that I relay her love to him while she was right there on the phone.

“Your favorite girlfriend sends you her love,” I yelled across the kitchen.

“Tell her I wish she were here,” he called back, laughing affectionately, a twinkle in his eyes.

Aunt Rose giggled happily. “You tell my boyfriend that if I was just a little bit younger, I’d give you a run for your money!”

I pretended to be completely shocked.

“Oh yeah?” my husband replied when I relayed this remark. “Ask her what’s ‘a little bit younger’ ”.

Aunt Rose’s laugh was louder now. “Well, maybe just 20 years or so. Not much.”

This time, I was speechless.

Aunt Rose, you see, is 107 years of age, and that conversation took place about a year ago. She was still feminine, still funny, still eloquent.  Still vivacious. You should have seen her at her birthday party just a few years before. She danced all the younger women off the floor.

Aunt Rose dancing with her son
Aunt Rose dancing with her son at her birthday party

“I’m glad you’re twice my husband’s age and living in another country,” I always tease her. “I couldn’t stand the competition!”

I love Aunt Rose. Both my mother and grandmother have passed, and Aunt Rose has tried to fill a small part of the gap by telephoning me often from her home in the U.S.  Over these years, we’ve talked about many different things, almost all of them related to our family’s history.

She remembers minute details. From decades, even a hundred years before.

Sometimes the memories come complete with dialogue, or tiny details such as the style of a dress or shoes that someone wore.  Or the time her older sister (my grandmother) became famous as a small girl, for spotting a mistake in the textbook used to teach the subject in Britain and its colonies.

“Did I ever tell you about the time when…”

The moment I hear this, I grab pen and paper or whatever’s handy – journals, notebooks, the backs of envelopes, the sides of calendars, and, just once, a paper towel.

Stack of Journals

Aunt Rose nonchalantly admits that the past is easy to remember – it’s the present she has trouble with.

Some recent events, however, remain in her mind, even as her health has diminished and her voice weakened.

“I’m so proud of you,” she told me one day recently. “I just finished reading your book.”

Aunt Rose is mentioned twice in the book. Among other things, she helped perform the role of fact-checker for some of the family stories in it.  But I know that her daughter True and other relatives had to read it to her once published. Aunt Rose was now weak and bedridden.

A Good Home - A memoir by Cynthia Reyes
A Good Home – A memoir by Cynthia Reyes

But something else was on her mind that day, as her life edged closer to its end. She was focused on the future of a great-niece whom she’d helped enlighten, comfort, and encourage in countless telephone calls over the last several years.

“It’s a very good book, you know, Dah-ling. But I want you to promise me something.”

“Yes, Aunt Rose?”

“Promise me you’ll write another one. You have to write a second book.”

I hesitated. Her voice was weak again, but I could hear her waiting on the other end of the line. The trouble is that I’ve never lied to Aunt Rose and I didn’t plan to start now. What if I never write another book? I’d have broken what’s likely my last promise to Aunt Rose.

“I’ll try, Aunt Rose.”

Aunt Rose with Son and Grandson in background
Aunt Rose Birthday with relatives in background

“No! That’s not good enough, Dah-ling.” Her voice suddenly got stronger. “You have a God-given talent. Trying is not good enough.” There it was, that firmness in her voice that I know so well.

“Okay, Aunt Rose,” I said. “I’ll do my best.” This sounded like a promise without technically being a promise.

Aunt Rose wasn’t fooled. But she laughed gently and said, “I know you will.  My Dah-ling.”

Today Aunt Rose lies in bed, no longer eating, no longer speaking.  We’ve been told she’s in her final days.  We will miss her greatly ,  but we also know it’s time to say goodbye to this beloved woman.

Bon voyage, my Dah-ling Aunt Rose. Fare thee well.  Thank you for so much.   For your faith, grace and astonishingly clear memories that kept us connected to ‘home’.  And — above all — for your remarkable love and patience with us younger ones. You occupy a special place in our hearts.