Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Not Goodbye Mama, Just Farewell!

A Photo Tribute..click thru to Vimeo site to read more about her life.

It is with a heavy heart, that I announce the passing of my Mom, 'Mama', 'Mommala', 'Mommy', 'Barbie', the one and only, Barbara Lee (East) Tower on Friday, December 2nd at approximately 6:30 PM. My brother and I were honoured to be able to be there for her last breath.

She was brought into Palliative Care 5 days prior to that after suffering a stroke. Her speech was impaired and she couldn't feel her right arm and leg. It was not hard to see that the cancer in her lungs was starting to take its toll. The following days and nights were completely sleepless, restless and...breathless. It didn't make sense for me to see her like this...such a vivacious, energetic spirit. She found temporary comfort with nebulizers and morphine but it never lasted long enough for her to get more than 15 minutes of solid rest. She kept telling me to go to sleep. My Mom...the most low maintenance person in the world. I knew it must have been frustrating to have me care for her because she never made anything about her. She was always taking care of everyone else.

She communicated mainly through facial expressions, hand gestures and the odd time she could throw out a short phrase quite easily. But when she couldn't, she got really good at saying the word 'shit' in all her frustration. So funny coming from a woman whose harshest phrases were 'Uff Da' or 'Piffle'!

On Thursday, when nothing was working anymore, I told her that sedation was an option. Before I even finished the sentence she said, "YES"! This was a mortifying moment. I knew that this meant the beginning of the end but was also grateful that she wouldn't have to suffer through trying to catch her breath anymore. That evening was particularly tough as the sedation set in much slower than any of us could have imagined. There were a lot of tears, goodbyes and I love yous.

When she did finally sleep, I snuggled in with her. I thought, 'well this is no fun.' As hard as it was to go through the previous nights the way she was,  I was sad that she was not going to be awake with me. Although it was a serious time, we still managed to get the giggles...like when I would trip on my way over to the sink and ram my hip into a table (what a surprise!). Or my eyes would be closed and I'd open them to find her staring right at me...we'd both jump and then burst into laughter! When I kissed her on the cheek, I could feel her face light up as she squinted her eyes and smiled brightly.

I had received an email from my friend David in Australia, wishing me comfort in what he called, 'a strangely special' time. I thought it was the perfect description of what we were going through.
I am a child of earth and the starry skies, but my race is of heaven alone. 
- Greek Proverb
Hand Twinsies!
Ever since Tronn and I were kids, in quiet times, she would squeeze our hands three times to say, 'I-Love-You'. Needless to say this little gesture came in very handy in her final days. When the chaplain came in the next day, I was lying with my head on her shoulder holding her hand. Of all the songs he could have sung, he chose to sing Christmas carols. UGH. It was  both terribly sad and beautiful at the same time. Not what I had hoped 'Christmas' would be for us this year but just kept squeezing her hand and savouring each moment.

I studied every part of her face...and her hands. We have exactly the same hands (photo left is of our thumbs side by side). When I would look in the mirror of the hospital bathroom, I could already see her so easily looking back at me. It comforted me knowing that she would live on in my brother and I.  That night, Tronn announced that he might head back to his motel when suddenly she skipped a breath. And then another. We smothered her in kisses and hugs and loving and comforting words until she took her last breath only seconds later. I didn't want to leave her. She was so warm. I kissed her forehead, breathed in deeply and said, "I'll see you soon."

The last book that my Mom read (and loved) was that of my friend Tash's, The Story of Q. It is a  novel based on the elusive Q-document (what the original writings of the Bible were drawn from) told through the fictional stories of four characters. Riveting and controversial, it will change the way you view humanity, God, the universe and yourself.

I was feeling particularly lonely for Mama the other night and decided to pick the book back up to read knowing the words contained within were some of the last she had read. I noticed that I had dog-eared some of the pages so went back to them curiously to see what I had noted:
"In ancient times," Master Lael said, "the descent of the soul into the human body was described as a type of 'death' through which the soul lives. Sunset symbolized the start of human life for this reason--because in setting, the sun sinking below the horizon imaged a containment of divine light, the soul immersed in earthly matter. Sunrise, on the other hand, was the freeing of the soul from matter."
What a lovely way to view oneself..divine light contained in earthly matter.  And to consider death not as an end but rather a rebirth...a rising sun. These words obviously resonated with me much more reading them this time around.
Hypermone means 'tough endurance'..it means to 'stay with or under heavy task or demanding situation', to apply oneself with courage, steadiness, and fortitude to the tasks ahead'....For while life and our choices inevitably bring us to facing difficult emotional and psychological times, the reality of these times is that they are impermanent, temporary, always changing toward something better. Hypermone is the time from which we will always emerge in glory. 

Despite everything that has gone on the last few months, I have come to know a certain  comfort in my heart. Just after Mom's pulmonary embolism at the end of August, we were cozied up in her hospital bed...I looked at her and wondered if she was to leave, how could I possibly go on without her? I could barely consider the thought when this phrase echoed loudly in my head, 'but we will still be together.'

Vita mutatur, non tollitur: Life is changed, not taken away.

Challenging times are referred to as 'spiritual teachers' in 'The Story of Q'. It's all a part of the soul's journey...gleaning knowledge and strength through tribulations to find triumph waiting just around the corner.  Hypermone. I got to have the greatest Mom imaginable for 36 years. Who can scoff at that? Not I! I know she is with me. That she still wraps love around me. That she is OK now. I will miss speaking 'whale' with her on the phone. Dancing. Brainstorming. Photo expeditions. Being crafty together. Her strength, support and guidance. My biggest cheerleader. Goofiness. Giggles. Her wit and sarcasm...and of course her HUGS (that could make your day).  She threw them out like candy and didn't discriminate. I intend to continue with that legacy.

We used to end each of our correspondences with 'I love you more than all the...' and some crazy amount of something, i.e.: all the fur on cats,  all the traffic in L.A., all the stitches that have been knitted, all the waves that have crossed the ocean, all the loops in carpets, all the hairs that have turned gray etc. etc. (always trying to one up the other!).

This was one of her last to me...'I love you more than all the light that has shone on earth'.

Like any other challenge my Mom endured in life (and there were many!), she accepted her illness with courage, dignity and grace. She was not the type to dwell or feel bad for herself. She accepted the circumstances, made the most of them and kept on going...with a sparkly grin, twinkly eyes and a springy step! 

Mama...I love you more than all the starlight, sunlight, butterfly wings, sea things, moon rocks and tick tocks in all the universe to INFINITY...and BEYOND!



Lori... said...

That was so beautiful Trac ... I love you :)


Anonymous said...

OK Tracey.........now I'm a mess. But only for a little while, Verbena would laugh.

Jeff.C said...

This is so beautifully writen. Words can not explain the joy I felt after reading this. Such a well decribed tale of events that you've been through and the strength you carry in your heart is amazing. Thank you for sharing this story of love and sunlight. Love Jeff.

Bybrendat said...

How very beautiful, Tracey...your Mom was one of God's most beautiful and precious creations and I can't wait to see her again...

"And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died." 1 Thessalonians 4:13 - 14

The Erickson Family said...

Absolutely incredible Tracey! You are an amazing daughter. Love love love!

Anonymous said...

Tracey, you have such an exquisite insight on life and on "strangely special" moments. I'm sure your mom is beaming with the lovely words you have written about her.

'Til you both meet again...

Lots of Hugs!

Gord McCallum said...

Tracey, thanks for sharing these thoughts with us. I can't imagine what it would be like to go through this myself - you and I are only one year apart and it really got me thinking when I read this.

Your experience is a good example for others who might wrestle with the questions that inevitably come up.

Your Mom would be proud.

MARCOS said...

This is really beautyfull...nice, really nice Tracey...Love and peace for U and your bro...take care.
I wiss see U again in front of the break point...

MARCOS said...

This is really nice Tracey...and could be proud of you. I wiss see you aggain in front of the break point...Love and peace!!

Tracey Tomtene said...

Thank you all for reading and for the lovely comments..I am so very grateful to have such amazing friends to support me...much love:)