In 1990, I spent an eventful last Mother’s Day with my Mom. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989. After developing complications after surgery, she had battled hard, but the cancer had spread beyond what doctors could do for her. My Dad, exhausted from caring for her at home, was reluctantly looking at placing her in palliative care. I flew home to Victoria from Calgary, and spent a week giving Dad some respite, by allowing him to rest in their guest room, while I slept in his bed next to my mother. I had to wake up three times a night to give her medications that helped control her pain. Oftentimes, it was difficult to fall back to sleep afterwards. Dad had warned me that she still had a habit of talking in her sleep. It was something my Dad used to tease her about. Usually it was unintelligible, but lately, in between her med “feedings” he would listen to her carry on conversations in Danish with her deceased mother. It was starting to creep him out.
My mother was determined to be lucid during my visit, something my Dad told me months later, so she had purposefully decreased some of her pain meds that left her groggy and at times unresponsive. My mother knew that the conversations we would have together that week were too important for both of us. I needed to share the Good News with her one last time, and she needed to reassure me that she understood and had made her “peace” with the Almighty.
On Mother’s Day, my Dad and I were surprised when Mom declared she wanted to go for a drive. She had not left her bed or the house in weeks, so seeing her on her feet and dressed for the day made my Dad almost giddy with joy. I helped her put on a bit of rouge to put some colour in her cheeks, and she carefully put on some red lipstick. Reaching into her purse, she pulled out a delicate hanky my grandmother had given her, and folded the cloth between her lips, to leave a perfect imprint. My mother had chosen a new pant suit to wear for the outing. She loved her pant suit “uniforms” as she called them. This one was pale pinkish beige in colour. She had bought it after Christmas, perhaps hoping she would get to wear it to my brother’s upcoming wedding in June. Although we prayed she would be able to attend, she must have sensed that this Mother’s Day would be the one and only time she would wear the outfit.
My Dad dressed for the occasion too. Wearing a suit and tie, I caught the familiar scent of Old Spice as he held the door of his Oldsmobile Cutlass open for me to climb into the back seat, and gingerly helped Mom into the passenger seat.
“Where should we go?” he beamed.
“The Malahat Chalet!” Mom said without hesitation.
I suppose Dad and I should have thought about making reservations, after all it was Mother’s Day, and restaurants would have been booked weeks in advance, but it never crossed our minds. Dad put on his sunglasses, smiled brightly at Mom, and we made our way up island as if we had no cares in the world. The scenery was spectacular, the weather cooperating after days of wet drizzle. The cherry blossoms were raining pink snow on the ground. Mom seemed to drink in all the Spring flowers and colours as we sped by all the familiar landmarks we loved. Ascending the Malahat Drive, catching stunning views of the ocean through the trees, we reached the chalet and assisted Mom into the restaurant. As if planned, the waitress led us to the best table on the outside deck with the best view of the ocean. Hummingbirds buzzed around the red feeders, captivating my mother by their dive bombing antics. I don’t remember our meal, or our light conversation. I remember vividly Dad’s expression of pure joy as he sat beside my mother. His eyebrows raised in mischievous merriment. My mother’s laughter as he cracked a joke. After lunch, Mom wanted to visit the gift shop next door. Dad was more than willing to indulge this unusual whim. I followed her as she chose a little doll that I was to take home to my six year old daughter, her only grandchild. It was a late birthday gift she said, but her eyes glistened with unshed tears. I found three stained glass hummingbirds and she encouraged me to get them, one each for my husband, daughter and me, to remember this precious Mother’s Day that I couldn’t celebrate with them, but instead was able to share with my Mom.
The ride home was quiet. The day’s activity had taken a lot out of my Mom. She apologized that she felt extremely weary and retired to bed almost immediately. Dad and I sat quietly together, each in our own thoughts. I turned on the T.V. just for the noise, until I heard my Dad’s soft breathing as he slept peacefully in his lounge chair. I let him sleep, and went to bed early, knowing that I would be awakened again by the alarm for Mom’s med feeding at midnight. I awoke instead to her chatting pleasantly with someone in Danish. In the dark, I lay intently listening to the one-sided conversation. I understood many of the words, and pictured her having coffee in a garden with the buzz of hummingbirds all around. She giggled and said, “Mor” as she offered her mother “dansk wienerbrod” (Danish pastry). It was obvious they were enjoying one another’s company. I was sorry to interrupt them to wake Mom up to give her pain pills.
I returned home to Calgary a day later. I knew Dad would have to take on his responsibility again as Mom’s primary caregiver. I prayed he would have the strength, endurance and fortitude to handle the next few months on his own. On June 19th, my brother got married in Calgary and Mom went into hospice in Victoria on the 20th.
On July 8th, Mom passed away.
I helped my Dad go through her things in the days following her death. He was too emotionally exhausted to handle it all on his own. Donating her pant suits to Goodwill, was hard enough, but I dissolved into tears when I reached into her purse and found the imprint of her lips on the hanky she used on Mother’s Day. I have kept that hanky all these many years. It is as though aIl the memories of that day, were sealed with a kiss!