Audrey's Eulogy

Monday, December 13, 2010

Thank you all for attending my Mom’s memorial service – and joining us in honouring her and celebrating the many ways she touched people’s lives here in Qualicum and throughout her 80 years with us. I’ve only come to appreciate Mom’s true greatness through what other people have told me about her.

I’d like to reflect on Mom’s life since she was diagnosed with cancer. She fully embraced life, and found ways to express her love and caring for others despite her illness. Her great character over the last year certainly made it much easier on her family, and the fact that she had little pain or physical suffering, was a true blessing.

Listening to my eulogy, you may be left with the impression that my Mom’s approach to the cancer diagnosis, is the preferred way to work with a life threatening illness. And I’m about to describe the many ways she inspired me with her strength and resilience.

But I just want to add as an aside, as a cancer doctor with a passion for support groups, that there is no best way to approach cancer. Each of us is different, and we will find our own way. If I’d offer an advice, for those with an illness and the family members, I’d say to be honest with your emotions, both to others and to yourself. It’s perfectly human to be angry, anxious, scared, depressed, and frustrated. It’s best to express these emotions to others, to open up the communication in connection and support. That is the starting place to the healing journey. Enough with the advice.

We got the first impression of Mom’s strength and perhaps the magic that surrounded her when she was first diagnosed. She first developed electric sensations in her abdomen that shot up her chest during a trip in Greece a year ago. She became progressively confused, and by the time she got to the Nanaimo Emergency department, she was babbling about being on the high seas. As if on cue, while Mom listened to the doctor describe the tangerine sized tumour in her brain she seemed to awake from her reverie. Confronted with this awful news she said “Well, I’ve got it. I’ll have to accept it, and we’ll just go down that road.” After which she again digressed to her inner visions of boats and planes.

Mom was stoic right from the start. Through the surgery,and the rest of her treatments her mantra was the famous British slogan created during the war:
“Keep calm and carry on”.

And if you think about it this vivacious, active, intelligent, engaged woman’s life was shattered by this diagnosis. And it must have been painful lying in bed, and it was boring, and just so incredibly frustrating for her. After working so hard to become self-sufficient in every way, it must have been devastating to lose her independence.

And yet, I can hardly remember even an inference of complaint from her. Not that she wouldn’t ask for help from her others. It’s just that she was so busy considering how others felt – especially her family – that her focus was rarely on herself.

Even more so, her sense of humour and wit, remained unstoppable to the end.

I remember staying at her bedside after her brain surgery in January. The evening before I was travelling back to Halifax, I was feeling really sad to see my mom looking so frail, and knowing I would soon be leaving. Mom was bandaged up, on the brink of sleep, and very weak. I leaned over and gave her a kiss on the cheek, and in the most earnest voice said “Mom, I love you a lot”. Her whisper was barely audible in replya “and I love you….. a little.”

We had the major decision to make at the end of her radiotherapy as to whether she could return to her home or to go immediately to the Manor. The sad truth was it was too dangerous for her to be at home by herself (although she would contest that) – but she agreed to the nursing home because she didn’t want to be a burden to her family.

In march on the day that I would travel home again, with great trepidation, I dropped off Mom at the Manor. I was thinking she’s going to be upset, sitting in her room alone. But as soon as she got to the floor, she spotted Aldine in her wheelchair. The two held each others arms, their eyes just glowing. Aldine was saying “Oh, Audrey, it’s so good to see you, you were the very first volunteer who took me out for a walk when I first arrived here. I really appreciate that.” The two just chatted away like they were life-long friends. As it turns out, for the subsequent six months, every few nights, Aldine would give mom a reflexology session. Placing her healing hands on Mom’s feet, Aldine would help Mom relax and be energized by the treatments. I know Aldine loved these sessions and was getting as much out of them as was mom. But Mom reciprocated by arranging for a monthly manicure for Aldine. Even in sickness, in the last few months of life, Mom was deepening the bonds with her friends and family. Her light was glowing ever so brightly.

The other word that comes to mind when thinking about Mom in the last year is
fearlessness. And fearlessness does not mean having no fear. It more the willingness to follow own’s heart, with the confidence that you’ll have the strength to face whatever arises.

One of the cards that Mom received had a famous quote from Mother Theresa “I know God won't give me anything I can't handle.” She cried when she read those words, and it appeared to increase her resolve to “Keep calm and carry on.”

I thought Mom was particularly brave when she travelled to Halifax in August accompanied by her grandson. Her energy was starting to wane, she was more unsteady on her feet, and her memory was quite poor. But etched forever in my mind is a memory a sunny afternoon in the in public gardens listening to the big band sounds.

During that trip , my wife, Cara, and our boys, aged 11 and 15, and cousin James, took Mom to Peggy’s Cove. Everyone, including mom, wanted to get to the top of the huge boulders, for a look out over the ocean. This meant a little mountain climbing, so with one young man on each arm, and a third pushing up the rear (literally), they hoisted mom up top to a wonderful view. The journey back down the rock face was even more interesting, but mom never complained, and we have a wonderful picture of happy kids standing beside a glowing-faced Audrey.

I think Mom went through a spiritual transformation in her last months. She began to see beauty in the world wherever she looked. Each person she was with was just ‘beautiful’. When her 15-year-old grandson so lovingly fed her, she was brought to tears with a sense of gratitude. And my heart is forever imprinted with the way she said to me “Your such a wonderful son.”

The last week of her life was a very precious time for me. I was on the very early morning shift, and we had some intimate conversations in the middle of the night as she waned in and out of lucidity.

She told me that she didn’t want me to be sad after she was gone. I told her that it was natural for us to feel those strong emotions – that people need to grieve in their own time and in their own way. But I also told her that despite the fact that she was within days of her death, there were times I felt great joy just being in her presence. It was as if our spirits had melded somehow, and I truly felt lightened and more spacious as I’d walked away in the morning. I said that we could feel both happy and sad at the same time.

She thought about what I said carefully – and said “I want you to share this with the others” which I suspect she meant our family, but I somehow hope we can all hold those feelings when reflecting on Audrey’s life.

I was especially interested in our nightly conversations because I was worried that Mom was scared on dying. She had been having nightmares about wolves and cougars circling the cabin. And I know that as human beings we have an instinctive fear of death, that our body and psyche will continue to cling to life.

Mom was very clear with me. She was not scared of dying. She has a very strong faith, and there was just not an issue of the afterlife for her. In fact, in this church in march, a parishioner approached Mom, saying how inspired she was with mom’s faith when they had spoken weeks before. This young woman was in tears at the end of the conversation. That spiritual light was being handed over to the next generation.

The last 24 hours of mom’s life were quite remarkable. Lou Ann arrived from India just in time to have the last meaningful words. Remarkably, Mom didn’t suffer much. There was an episode of shortness of breath, that quickly settled with medication, and she slipped into coma, and then into the next realm less than 12 hours later.

Mom was surrounded by the three of us at her last breath. And is so typical for Mom, her last act in this life was to bring her loved ones together.
Mom brought us together. It was most beautiful shared moments of our lives.

Thank you again for sharing this time with us – and honouring the life of this great woman.

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