Three years ago, my older sister received the devastating news that her very dearest friend, Rachael, had been given the news that the cancer she had recently celebrated the remission of, had returned and it had returned with a vengeance. Rachael was in her mid-30's and was a beautiful, glorious spirit of a woman. The cancer was aggressive and had invaded many areas of her body. Within days she was palliative and my sister few out to BC to be by her side. I was also a friend of Rachael's. I had met her through my sister and became friends with her when we both lived in the same city on Vancouver Island in the late 90's. We had been looking forward to a summer visit to Ontario by Rachael and her husband but we knew that this trip would never unfold as planned. I sent a letter to my sister to take with her to read to Rachael for me as I knew I would never see her again. This is the letter:
I asked Lana to bring you this message from me. I know that we don’t know what the days/weeks ahead hold and so I decided to share some things with you that I’ve never gotten around to telling you. They’re the thoughts I have about you when I think of you, see a photo of you or when Lana talks about you.
“Life has a funny way of sneaking upon you when you think everything’s okay….”
It’s hard to know what to say when life throws a curve ball and you have no choice but to face it head on. Some things, I have learned, make absolutely no sense (at least not in my mind). I suppose if I were more religious, I might be less judgmental of the way things unfold sometimes.
I want you to know a few things, Rachael. When I think of my life so far, I think of the many people with whom I have crossed paths. You are one of those people who played a big role in my life when I initially moved to Victoria and felt lost and very alone. I recall meeting you for coffee and a smoke!! You lifted me up and I thought that one day I’d like to be “cool” like Rachael. I’m still working towards that!! I always felt a sense of security knowing you were in that city.
You are the best hugger. I have never met anyone who puts their whole entire body into a hug as you do. You can feel that it is genuine. I’ve never liked the ‘patters’. You know, the ones that cautiously lean in and pat your shoulder blade with their hand as though you might bite. I hate that!! You are an excellent hugger, Rachael. You could teach a class on how to hug properly!!
Let’s see………your laughter is unique and I can hear it in my head if I sit quietly. Bellowing and husky and never fake. I remember the times that I would see you at the Mocha House, you would have a big smile on your face and always be laughing about something!!
You probably don’t remember this but when I was feeling really low, you handwrote the piece “On Pain” by Kahlil Gibran and those words were so powerful that to this day. I have that page glued into one of my books of collected treasures. When I read the line: “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding,” I recall a shift taking place within myself and I think that it was then that I began to understand that the suffering I was experiencing had a purpose. That time was many, many years ago and I suspect you don’t even remember doing that. I just want you to know that I have never forgotten your kindness in that time in my life.
I am thinking of you every single minute of the day and praying for miracles.
I love you! Shine On……..
Rachel died within three weeks.
In early November, my 92-year-old Grandmother, suddenly became ill and was soon hospitalized with congestive heart failure. We assumed she would perk up and return home in no time but we quickly realized that her body was tired and was shutting down. After five weeks in hospital, my parents made the decision on Christmas Day to bring her home to die. This was not uncommon in my parent's lifetime but now with hospices and chronic floors in hospitals, most people die away from home. My mother was a Registered Nurse for over 40 years and so she feels very comfortable in caring for her mother-in-law at home in these final days. There is a lot of family around to make this possible and we all feel very privileged to be a part of Grandma's end of life care.
Prior to bringing her home, I met my older sister in Ottawa and she handed me a letter to bring to Grandma to read to her just in case she didn't get a chance to see her alive again. I brought the letter to the hospital on Christmas Eve day and explained to Grandma who the letter was from and proceeded to read it. My sister wrote down her thoughts of Grandma and the impact she has had on her life. I know that Grandma understood everything I read and I know that my sister had closure knowing that should she pass away before my sister made it home again, her words were not left unspoken. She did end up seeing her again over Christmas and is now making arrangements to come and sit with Grandma as we have someone by her side 24-hours a day now. You can read a beautiful post about our Grandma at my younger sister's blog at The Knitty Gritty Homestead, if you wish.
|Grandma with my niece~2010|
I have lived very close to my Grandmother (within 300 metres) for the past six years and have had the opportunity to visit with her regularly. I feel as though I have had the chance to share my thoughts with her many times over and I know she knows how much I love her. I encourage those of you who cannot be close to someone you love who may be in their final stages of life, to sit down and write to them. Share all of the thoughts in your heart and have someone you trust read your words to them. You will not regret it knowing that you said everything you needed to before the chance was gone forever. And the person who is dying will feel your love and will appreciate leaving this earthly plane with the knowledge that their life had a positive impact on another's life.