Sunday, November 28, 2010


Time has taken on new significance to me the last couple of weeks. My mother-in-law died of cancer on November 16. It had been a sad and speedy journey from diagnosis at the beginning of May. It's given me a new appreciation for time.

Time can fly or stand still. Time can be a gift or a burden. Time can give or take. Time can speed or creep.

Every parent on the first day of school, while wiping a tear wonders how the blanket clad bundle of baby became the backpack toting child heading off to the world of education. It happens in the blink of an eye.

Anyone waiting for a bus or a train knows the value of a minute, especially when you are standing on the platform watching the back of the vehicle pull away.

My father died in his sleep. I talked to him the night before he died. Thankfully, the last words I said to him were "I love you daddy, I'll talk to you later." Time ran out before I could talk to him about the contents of his red box of pictures, or his war memories, or his childhood. When my mother-in-law was diagnosed with metastatic cancer at the beginning of May, I told my husband that time was gift. He had a finite amount of it, so be where he needed to be, say what he needed to say.

At first, he continued as normal. It's easy to pretend normal when you avoid. His mother's health deteriorated alarmingly the last couple of months, and he started spending a great deal of time with her. He took advantage of the gift of time.

Our phone rang at 3:30am on November 16. A phone call in the middle of the night is never a good news call. My father-in-law was on the phone advising my husband to come to the hospice. My husband was on his way by 4am. I was cleaning the living room at 4:15am because sleep was no longer a possibility. We had decided beforehand that while our 5 year old daughter could visit grandma as much as she wanted to, that we would spare her witnessing the actual transition from living to death. That was a bit more reality than a 5 year old needed to deal with, and I wanted her to remember her grandma as the tea party in the special room grandma.

My mother in law passed away at 3pm on November 16.  This date had special significance for our family because of the date it wasn't. You see, dates and events were very important to my mother-in-law. She sent cards for birthdays, anniversaries, Easter, St Patrick's Day, Halloween, Mothers' Day, Fathers' Day and she kept a master list on the closet door in her room. My father in law's birthday was November 15, and we think that she waited until after his birthday to cross over. She had the force of will to do it and it would have mattered to her that his birthday remained only his birthday.

When my husband called to tell me the news of her passing, my daughter and I headed out to the hospice to participate in the candle procession. The hospice believed in sending people away the same way they arrived, via the front door. The hospice staff treated death with the same love and dignity that they treated life. A person who was in the final stages of living had a heart placed on their door, which was replaced with a butterfly when they passed away. The family was allowed the privacy and comfort of a solarium which was off the main area of the building, filled with comfortable chairs and surrounded by windows that looked out on woods and bird feeders, and a pet turkey that roamed around the grounds. The body was draped in a handmade quilt, and the family escorted the person to the hearse with a candle that was then placed in the lobby for 24 hours to honour the person's memory.  My daughter had a chance to say goodbye to grandma, and her only questions were how grandma would know how to put her angel wings on, and how she would get to heaven if she didn't have her wings. I told her God carried her to heaven, and another angel helped her with her wings. It may not be theologically correct, but it worked to comfort a 5 year old.

Cancer has robbed me of 2 acquaintances and my mother-in-law this year. Hepatitis C has robbed me of my brother of my heart. All this loss has taught me that time is a gift with an expiry date. Sometimes, you don't get another chance to tell someone you love them. Sometimes you don't get another chance to say I'm sorry, or I love you. My house may look like a bomb went off in it but helping my daughter with homework, or watching a movie with her (which has led to interesting discussions about heaven, hell, angels, Santa and teaching a cat a trick) is more important to me than the dust bunnies currently mounting an offensive in the bedroom. My mother and daughter have a finite amount of time together, and although I cringe sometimes, and grandma's house is a "no-free" zone, the time they spend together is more important than ice cream and cookies before bed.

Time can fly. Time can stop. Time can give a gift or take it away. Sometimes now is all there is.

Rest in peace, Mary. I promise I'll take care of your boys. I love you.


Tracey Arial said...

What a heartfelt beautiful tribute, Lisa. I'm crying as I read it. Time really is a wonderful gift. Thanks so much for sharing your reflection.

Atlantic Writer said...

I've been avoiding this post today. I want to comment... I need to comment... I don't know what to say. The experience of this is all so overwhemling. I am glad to hear the hospice was so good and than you sound like you are starting to find some piece. This is a road that is not easy or fair. It is real and it is painful. You seem to be managing some grace within it all. My thoughts are with you.

Grace Cherian said...

Such a beautiful tribute to your mother-in-law, Lisa. And it was brave of you to write it.