Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Who Are These Two??

They are grade THREE and grade FIVE students, have successfully completing their school year. Today at 11:46 there were released into a rainy day and a civil society to start their summer vacation.  God have mercy on my soul.

And what do I think of the school year just passed?

As faithful readers will recall, grade 4 is  really quite a ride.  At times I was not sure that we would make it without either investing intensive psychological intervention or buying wine by the box.

But as I first reported in April we have experienced a seismic shift in Jackson's responsibility level.  Even better, he suddenly seemed more aware of things around him.

Best example I can give you happened one day after school.  I was carrying a couple boxes of Scholastic books to sort at home. They were not heavy, but they were pretty big.  Jackson met me at Sydney's class, as is our arrangement. He was carrying his jacket and his backpack.  Without hesitation he said to me these precious words:

"Mommy, I'll just put my jacket in my backpack so I can help you carry that stuff".

I was gobsmacked.

A few days later, something even more amazing happened.  He had a little math homework to do. It wasn't a lot but it was the last week of school when the international treaty on homework amnesty should have applied. He was initially, to put it mildly, not in a cooperative mood.  Eventually he relented when I took away his iTouch buckled down and got to work.  I sat with him as this particular assignment needed scissors, ruler, eraser, extra paper and a photocopier. I was his personal homework assistant looking all over the house for the needed items (or at least yelling as Husband that we needed scissors etc.). Thank goodness Jackson had a good grip on fractions. In no time he was done and I breathed a sigh of relief.  Then he said it:

"Thanks for helping me with my homework."

That is definitely going into the scrapbook that documents all special milestones of my kids. If I ever get around to putting it together.

Grade 2 was a much less traumatic year academically.  The grade 2 challenges were social. 

At the school year started, Sydney was thrilled to be in a class with her best pal, E.  This was especially lucky because her class was blessed with an excessive amount of Y chromosomes. Fifteen out of twenty-two kids were boys.  So having E to play with at recess was a huge blessing.  Of course when E moved away at the end of  October, Sydney was a little lost.  But in no time she had a new best pal to hang with, S. 

Because there were so few girls in the class and because social angst appears to be part of the grade 2 curriculum, we had some challenges with girls getting along.  While I would like to tell you that my sweet Sydney was the peacemaker, the mediator, the kind-hearted girl who ensured everyone was included, it was not always the case. I learned that EVERYONE is susceptible to influence and that Sydney is not always the influence I would like her to be.  We certainly all learned something and I know it was a pivotal moment for Sydney.

Sydney gained a lot of confidence this year. We are pleased with the citizen of the world she is becoming.
I will close this casting a glance to next year:  it is the full year with full day kindergarten at our school.  Jackson says "Finally,  they kindergartners should be there all day. They don't know anything.  By the way Mommy, if anyone should go half a day, it should be the grade fives. Because they know the most."

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Regret.

One of the surprising things about losing my Mom was my extreme regret.  Especially in the first weeks.

I thought the thing the cancer gave you was the chance to say good bye. To do and say the things one wanted to. To leave nothing unsaid or undone.  To leave nothing to regret.

Even though I told my Mom a thousand times I loved her in her last month, it doesn't feel like enough. I regret I did not tell her what I loved about her. How I loved her.

I regret I did not take more photos. Since December, I suspected her decline was imminent.  I had one measly picture of her at Christmas and one at Easter. I took a few on my birthday in April.  One Mother's Day weekend I took many photos, but I wished the ones of Mom and me turned out better. I wished I had one photo with my parents and brothers. I wished I had one with my Mom and both my kids.

I regret that in her last week we had sent out an email to friends telling them of her decline and giving them the chance to say what they wanted.   

I  regret that I could not help her more in her discomfort (which I grant you was mild on the cancer patient scale). 

I regret that I didn't see her more in the past six months. I regret I stayed home on the Wednesday before she died, one precious day I lost with her.

I think the worst of the regret is behind me.  At least I hope so.  Sometimes the regrets seeps into my thinking but I try not to dwell on it.  But I think I am on the road to acceptance.  Acceptance that I cannot change that she is gone and I cannot go back and re-do any of it.

It is one month since she left us.   A month ago she was living. Breathing. Talking. Now she is not.  It feels like six months.  I wonder if that will ever change. Will two months feel like a year? A year feel like ten years?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Shock and Awe.

The days after Mom died were busy. Crazy busy.  Arrangements had to be made.  People had to be called.  We tried to keep track of when people were coming, where they were staying. It was mind boggling.   

But about 100 times a day, I felt the shock of it again. Mom was gone.

I couldn't speak to her. Ask her about a recipe. Tell her the latest triumph or frustration of my kids. I couldn't listen to her concern that I was too busy, doing too much. I couldn't hear the second third and fourth hand news about family and friends. I could not watch her cuddle with my kids.  Watch her
attentively listening to whatever they were willing to talk to her about.

She was really gone.
 
 The day after she died, I started working on a slide show for the memorial service.  I looked at hundreds of pictures of my Mom throughout the years.  I felt a physical pain in my chest that forever this was how I would have to see my Mom. 

But after two days of watching her grow up before my eyes, I found comfort. I saw her a little girl with curls, then a care-free single girl.  I saw her on her wedding day then as a mother to growing children. I saw her on family vacations, with my brothers and I on our wedding days and then with her grandchildren. 

Then I began to appreciate what I had and not what I had lost. Mom was not only there for my growing up, plenty of family vacations, she was at my wedding, and knew and loved my children. 

My pain, at least briefly, turned to gratitude.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer. Is here. Finally.

First day of summer, we welcomed in style.
Sprinkler style.
Puppy got in on the action:
One of us was eventually bannished for barking.
One of us got a little dirty:

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day

 Daddy and the kids:
 The treasured gifts:
 A trophy for Daddy:
"This Father's Day you deserve this trophy because you:
Always get and fix stuff for me and
Give me extra reading
but mostly because you love me Very much!"

The best part, reading the cards:
A portrait of Dad:
Me and my Dad:
It was our first family gathering without my Mom.  She was missed.
But we still know how to celebrate.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Slavery. And Love.

[a brief break from my Mom-centric grief posts]

Sydney: Mommy, I have my own personal slave at school.

Me: What do you mean?

Sydney:  P will do anything I want.

Me: Huh?

Sydney: Mommy,  it is not that I tell him "go do this" or anything. It just that I need something done P will do it for me.

Me: Well, that is not really being a slave.  It is more being a good friend.

Jackson:  Slavery is banned in our class.

Me: That is an actual rule? 

Jackson: Yes.

Me: I think Abe Lincoln would be disappointed to know that was necessary.

Jackson: Mrs. H made it a rule.

Me: Huh?

Jackson: N was lining up a whole bunch of people to be her slaves.  She said she would give them stuffies and candy.  So Mrs. H made the "no slaves" rule.

Me:  [speechless]
----------------------------------------------------------

[the next day]

Sydney:  Mommy, are you the kind of mother that allows your daughter to fall in love?

Me:  At what age? Like seven and three quarters?

Sydney: Um, yeah.

Me: Who do you want to fall in love with?

Sydney: P. 

Me: What do you mean by "fall in love"?

Sydney: Mommy, it's not like we're going to date!

Me: Well, you're allowed to have a crush.

Sydney [fist pump]:  YES!!!!  P has a crush on me too.

Me: I figured.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Good Bye.

The days and weeks that followed the doctor's  belief of "three to eight weeks" left were, to put it mildly, a roller coaster. 

I found it to be both a blessing and a curse.  A blessing to be able to say all the things I wanted to say and more. A curse to know what was coming and to be powerless to prevent it.

On the Mother's Day weekend, we have a family weekend away. All 13 of us.  I had been working on the planning it for a month and providentially it only suited everyone's schedule for that weekend. When I planned it, we did not know at the time that this would be a sort of good bye, the last time our whole family would be together. 

During the weekend, we pretty much knew.  We took walks, had chats, ate, and shopped. Mom had plenty of energy. We did not talk about her illness, but I took many, many photos. I regret that I did not take more.  Three weeks later she died.
The following weekend, my Mom's younger sister, a dear friend who she had not seen for a while came for a weekend. My Mom again had abundant energy, attending church, going out for lunch and cherished talks with her sister. 

The day my Aunt left was the beginning of the end.  Mom had one evening of severe pain, the only bad pain she had in her last days.  Her pain was managed with a quick trip to the ER for IV meds.   She spent a couple days in the hospital to stabilize the pain and her blood numbers.  She was the wellest person on the palliative care ward. Though she seemed weak and frail to us, she seemed in robust  health, comparatively speaking, on a ward where few could manage to get to the bathroom on her own. None were walking laps around the ward to regain strength as she was.  She seemed well enough by week's end to return home.  She had high dose radiation for pain management on her back. 

The great hope was that she would receive the unapproved drug.  But timing is everything in cancer as in life.  When she might have needed the drug most, and been well enough to tolerate, in early May, approval had not yet been obtained. Then the clinical trial was halted (as happens) while a bad outcome was investigated . Once it restarted the backlog of 'compassionate use' approvals was long and no possible way to jump the queue existed.  We never received approval.

She came home from the hospital for the May long weekend and she slept a lot.  Owing to the radiation, poor kidney function, disease progression and medications.  But her pain was well managed with mild painkillers.  

She had an appointment with her oncologist after the long weekend, and he gently told us the window might be closing for her to receive the new drug.  Her kidneys were shutting down and he wasn't sure the drug would work when the myeloma seemed to have taken hold.  He said someone else not so healthy and strong initially, might not have lived so long. He offered her a hospital stay to keep her as stable as possible in the hopes of receiving the drug, but we all knew if she was admitted then, she likely would not come home.  Home was where she wanted to be.

We went home.  Every day the weakness increased. She was a little confused at times and could not concentrate enough to read or even watch TV.  But it was still Mom.  She was a gracious and appreciative patient as Dad and I cared for her.

On Thursday, Mom rallied.  She was still weak, but her mind was fairly clear.  Her brother arrived from Winnipeg.  My brothers and their wives came for a visit. My husband came by as did my Mom's very dear friend.  Her younger sister called.  We all had visits.  We enjoyed smiles and laughs and hugs. It was a sweet, sweet day.

I went to bed with a happy heart, but knowing that this day, golden Thursday as I called it, was going to be the day that got us through the time that was left. 

The next day she was weaker still and required someone to be with her constantly.  She did not have any visitors but her older sister called and we had some health care personnel come to lend aid.  She started experiencing shortness of breath, which was concerning. She had relief sitting or standing so most of the day was spent helping her sit or stand, then laying her down to rest, only to need to sit or stand again.

At night the shortness of breath increased and we considered calling 911.  Instead I called a nurse and we were advised to give her a small amount of morphine, which is known to help with shortness of breath.  Dad and I were enormously relieved when she fell asleep.

For hours I listened to her breathe.  At 4 a.m. she was awake briefly, and we knew then that she was not herself. In the hours that followed Dad and I lamented that this would be how her last days or weeks would be spent.  We had been told to expect her to lapse into a coma at some point due to kidney failure. It was not to be weeks or days. It was hours.

At 7 a.m. she died, likely of a pulmonary embolism, which had likely caused the shortness of breath and moved to a critical area in her lungs. It was a merciful,  peaceful, but sudden death surrounded by her husband, her daughter and her brother.

I don't think I am over the shock yet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Conclusion.

Christmas 2010
While the sophisticated blood test showed myeloma cells, we didn't know what to think.  The main number we looked to as an indicator of the cancer was still as low as you can go.  Curious.

In mid December Mom seemed frail. And oddly forgetful.  She always had an excellent memory, especially for details.  Her tumour number edged up a tiny bit.  I knew then that it might be her last Christmas.

It was in those lazy days between Christmas and New Years, Mom had seemed to be coming down with a bug.  She was nauseous and very tired. I was working on a puzzle at home as we spoke on the phone. What I heard caused my heart to skip a beat.

It turns out that the fluish symptoms, and the frailty and forgetfulness were hypercalcemia, essentially calcium poisoning.  The multiple myeloma was back.  The myeloma lesions affected her bones causing calcium to leach into her blood.   A bone marrow biopsy a few days later confirmed that there were more myeloma cells in her bone marrow than there had been when she had been diagnosed two years previous.

While on a usually effective form of chemotherapy.  This was definitely not good.

The oncologist believed that her cancer morphed into something very aggressive.  He did have one new drug to try, thalidomide.  He said it might beat back the cancer well, and a patient could stay on this drug on lower doses for maintenance indefinitely.  Or it might not work and few other options would remain.

Mom started this oral chemo in January.  My Dad kept track of all her numbers and after 2 weeks of the new drug, he was keen to see some movement in the tumour marker, which had crept up since mid December.  The doctor cautioned that the blood work would likely show no improvement until after one full cycle, four weeks, and even then the movement would be gradual.

The drop was precipitous.  It dropped over a third in just two weeks.  The weeks that followed continued the trend and the numbers continued to look good through to early April.  I dared to believe that the elusive remission might be in grasp.

Then we saw a blip.

The tumour marker edged up. A tiny little bit. Since the measurement in not entirely precise, this could be an anomaly. Oh how we hoped and prayed for an anomaly.

The next week it climbed a little higher and we knew that this was not good.  But she remained on the chemo.  We  hoped the myeloma could be kept at bay a while longer.

A couple weeks later Mom's blood numbers we not good enough for her to receive the chemo.  The week following it was no better.

The doctor has some sobering news, he thought that the myeloma cells had crowded out the healthy plasma cells and that not many options remained.  There was a phase 2 clinical trial drug that might be taken on compassionate grounds.  But it was in the same family of drugs as the last two drugs that had failed.  He held out little hope.

The doctor then spoke the scariest words: three to eight weeks.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

The Middle.

Christmas 2009: Oma gets a lot of help opening gifts.
Beginning the middle of 2009 Mom was off chemo.  She was not as tired, but in retrospect not as full of energy as she once was. 

We were told that the multiple myeloma would be back. It was a matter of time.  A twelve to eighteen month period of semi-remission was the norm.

Of course we hoped eighteen months plus, but Mom would be at the lower end of the spectrum.  Beginning the winter of 2010 her tumour marker started to creep up. We knew it was a matter of time before she would be back in active treatment.

The oncologist advised that medical research meant more targeting chemotherapy was available and there were several drugs that could be tried.  Starting May 2010, about a year after her first round, Mom started chemo. While the first round had been oral, this round was IV and she attended at the chemo centre four Fridays in five to get her cocktail. 

Like the first round, her side effects were largely fatigue, but she felt unwell for the first few days after IV infusion.  As the rounds went on she felt better in the days after treatment, but still very fatigued.   She adapted well to the reduced energy. She mostly did what she wanted but organized her days and weeks around having rest for a few hours after lunch.

Quite apart from managing the symptoms, her tumour numbers dropped quickly. Her oncologist hoped to drive her numbers to zero, and do a bone marrow biopsy to confirm that she was in complete remission, something not accomplished in the prior round.  In his words "we are looking for a multi-year remission".

Music to our ears.

In November 2010, Mom had a  more sophisticated blood test that we expected would show no multiple myeloma cells which would set the stage for the bone marrow biopsy to confirm that she was in complete remission.

It was the first in a series of disappointments.  Her blood showed myeloma cells, and so chemo therapy continued.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Beginning.

On December 7, 2008 my Mom attended at the ER to try to discover the source of worsening pain in her neck. She had tried pain killers and anti-inflammatory meds, she had tried physiotherapy, rest, heat, and ice all without relief.

The results of the CT scan stunned us: tumors all over her spine and in one kidney.  I consider myself to be  medically savvy owing to my lengthy training starting with Marcus Welby and Dr. Kildare right up to Dr. McDreamy at Seattle Grace and Dr. Gregory House.  So of course when I heard this I knew my mother had renal cancer that had metastasized and spread to her bones.   I doubted she would see 2009.

Fortunately for my Mom, she sought a second opinion from an actual oncologist and was found to have multiple myeloma - cancer of the plasma cells in the bone marrow. Those are a type of white blood cells that create antibodies that fight infection in the body.  It is a blood cancer.

The cancer spreads to the bones where lesions appear, which was the cause of my Mom's pain and what showed up on the fateful CT scan. 

Fortunately, the prognosis for a multiple myeloma patient is better than for one with metastasized cancer of the kidney. Treatments can beat back the cancer.  For patients younger than my Mom (76 at diagnosis) a stem cell transplant can extend life.  Unfortunately, it is not curable and treatments do ultimately fail. We were told that people do live 5 to 10 years with multiple myeloma.  Considering the dire alternatives, we took this as "good" news.
Christmas 2008

We enjoyed Christmas 2008 with a new appreciation for health and each other.

My Mom had an intense course of radiation to treat the pain and began oral chemotherapy.  A month later the pain was much decreased but she was very weak and she was hospitalized for about a week.  She may have had PCP a virulent pneumonia, or just radiation-affected lungs.  She pulled through fine and finished her six month course of chemotherapy.

While her blood work did not indicate complete remission, the drugs had done their job and beat back the myeloma.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Tribute

My Tribute to my Mom delivered June 1, 2011

Anyone that knows both me and my mother and me knows how very different we are.

My mother was thoughtful, where I am more impulsive.

She was introverted, I am extroverted.

She measured her words. I am quick to speak.

She was patient. I am not.

She was neat and fastidious in her appearance in how she kept the house and I daresay in how she lived her life. I am un-neat.  As proof you can look at the inside of my purse, top of my desk or floor our our minivan.

She was keenly attuned to her emotions. I am more intuned to my analytical side.

And she was gracious. I am in need of grace.

I think it is fair to acknowledge that we had our moments as many mothers and daughters do. When I was going through adolescence my mother was starting “the change”, that combination of hormones might best be compared to a Molotov cocktail. But we survived those years unscarred and unscathed and our relationship has only grown stronger.

As I get older, I have seen that I am more like my mother than I first thought. We are both centred on our family, we love to laugh and enjoy a good meal. We are both focussed on the details, have legendary memories and we each have a creative side. We are both sensitive and we both have an overactive worry gene. In fact, I told Dad that with Mom gone, I have to worry for the both of us and he may have to give up shaving so I won’t have to worry about him cutting himself accidentally.

I think I first started to appreciate our similarities about 15 years ago and my mom was in the hospital after a hysterectomy. I was sitting beside her bed. It was a couple days after the surgery. She wasn’t in terrible pain, but she was getting her strength and her appetite back. She was resting and dozing. We had some easy conversation. Then she asked me “do you think I’ve lost weight?”

I told her “maybe a little, but once you start eating and drinking again it will come back. Those lost water pounds always come back”

She said, “no, not that. I lost my uterus. That must weigh at least 5 pounds.” I knew then that I was my mother’s daughter.

My Mom was ALL about family. Oh how she loved and cared for her children. And of course her grandchildren were very special to her -- she was a very hands-on Oma as you saw from the pictures. (I will talk about Dad later.) What I want to talk about today are some of the ways my Mom expressed her love and how that made her so special. I will also talk about some people very special to my Mom.

FOOD

Food was not just sustenance, it was how she expressed her love. Any meal was an opportunity for shared time together and style definitely counted. That meant a table cloth, pretty dishes, candles, fancy napkins and often flowers. Many of you will have experienced my Mom’s terrific meals. She was an amazing cook, baker and artisan with food. It looked good, smelled better and tasted best.

Birthday dinners were a culinary spectacle in our family. The honoured birthday person got a made to order meal. No effort was spared in the preparation of the meal. No special order was too much work. The table was always laid beautifully. Even while on chemo and her energy waned the past couple years, she made sure we had special meals. The ham and homemade scalloped potatoes was replaced with Chinese food or pizza. But we ate in the dining room on beautiful dishes.

In the spring my parents decided to list their home for sale so I came over to brainstorm on how to stage their home. This, I thought, was a working meeting. I arrived to a glass of wine waiting for me and tempura shrimp in the oven. For appetizers. The main course was Chilean sea bass served with a medley of vegetables. Dessert was strawberry cheesecake. It was like being on a cruise ship. We did not get that much done that evening.

The next week I said to Mom and Dad “I will come straight after work. Let’s have a quick meal. Like a bagel, or egg salad sandwich.” “Sure” they assured me. I said sternly “no really, this is a working visit”. I arrived to a glass of wine and spring rolls in the oven for appetizers. Dad fired up the BBQ to cook some free range grass fed chicken legs. Another medley of vegetables and another delicious dessert. The next week I I just looked forward to the glass of wine.

Food was a very important way she connected with her five grandchildren. It started by stocking goldfish crackers for any toddler snack emergencies These too were served on toddler appropriate special dishes. Each child had their own bib at Oma and Opa’s house.

And then came the thing that became synonymous with Oma. Jackson Erin Sydney Lian and Kyle, can tell you-- Smartie cookies! It is like chocolate chip cookies on steroids. They are sweeter and crunchier and there is no treat its equal in all the world. The kids all took to Oma’s meat buns or Mennonite Fleish peroski. Oma always made sure to have mac and cheese and chicken nuggets to cater to the culinary peccadillos of her grandchildren.

Mom did not ignore the grownups when the kids came along. She knew how busy life is with kids in the house. Jackson was a newborn and Mom was delivering meals, batches of meat buns and some treats to keep us going. After that, containers of soups were delivered (with full credit to Dad, her soup chef), meat buns or a meal. Always with love and concern for our well-being.

CHRISTMAS

Christmas was really something special. The official celebrations began sometime after Mom’s birthday on November 15th when the Christmas dishes came out. The special dishes epitomized the season and its celebrations. Days and days were spent tastefully decorating every nook and cranny of 4805 Meadfeild Road every year. A large red cross on the front door was lit with a spotlight that could be viewed for blocks (my Mom was no fool for marrying an engineer to set that up). The house was transformed with poinsettias, real cedar centrepieces, wreaths, candles, a manger scene and of course a magnificent tree with decorations, many of sentimental significance The atmosphere and warmth was Irmie Konrad personified.

The celebrations and traditions of Christmas included special meals. My brothers and I are all the discriminating type when it comes to matters of the heart. Which meant that by the time each of us had found someone acceptable for matrimony, we were each in our mid to late thirties. What this meant, apart from forcing my Mom to accept that even with 3 children, she may not get grandchildren out of the deal, that Christmas during our many single adult years was a 5 to 10 day family sleepover. The freezer was full with baking, the meals were planned, the puzzle was chosen and we hunkered down for days and days of family bonding.

All the decorations stayed until Epiphany when Christmas was all packed up for another year. I used to ask Mom if she hated taking down Christmas. I assumed she would because I hate taking down Christmas. And because she had about 10 times more items to put away. But she made it a ritual and it was part of the celebration, not something to just get done.

GIVING

My Mom was a giver. She thought of others first, was generous without limit. Her generous heart was shared with many whose paths she crossed. Sometimes she gave in very tangible ways.

When I was pregnant with Jackson, her first grandchild, someone told her “you can’t have too many receiving blankets” and so began the Oma blanket factory. The first step was a trip to the fabric store to pick an adorable fabric. Then came measuring and hemming the edges to precision. But what made the blankets so special was the personalized detail of crocheting the edges. I can still see Mom bending over the ironing board with a ruler and pencil marking the fabric to ensure the crocheting was evenly spaced and perfectly straight. By the time Jackson arrived I had at least 20 special receiving blankets.

Little did she know the precedent she was setting. I was well pregnant with Jackson when Doug and Lori announced that Erin was on the way and the one woman blanket brigade was pressed into service. After that there was Sydney and Lian and Kyle who each enjoyed these special baby blankets.

Sometimes my Mom’s giving was in words. When Jackson, our son was born. John and I fumbled around trying to figure out how often to change diapers and work out the feedings and figure out if that little high pitched squeak was really a burp or if there was another one coming. My hormones were of course raging and we were both tired and really felt inadequate to the task. My Mom did not give us any unsolicited advice, although we surely needed it. She told us “you are doing a great job” “you are naturals” “you have really taken to parenting”. The power of those affirmations at that time was enormous.

At her last appointment with her oncologist, Dr. Sascha delivered the news that her kidneys seemed to be failing and there seemed to be no way to stop the disease. After he answered our questions, he left the room. It was quiet for a moment as we tried to absorb the news. Though the news was expected at that point, it still took my breath away. My Mom’s first words might have been expected to be “not what we were hoping for” or “not what I wanted to hear”. Rather s he said of Dr. Sascha “that man has a hard job to do.” Empathetic to the end.

FAITH

Mom’s faith was as intense as it was important. She lived out her faith out by helping others, baking, supporting, praying, teaching, serving, loving and caring. She was a cheerful giver and served her Lord so faithfully.

She prayed for family and friends and with family and friends. Here at her church home at West Van Baptist she made so many, many wonderful friends. One of the reasons I know this is in the last week before she died we received countless calls, emails and offers of food. We had a veritable smorgasbord to enjoy every night. I will be contacting some of you for recipes.

There are many things that are God-ordained about the last month. In April, I wanted to set up a weekend for the 13 of us to go away. It took weeks to coordinate our schedules. In the end the only weekend that worked was Mother’s Day which was one of the last weekends she felt well enough to have enjoyed it. We are so very, very glad we had that time together.

My Mom prayed that if she was to die, that she would have an easy death and wanted to die at home. God granted his faithful daughter her wish. In the end her death was quick. At home. And free of pain. And she is now free for all eternity of the discomfort, weakness, fatigue and all symptoms of cancer and treatment that dogged her for the last 2 ½ years.

INFLUENCES

Mom entered the world during the great depression. In her lifetime a great many things were discovered, invented and developed. She had come to enjoy life transforming inventions like the microwave, the speaker phone, and fat-free sour cream. But I will say that none of the modern inventions, conveniences meant as much to her as one. And that is cheap long distance plans.

In the last number of years she has enjoyed unfettered access to many, but in particular her two sisters, Edith and Hildy. Anything from a good recipe, interesting news headline, a good joke, a piece of family news or just update from the latest doctor’s appointment was worthy of a phone call. I thought at times that Dad should have installed and open access mic to Auntie Hildy’s house, just to save the trouble of pressing the speed dial button. I know that the companionship of her sisters by phone has meant a lot, especially in the past couple years when her travels and other activities have been more limited.

Well over twenty years ago a woman named Ruth prayed. She prayed for a friend. A special friend. She prayed for a full year and then one day sat a table with my Mom at the Christian Women’s Lunch. Ruth said she knew. There was just something very special about Irmie. My Mom noticed Ruth immediately. What did she notice about Ruth? Her blouse.

For over twenty years they enjoyed lunches and coffees and walks and a steady and enduring friendship. Ruth preceded Mom into the world of grandmothering and I know that they shared many a brag session over the exploits of their grandchildren. I don’t know if Ruth will be praying for a new special friend, but I have one thing to say to her: I like your blouse.

Something needs to be said about my Dad. By the time he retired he already had an impressive resume as an engineer and management consultant. In his retirement he became the skipper of his own ship and consummate genealogist as he and Mom traced their family tree. After the past few years he can add to his resume, laboratory analyst as he surveilled beta 1 globulin, the tumour marker for multiple myeloma more closely than the US government tracked ever tracked Osama Bin Laden. He knew not only Mom’s current white blood count, red blood count, neutrophils, haemoglobin, creatinen, calcium and platelets but also the range for such things and what it meant. There were spreadsheets involved, bar graphs and Dr. Sascha always welcomed Mom, Dad and his black notebook with a long list of questions Dad compiled with input from Mom.

Dad became the procurer of organic foods and vitamins and supplements as Mom did everything in her power to be strong and give her body every edge to fight the multiple myeloma. He has chauffeured Mom to appointments, for blood draws and to specialists. He has read all the medical literature on multiple myeloma and all the treatments. In more recent days I saw my Dad an extraordinary nurse and companion.

We all know that Dad will miss a great many things about Mom. They shared almost 55 years of marriage, 3 kids, 1 dog, 5 grandchildren, lived in 6 cities, 8 houses, had 7 church homes, took countless trips, many adventures and of course had a little heartache. But there is one irreplaceable service that she rendered him that no one can replace. This service is born of the decades they spent together intersecting with my Mom’s remarkable memory. It is instant name recall. We have frequently heard these conversations increasingly over the past 10 years:

Dad: Irmie, what is the name of the guy, you know, the one with the brothers?

Mom: Ernie Friesen

Or this:

Dad: Irmie, what is the name of the old lady, she lived by the river?

Mom: You mean the one with the …

Dad: No not that one, the other one.

Mom: Mrs. Peterson

Or this:

Dad: Irmie, who is the guy, you know who got the things and then he got other thing?

Mom: Bob Stewart. He had rickets and then got a brain tumour.

This skill was worthy of being on a game show. My Mom would know who he was talking about even without context, city or what decade he was talking about.

In conclusion, I will say that Mom’s influence on our family is profound. Though it is difficult to imagine the Konrads going forward without her, her love and devotion has formed us, guided us and will live on in us. Her last wish was for God’s peace for her family and for all who loved her. May it be so.

Mom

My long absence from this blog is owing to the illness and passing of my Mom.  The past six months have been an emotional and significant time in my life.  I will be blogging about it for the next while. I understand that for some this may be difficult due to read owing to personal circumstances. For me, the title of my blog holds true: writing will be my therapy.