That is what I called her. “Ma belle Grand-maman”. And that is what she was.
5 years ago, my grandmother was diagnosed we stomach cancer. Being 85 years old, doctors didn’t want to treat her with chemo, saying that she was to old, and instead they took the cancer out bu taking out 75% of her stomach. The same type of surgery that is done for weight loss so though it stopped the cancer, she struggled to stay close to 100lbs.
Over the next five years, there were high and lows with her health. Especially after the death of my uncle, who lived with her and was a permanent presence in the house. It broke her heart when he died and it took a toll on her health also.
Last year, She was supposed to be come to our home for the holidays. She had a stomach ache and couldn’t come. Over the next few months she suffered in silence, not wanting to get help or make people worry. But then one day, a friend saw through it and brought her to the hospital. She stayed for over a month and they relieved her pain by draining her abdomen of fluids and she went home with no official diagnosis. A few weeks later though she was back in.
I was at the We Shine conference when I got the word from my mom that her Cancer had returned. It was not just in her stomach anymore but was everywhere. It was at that point blocking her intestines so that there was no movement and they told her that she didn’t have long in that condition. They started her on Chemo as a last resort, not that they thought it would save her life, but it might extend her time but they didn’t hold out much hope. At the end of June they gave her less than two weeks to live. Then she had a bowel movement. We basically cheered when it happened. The end was not in sight yet anymore. The Chemo reduced the tumor in her intestine enough that it was no longer blocked and no longer caused a problem. Of course the cancer was everywhere but she still had a bit more time.
These are from around that time…
She was regaining a bit of strength and was starting to walk again.
Colin helped her down the hall… Though she never let it show when all the kids were around, we knew that he was her favourite.
They had a very special bond.
I made her a penguin to keep her company.Isn’t she cute?!
The four generations of women in our family.
Isn’t she beautiful! I love her smile.
One of my most cherished pictures.
Soon after these pictures were taken, she was strong enough to leave the hospital.
She made the choice that she wanted to die at home. My mom would stay with her 24/7 and take over her care with the support of an amazing palliative care team that would come once a day.
Soon after she was at home I had a craft fair and my mom was supposed to babysit but didn’t want to leave my grandmother. So we all headed there for the weekend and the kids were able to hang out with her for the entire weekend and it strengthened their bond greatly. Xavier has always been a bit reserved but he loved sitting at the table across from her and they had some special moments. He really warmed up to her.
Over the weeks she became weaker but settled into a beautiful routine with my mom. My mom would wake her up in the morning with a smile and love, she would make her breakfast and they would do their morning puzzles in the newspaper. My grandmother would then nap and then my mom would again wake her up with a smile to have lunch and after another nap she would be awake until evening. She would sit on the porch in her backyard until supper and then after supper she would do her crosswords and go to bed late as usual.
My mom called my grandmother her “Queen” and she was the “Queen’s Jester”. My mom did everything in the house to my grandmother’s standards, which is not an easy feat. She choose what she wanted to eat for supper every night and my mom treated every day as if it were her last. Giving her everything she wanted. They talked and shared fears and dreams and were best friends. Their relationship was beautiful and my mom had all of her trust. At the end of July, there were still more good days than not though her energy was declining.
This is on the 27th of July. We were celebrating her little sister’s birthday and both her brother and sister came over with my moms cousins. Her sister has Alzheimer’s and this is last time she saw her.
The Queen and her Jester
Over the next few weeks her naps became longer and she slept more and became weaker. Needing a bit of help to walk and keep her stability. They had a few scares with convulsions one day and a small stroke before than when they realized that she was in withdrawal from on of the meds she had been on.
Until her last weeks she was still having rounds of chemo and had better days with the chemo then between rounds.
At the end of August I went to spend the weekend with my mom and grandmother to give my mom a bit of respite. My grandmother could no longer walk without someone next to her to help her and needed help getting to the bathroom. She had injections for pain and we could see that end was getting near. The goal was to keep her comfortable.
That weekend was stressful emotionally. My mom is not an only child. She was one of five. One of my uncles, who lived with my grandmother, died two years ago from complications of diabetes. That left three others. The youngest, lived the closest and has a child that is just a few weeks older than Xavier. He would stop by once in a while but was always busy though near the end he would come more often. My aunt and other uncle are older than my mom. They both have some sort of problem with my mom and honestly just have a problem. My aunt refused to come over because my mom was there and my uncle would stop by if he was around but was mean and spiteful and would get made because my mom would answer the phone and my grandmother was sleeping. It was like they couldn’t realize that she was sick and her body needed to rest. He would scream at my mom and he would call and scream at my grandmother telling her that she better have her affairs in order because he would not give a dime. It made her so sad and hurt to see her family like that and she was often in tears because of the way they treated her. My mom was her rock and brought back her smile each time. The only family that really came on a regular basis was my aunt’s son. My older cousin Yanick (I am the second oldest)
That weekend, my cousin (my aunt’s middle child) was supposed to come over and instead, she sent a nasty message to my mom, because her mom wanted to come but would not come if my mom was there, even if my mom went outside or stayed in another room. She was acting so petty and childish, I just couldn’t believe it. The thing is, my grandmother was too weak to be left alone without someone to take care of her. She needed someone to help her go to the bathroom, she needed injections at the slightest bit of pain to keep it under control. She needed someone to read her facial expressions and know when she needed help. She was a very proud woman but she was now completely dependant and she would become frightened and anxious if she didn’t have someone she trusted with her because she could no longer do anything for herself.
I sent a message back to my cousin explaining this. If they were willing to come spend time with her and learn how to take care of her, they could have that time alone. It did what I intended it to do and it put the ball in their court and my aunt called the next day. They had a long conversation and my grandmother got a lot of things off her chest that day but the conversation would get changed the minutes truths started coming up. Truths that my aunt would like to stay hidden. She cried so much after they hung up. My aunt had completely let her down as a person and so had my cousin. Though they came and saw her a few days later, it was too late in her mind.
Before that happened she had said over and over that her last dream was to see her four children together. She didn’t mention it much after that. The only child that had truly stayed by her side was my mom and I and some of her closest friends. The rest put themselves first.
We had a beautiful weekend together. I could see that she was getting weak and she was slipping away slowly but she was still all there mentally. She would still roll her eyes and make jokes and laugh. She would but her straw up and just wait until my mom saw it indicating that she had nothing to use the straw with and wanted another Pepsi. My mom would bow and say “Yes my Queen” and they would laugh together.
A few days later we had the not going back to School picnic in Montreal and I stopped by with the kids. I wish I would have taken more pics but I did get this one with Xavier… It was the last time the kids saw her.
I was going to go back again the next weekend to again help my mom and leave either on Friday night or Saturday morning. She started on oxygen a few days before and we knew the end was coming. Friday afternoon, the 12th of September, my mom called me crying. My grandmother wasn’t doing well. She did not get up for lunch and she was having trouble waking her. I called Simon at work and asked him to take the first express bus home if he could so that I could leave a bit earlier. I got ready while he came home and left soon after. That evening she did not get up for supper and stayed in bed. She was even too weak to take her medication orally. My cousin (my aunt’s son) came over and brought my mom and I supper.
On Saturday morning she woke up but was too weak to get up. Friends came over and she had her nails done in bed. She was talking but would be in her own world at times. She would become anxious and did not want to be left alone at all so we stayed by her side. We gave her injections for her pain and for anxiety and she would be with us again after. My younger cousin (my oldest uncles only son) was supposed to stop over that day and didn’t show up until later but when he did, he showed up with my uncle. His girlfriend told me that my aunt was about to arrive so I called my youngest uncle so that all of her children would be together. As my uncle went in to see my grandmother, my grandmother saw him and panicked. He was having an anxiety attack so we gave her her meds as usual but this time she shut down. Nothing would wake her as much as my aunt screamed at her to wake her up or my uncle pushed on the bed with his shin which my grandmother hated. We decided to take a picture for her to see when she woke up… if she woke up. We were scared that she would be gone that night.
The next morning, she woke up bright and early at about 5:30. Unlike the last weeks when she slept much of the day, that Sunday, she didn’t sleep at all until the evening. I spent my day laying next to her in bed. She talked and laughed, she had moments that spoke by herself and was in her own world but she would come back to us after. We showed her the picture from the evening before but she had trouble recognizing herself and couldn’t believe it, but finally realized that it was true when she started to recognize her room and items and I think the turning point was when we pointed out the picture on the wall (of my uncle who died 2 years ago), so actually all 5 kids are on the picture.
I took a picture of her and she couldn’t stand that she had the oxygen and that her clothes were all disheveled so she asked me to take another… Her pride was with her to the end. See her nails freshly done from the day before?
That day she had a lot of guests. I spread the word that it was a good day to visit but those that came the night before never returned to see her. Her brother came over with my mom’s cousins and they talked with her and she said her goodbyes. Her friends came over and they were able to visit with her. My cousin Yanick came over and he talked with her and at one point she asked him for some pictures that were on her desk and she choose one and kept it. When I went in to check on her a few minutes later she said that she had a gift for me. She gave me the picture. It was one of my favourite pictures of her. By that day I was used to giving my grandmother her injections and knew what she needed and when and I was able to take a bit of the pressure from my mom.
At around 6pm she fell asleep for the first time that day. We kept her comfortable and she woke a little later to go to the bathroom. It took so much effort and it made her even more exhausted but she was too proud to do it in a diaper. The next day, she woke screaming for her mom. It was hard to hear.
A little later with the help of the nurse we convinced her to get a catheter in so that she wouldn’t have to think about it anymore. She was also starting to have a bed sore. I laid down next to her and we turned her onto her side toward me while the nurse attended to her sore and massaged her back. I held in my arms and she had her head on my chest and I stroked her hair and talked to her. That moment will be with me forever.
Simon took the day off but I knew he couldn’t take much more. I felt torn between staying with my mom and grandmother who needed me and my family and kids who also needed me. I asked Simon to call his mom and ask if she would come over in the next days and I also decided to go back home for the night and sleep in my bed and see the kids and bring groceries for the week. While I was gone my grandmother had a burst of energy and asked my mom to bring her to the kitchen table and have a Pepsi. She stayed up for about 10 min and then headed back to bed. It was the last time she got up.
I arrived back on Tuesday around lunch time leaving the kids with my Mother-in-law.. it was the first time she watched the kids in 12 years. My grandmother slept after that, waking in pain and in anxiety more and more often . We had a nurse come to sleep and finally my mom slept. I woke in the morning to hear my grandmother having an anxiety attack and I went to help the nurse. My grandmother calmed the minute I spoke to her and took my hand and would not let go. I laid next to her until she fell asleep again. She stayed asleep for the rest of the day. We moved the room around a bit and I moved her mom’s recliner next to her bed and I stayed there knitting for the rest of the day.We gave her her meds when needed, we massaged her legs and arms with cream and made her as comfortable as she could be… Grace, the cat my belonged to my uncle before he died, never left her side.
My mom did things around the house and even took a nap. Two nurses came by that day… one was going on vacation and took over the others shift to see my grandmother and the other came anyway just to see her. She was loved by so many. My grandmother woke one more time a little later in the evening and my mom told her to let go and that she would be OK without her… Just before the night nurse arrived again, my grandmother’s breathing changed and she developed a rattle that many get before they die. I didn’t want to go to bed so I stayed next to her until my eyes couldn’t stay open anymore. Knitting with the rhythm of her breaths.
I went to wake my mom so that she could be next to her but I couldn’t wake her up. So a lay next to her and dozed off. Just before six my eyes opened and my mom turned towards me. She looked at me and said “pis?” (and?) and I told her to go look… and I followed. My grandmother took her last breath in her sleep. Peaceful in her own bed. Thursday, September 18th just before 6am.
It felt as though a weight was lifted off our hearts. No tears… just peace.
I sent a message to family and close friends and then I called the funeral home and then the 911 for a doctor to come and confirm. The scheduled nurse came and took out the catheter and stayed with us for a while. We had 6 hours with her in the house. She was gone but her heat was still there and she looked like the was sleeping so comfortably in her bed. We were able to say our goodbyes alone and those that wanted to come could come also. My youngest uncle came and so did my cousin Yanick along with some close friends. It was what death should be and what it used to be before it was institutionalized.
The next day we did the arrangements for the following Sunday and I made all the phone calls. Simon arrived on Saturday with the kids and we all went to the funeral the next day. We didn’t cry at the funeral because we were celebrating her life. OK… my mom cried at the end and I broke down after my cousin said that I should not even try being polite to my aunt because it just made things worse.
The most amazing part was that for my mom and I there were no regrets. We had been with her to the end. We had not let her go alone. We had not let pettiness and childness get in the way of making her happy. My mom gave her the gift of dying with dignity and being able to keep her pride right to the end. We had no regrets just love and though we missed her, we knew that her suffering was over.
I will miss my beautiful grandmother. She was an important part of my life. I will never forget her love and I will miss her to the end of my days.
In front of her house as a teenager
Four generations (I am the baby)
85 years young!
Just before surgery for Stomach Cancer
The next four generations of Women
She loved the Cabin
At the cabin
90 years old! with her little brother and sister
At her activities :)
With one of my penguins!
Colin and Mémé
Four generations again…
Grandmaman with Simon and I
Mémé and her 4 great-grandkids
Mother and daughter
My beautiful Grandmaman