Saturday, January 17, 2015


Every morning I drink my coffee from a hand thrown mug made to look like a scotch thistle. My mother gave me the mug for Christmas several years ago. It's My Mug. Around Christmas, I sometimes use a mug painted with a reindeer, with the name “Dancer” near the foot. My mother gave me that mug for Christmas back in high school. When I'm thirsty, I get a glass from the cupboard, either one of my glasses that came with Pom iced tea in it, or a glass with a picture of a pig on it. My mother brought me the two Pom teas when I was sick and Jon and I were living in Orleans. She gave me the pig glass for Christmas about twenty years ago.

My favourite socks are the warm and woolly socks she would gift me every Christmas. I have this silver bangle that she bought herself in Quebec City in her teens and gave to me for my thirteenth birthday: I've been wearing it essentially constantly ever since.

She is in every room of my home. From the Beatrix Potter posters she gave us when Glynis was born to the koala with a music box in its belly for my first Christmas, she is everywhere. She is always. That dance, music, literature, craftiness are a part of my being is her doing. She sketched the outline of the shape my life has taken.

Before she was ill, I spoke to my mother almost daily, calling her, interrupting her work – yes, I'm sorry, Sir Wil, but I was constantly calling her at the office – just to chat. To tell her things I was doing or things my girls had said or done that I thought would amuse her. To vent frustrations, knowing she'd have something good to say: not that she'd always agree but that she'd always have an understanding ear. Earlier this week I felt the impulse to call her, to tell her how hard all this is. But I couldn't.


Her delight in her grandchildren was so undeniable, so immeasurable it was inspiring. That she won't see Glynis's front teeth grow in, or hear Scarlet lose her toddler lisp, or watch them dance, or hear any more of their songs crushes me. She loved them so much, and I loved sharing our life with her. I loved seeing them through her eyes, through her adoration, knowing how proud she was of everything they are and do.

scarlet and gran
She is woven into every space, every day, every moment. She was the first thing, the first truth I ever knew. I never, ever doubted her love for me, no matter how hard things got. She taught me what it is to be a mother, not in her perfection because no one is ever perfect and God, she would hate for us to say she was perfect, but in her loving, her struggle, her persistence, her open ear. As I grew up and our lives changed, I watched and learned from her what it is to make a fresh start, the balance of the selflessness of motherhood and needful, healthy self-interest, the value of self-reliance, not because she didn't lean on others but because some things we must do for ourselves.

glynis and gran

Her fight, her determination, her willingness to put herself through any amount of struggle in an effort to have more time with us all was amazing and inspiring. She wore a bracelet engraved with the word "survivor". Given to her by her sister: she died wearing that bracelet. And she was a survivor. Because while her body was too broken to carry on, the example she set in her living will indeed live on with we who have been so privileged to have known her.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday morning

Mom slipped away gently, softly, slowly at 11:15pm last night, January 10. Just after 4 we met with her doctors and decided it was best to allow her to go in her time.
Her last hours were so peaceful. So calm and still. There was laughter at her bedside. There was music. I lay my head on her shoulder, taking my last comfort from her simply being. Just being there. Just being. And it was good, so good.
There was no struggle. After all those months of working so hard, it was a heartrending relief to see her peaceful. We told her it was her time to go.
And as she started across I smiled at her. I gazed into her face and smiled and told her it was ok, she had worked so hard and now her work was done. That we'll be alright. That we love her, we love her so much, and that it was time to go.
Even in her very last moments of her living she was a source of such joy. We joyed in her.
I was smiling at my glorious mother as she died.

Saturday morning

So here it is. We've been rather private about this for the past year because we knew Mom didn't want to be a spectacle or worry anyone, nor have any fuss, but the scenery has changed dramatically.
A year ago, almost exactly, Ruth MacLeod was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer. Her tumour was discovered on Christmas day of 2013 after she suffered for several hours with intolerable head pain. Surgery followed on the 27th, and the cancer diagnosis in early January. She was treated with radiation and chemo therapies, several rounds, until this summer when her body could no longer tolerate the chemo. We hoped for the best.
A few weeks later, her headaches returned. CT and MRI scans showed that the cancer had regrown, now in two sites. But Mom was determined: she was going to eke every last possible day out of this life she'd been given, and so when surgery with chemo to follow was offered she didn't hesitate to agree in the hopes that she'd get one more Christmas, more time with her husband, maybe more visits with her grandchildren.
While waiting for her surgical date, she developed shingles. The pain she experienced from the shingles was unimaginable: she suffered greatly. But still she was full of fight, full of determination. She had her second surgery on November 25th while still burdened by the shingles, and came through the surgery well.
Her recovery was stymied by the continued shingles pain. She spent several hours on Christmas day at my home, with Jon and our kids, her mother and sister, and of course her dear husband and his son. She got to see her grandchildren. She got to have Christmas dinner, with a piece of pecan pie.
Just before New Years she was admitted to the Elizabeth Bruyere hospital in the hopes that they would be able to find the right balance of narcotics to manage her pain but allow her to be lucid and functional for as long as possible. She had been fighting a cold for several weeks, but nothing seemed concerning until late Tuesday/very early Wednesday, when she began to have respiratory distress and was rushed to the Ottawa General where she was placed on life support due to a critical case of pneumonia.
As doctors at the General investigated the type of infection she was suffering, they discovered an e.coli infection in her blood. Following an abdominal CT scan to determine the source of the e.coli, it was discovered that my mother is also suffering colon cancer. It is stage 4 cancer, having metastisised. There is no possible treatment.
We have these last days with her. Her fight, her determination, her willingness to put herself through any amount of struggle in an effort to have more time with us all is amazing and inspiring. She wears a bracelet engraved with the word "survivor". And she is. Because while her body is too broken to carry on much longer, the example she has set in her living will indeed live on with we who have been so privileged to know her.
We love you, Mom.


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