Friday, January 17, 2014

The Little Red Crayon ...and other colours of life and loss

We had no idea how life changing our experience at St. Joseph's Hospice would be; we understood the obvious, obviously..., and all the difficulties we had with space aside, the real experience was something no one could expect or prepare for.

My mother's first few hours in St. Joe's were spent listening to me petitioning the staff for more privacy, a less dreary space. Anything. She had been put between a dingy looking wall, not unclean - just old, a part of the hospital that hadn't been updated in forever. The curtains were hospital blue and the bedding looked like something out of a 1970's hunting magazine (I'm not kidding, there were deer on that blanket...). The space was so tight my sister and I couldn't sit on either side of her, we had to squeeze (quite uncomfortably for being as pregnant as I was at the time) two clunky, stiff chairs beside the dingy wall. 

The other side of the wall was the bathroom, the bathroom for the four dying people in the room, only one of whom could actually get up to use it - which she didn't often, but when she did it was always a production (nurses, wheelchairs, lifts, blue canoes, stage managers, lighting...). Anything that happened in that space was a huge production - these people need more care than any I've ever seen and when the nurses gathered for one of these (a bathroom visit, a bath, bedding changes..) everyone else cleared the room to make way.

I went in there with my mother's plea for privacy in mind. I tried not to look anyone in the eye. An impossibility in that space, in the middle of all that. There was no getting away from death, heartache, sadness, grief. It was in everyone's eyes, faces, in the sounds in the hallway. The nurses were all gentle about it, but you saw it in there eyes too. I expected that - it's really not that different from being on 1A.

It was in all the shuffling just before one of these productions that the curtain opened up between my mother and the bed beside her - just enough for me to see what I didn't expect ...completely and utterly naively and I still don't understand why I was so taken aback. She's so young, I thought - oh my god, oh my god, she's so young I thought over and over again. 
I don't know why I was so shocked by that, people die at every age...my poor baby boy lived only ten days (11ish) (I still don't know how to count it...). For some stupid reason I went in there expecting everyone to be old. I didn't even think of my mother as old, ...and thinking of friends like Helen and Lisa even younger and younger. So, I can't explain it.

Kim was beside my mother or across from her for most of my mother's stay in the hospice. She had a beloved golden retriever (who even visited her in hospice!) (I'm still damning that I missed that.). Her mother has/had bassets, and it was clear early on that we were comrades. It was often difficult (both ways, I'm sure) to know when it was appropriate to be in each others space, and with it being so tight we often couldn't help it. It often made the days go by a little softer. 

Kim had just become an aunt (again) twice, and often these little babies would visit - completely changing the air in that place. They sent my pregnant imagination soaring. Watching Kim nap with her nephew was the most beautiful thing - and I still recall on that moment to remind me of when things weren't that bad. I tweeted about it, and wound up connecting with Kim's brother (because that's how Thunder Bay works..)..

All the commotion near the end of my mother's life, the room move, the battle it was to get the private room... the final days with her were so wrapped up with her care that I only remember blurs and flashes of conversations with anyone else. When she died - within a couple hours - we were somehow packing up her cards and paper flowers and moving out. Again, something I wasn't expecting... it was like we were being kicked out. No longer a part of that club. Take your stuff and go. It wasn't cold in any way, the nurses were (and continue to be) wonderfully compassionate. We could take all the time we needed - but ...what for? Suddenly, we had no reason to be there and us much as we all (me, Rohan, and my sister) wanted to run out of there and never come back - it was impossible to deny the feeling of, I'm really going to miss these people, and strangely - missing that place. 

I thought about Kim a lot. Always wanted to visit but - along with every other strange feeling, as much as I missed the people and the place I could not step foot back in there. I tried - a few times. Even tried to drop off forms for Dr. Miller but chickened out and sent Hannah and Erica instead. I tried to write notes, but never got around to sending anything... 
Thinking back to those final months of pregnancy - after losing my mom I sent my head straight to babyland, and did my best to think of nothing but. I trusted those day three hormones would take care of any grief lingering around. 
We drive by St. Joe's and I look up (I always do) to quickly glance at the three windows I know, and in a flash the whole experience runs through my head. I haven't forgotten a single face. It sounds like I was affected profoundly by this - and I suppose I was, ..but I think about people like Kim, who spend many, many more months there. That was her home. She was lucky, in a sense, to have such a loving family around her, being with her, helping her. There were some people there with nobody. I still can't wrap my head around that.

It was a lot easier to shelf all this when I had a baby growing inside me; when I held him. Nothing could touch me when I held him. I begged for my mother when Finn died, and I've said many times I can only hope they're together somehow - that she's holding him. If I can't she's the only one I would want... The months between then and Christmas are a blur, yesterday is a blur, ... today will be too. I'm much more aware now though, that I'm pretty messed up. 

So the other day when a small package arrived - not unusual with all the Etsy orders coming these days- I was thrown. Lost for words because there were too many swirling around my head. It was addressed so beautifully, and local, and a name I didn't recognize immediately. I choked a little, feeling that feeling of knowing something inside was going to trigger some tears. We've received unexpected kindness in all forms, it's been overwhelming..., but this took that whole experience with my mom, those flash of images - seeing Kim so young and out of place in that hospice, pregnancy in the hospice, babies in the hospice, losing my mother, losing Finn - wrapped it all up in a small colourful book and said, here, I hope this makes you feel better

Kim's sister found a way to make some sense of it all. It's a lovely way to honour her sister - and put it in perspective for the baby who slept in his aunt's arms across from me to understand as he grows. I read the book over and over again when I first received it, but it's been tucked in a cloth bag with the photo book M sent since. I can't look at it right now. I will though, many many times - I'll always remember Kim, and I'll think of my mother ...and, of course, my baby boy. It was the most timely gift, when the slowness of this time of year is beginning to send me in too many directions - even if I can't look at it... I can think about it. 
Both Rohan and I were swept away by her card, the thoughtful words, and of course the book.., completely unexpected. The experience that connects us seems so profound to me right now, and knowing that Finn's short sweet life connects to this, and is thought of - possibly as profoundly, well.. I have no words.....
You can learn more and buy your own copy of The Little Red Crayon through Michelle Kolobutin's website: mugsywrite.ca
..and I believe she's got a booth at the market ;)
I think she's done a pretty amazing thing.

Kim passed away in October. I missed any announcements, so consumed by my own grief. In the blurs and flashes of images in my head I do remember the colours of the season; there was so much colour around Thanksgiving this year it was impossible to ignore - even in my condition. Like the pink sun that rose on the walls of my mother's room as she took her last breath, it's the colours that I see most in my memories.

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