...as the seasons change.by Andrea Kelter on 09/30/15
After a hard-fought battle with cholangiocarcinoma, my mother passed away on September 14th. We are a small immediate family of just three people - and I am so happy that all of us were there with her daily for the final two weeks of her life. Her passing was not easy, as this disease is truly evil once it gains full hold, but she died the same way she lived - with courage, grace & dignity - and with the certain belief that life, and what comes after, is beautiful.
Life plays tricks on you sometimes. When my mother received her diagnosis, almost 19 months ago, we knew her chance of long-term (five year) survival was zero. Zero. That is the published statistic for this cancer. But she fought hard, and did incredibly well for many months on a tough chemo regimen - well enough that even though I saw her daily and knew the facts, there was a place inside myself that believed she would be that one in a million exception to the statistic - she would be the person who defied the odds on this disease.
And, for a while, she really did. And then, in early August, things changed. They changed very quickly and irrevocably.
And, even though I knew, and we all knew - there is still a huge sense of disbelief and incredulity that she is gone. I walk through her apartment in my house, and find myself waiting for her to reappear. It feels as if the universe is playing a huge, dark, cosmic joke on us and has thrown us into an emotional "black hole", as it were. Strange, but true.
We all lose people we love in our lives. It is the way of the universe, and as it must be. As a dear friend once said to me, "Andrea, every living thing must die." And I get that.
But, and here comes a big "but", there are some people who are such an elemental force, who live with such joy and gusto - that it seems impossible that they could die. And when they do, their passing tears a hole in the fibre of your soul that is not easily (if ever) fully repaired.
My mother was such a person. She could make me madder than anyone I know. But we shared everything for over five decades - celebrated every triumph and commiserated over every failure together - and she was much more than merely my mother. She was also my truest, dearest and best friend - making her loss doubly painful.
It was my mother who saw my daughter into life - under a double rainbow outside the hospital window. My mother who stood beside me in Gros Morne with Merlyn III - and marvelled at a landscape that was, quite simply, larger than life.
My mother, who at the age of 77, hiked many miles up Cadillac Mountain with me to gaze disbelieving at the beauty of Acadia National Park.
Who adopted and saved animals with me.
Who camped with my daughter and I all over Ontario for many, many years before we moved to the Maritimes.
Who moved to the Maritimes with us so I could pursue my new career while she watched over our home, my daughter and the animals.
The pain of her going is much too deep for tears. I have been unable to shed any.
Perhaps, because subconsciously, I am holding my breath waiting for her to come back. But, at least peripherally, I know she never will.
I was working on a quilt over the last few weeks of my mother's life. The top is a test quilt I made for "Sew Incredibly Amy!" last winter - the pattern is called Watkins Star. I pieced it using my long-hoarded Paris Flea Market fabrics from Moda - and my mother loved this quilt top. I began quilting it just before she went into the hospital (from which she would never come home) and told her I would finish it and show it to her. But this did not happen, due to the speed with which her illness escalated.
On her last weekend home, I was working on the quilt while she rested. Then I helped her outside, because it was a gloriously blue Maritime summer day, and gave her a pedicure on the back deck while we talked. We had already agreed that anytime she was near after she passed I should look for two dancing butterflies - that would be her sign. I asked her to somehow let me know everything was OK when she arrived in the next place of her life journey, and I teased her to "not make it subtle - make it an unmistakeable hullabaloo", and she promised she would.
The morning she died, I had been at the hospital for twenty hours straight, and had to go home to look after the animals and get a bit of rest before heading back. My brother took over being with her, and I asked him to pay careful attention as she had had a very difficult night. After caring for the pets, I fell into bed for an hour's sleep. And, was woken at about 11:00 a.m. by my upstairs fire alarm going off. I jumped out of bed looking for smoke, flames, appliances accidentally left on - anything that could have triggered it. But there was nothing - and it would not turn off until I finally got a ladder and pulled the 9V battery.
Then I headed back to bed, and as I got there I stopped because there was a large white butterfly (of a type I had never seen before, and which does not exist in Nova Scotia according to the dozens of websites I checked) fluttering by my window, and it stopped and turned to face me for a split second before zooming off in an upward direction with the speed of a hummingbird. I was calling my brother before I consciously realized it - because, viscerally, I knew. He said things were the same, and I could hear him metaphorically rolling his eyes. But I was already pulling on clothes to go back to the hospital...and the next moment I received a text telling me what my heart already knew. The text said simply, "Maybe the fire alarm and butterfly DID mean something. I'm sorry, Andrea, but mum is gone." So I put the battery back in the alarm, because I knew that the alarm going off had nothing whatsoever to do with the alarm, the battery, or any kind of fire. And the alarm was just fine when I put the battery back in.
The reason I mention this is because later that day I quilted these two dancing butterflies into the quilt my mother loved so much, in her memory.
Quilting has been my solace since this happened. It is only sitting in front of Minerva that I feel a sense of peace, and believe that the universe will slowly begin to make sense again.
Which is probably why (in the words of Angela Walters) I quilted this particular quilt to death.
But I love how it turned out.
My version of this quilt is named Sugar N Spice, as it was intended for a little girl when I first made it. But, now, it is destined for a bigger little girl, my 27-year old daughter Alexandra, as a final memory of her grandmother - and it will be gifted to her at Christmas.
I am slowly putting one foot in front of the other, trying to regain forward momentum - while I struggle to continue to believe what always came easily before - and what I know in my soul is true.
"I am standing upon the seashore.
A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean.
She is an object of beauty and strength.
I stand and watch her until at length she hands like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come to mingle with each other.
Then someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"
Gone from my sight, that is all.
She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and she is just as able to bear her load of living freight to her destined port.
Her diminished size is in me, not in her.
And just at the moment when someone at my side says: "There, she is gone!"
There are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout:
"Here she comes!"
- Barbara Karnes
Our family is of German descent, and interestingly, the German language has no specific word that translates into goodbye. They say only "Aufwiedersehen" - which translated would be 'until we meet again.'
"Aufwiedersehen, Mum." There will never be a day that you are not remembered with love.
I am linking up with Freemotion by the River and Freshly Pieced Modern Quilts this week - and looking forward to seeing what everyone's been working on!