Life is full of unexpected turns and as much as we’d like to believe we are in control, we all know that this is not the case. After three years of visioning, planning and preparing to move to Guatemala, Greg and I left Vancouver mid-January. Departure was bittersweet for me. Saying goodbye to my parents, Susan and Denis was one of the harder things I had to do. In the year before, Mom had been diagnosed with dementia and we were watching the devastating effects it was having on her and Dad. With plans in place for them to join us in Guatemala for Semana Santa (Holy Week-which is happening right now) goodbye was made just a bit easier. I also had a secret -I was planning to surprise them and return at the end of June for their big combined 70th birthday bash which was already in the planning stages!
Just eleven days after departing, I called home to touch base as I did every day or two. Mom had been having difficulty swallowing food and liquids and I knew that they were planning a visit to the doctor’s to check it out. When I called, Dad told me that Mom had been admitted to hospital to receive IV fluids for dehydration and that they were going to be running some tests. Five days later we arrived in Guatemala. I was there for ten days when I received the news that Mom had cancer and that it was untreatable. Four days later I flew back to Vancouver, thanks to the generosity of my sister and her husband and their air points.
A few days after I arrived, my precious daughter Meg moved back from California to come be with her grandparents. They have always been such a huge part of her life and she felt that it was her turn to give back to them.
For nineteen days I spent every day in the hospital with Mom. It was a sweet time of healing and connection. She maintained her bright smile, stubborn nature and sense of humour the whole time. After agonizing over it for many days, I made the difficult decision to return to Guatemala on the 11th of March with a return flight booked in seven weeks.
On the 9th of March my Mom suddenly passed away. We had no warning. It seemed she quietly slipped into a coma-like state on the last day. Dad, Meg and I were in the car, just 20 minutes away from the hospital when we got the call. She was with a dear friend from church when she passed. We arrived right after and spent a couple of hours saying goodbye. I will always cherish that memory of being with Dad and Meg together during that most emotional of goodbyes.
The memorial service was held ten days later. There were over 400 people in attendance. There were several eulogies shared that day; stories of her childhood from her best friend since childhood, her career with the Bank of Montreal, her years of volunteerism with various organizations (right up until the week she went into hospital) and stories from the family and in particular, the grandchildren. It was a beautiful testament of my Mom’s love of people and her life-long commitment to help others. Mom was one of the least judgmental people I have ever known. She made friends wherever she went and welcomed people into her life and our family with an open heart and open arms.
In lieu of flowers we encouraged people to make a donation in honour of Susan to one of the charities she’d volunteered at, or to Project Somos. Over $5000 was donated in my Mom’s honour to the Project! I know she would have been thrilled. She was always such a loving supporter and champion of our work. She showed up at every event we held and always carried Project Somos postcards in her purse, that she readily shared with anyone who would listen!
It is interesting that as we embark on this project to provide for children without parents to care for them, I am now without a mother. As big as my loss is, it is nothing compared to what it must be like for a child. I have a lifetime of memories and will always remember how much my Mom loved and cared for me. These kids may not have known their moms and may have no memories to carry. I hope that my loss will give me more compassion in the days to come…
Goodbye Mom. I love you.