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Thursday, 28 January 2021

Whisper goodbye

This is the story of one of those life moments, one that stays with you the rest of your life. I wrote this piece five years ago and every now and then, I am drawn back to it. It reaffirms for me what is important in my life and recently it’s been foremost in my mind.


That summer everything changed. Dad was sick. He had no energy and slept a great deal. This was different for him. At fifty-nine, since his retirement a few years previously, Dad had kept busy. Numerous tests and doctors had not explained the change.


During this same period, my grandmother O'Brien, Nan, had vascular dementia, living in and out of the world which included her family. By February, after Dad's last cancer treatment when doctors could not do any more for him, Nan was more often in her own world than in ours.


At that point in my life, I was married with one child, a daughter. In my teaching career I was principal of a small all grade school where I taught as well. My husband worked in the same school.


In February, I had a few days with my parents during which time Mom and I took Dad to see Nan. We spent every Sunday with Mom's family when my brother and I were growing up. That day, on the way to Maddox Cove, Newfoundland, to see my grandmother, I realized this would be the last time I’d see Nan with both of my parents.


My father had a great relationship with both of his in-laws, though my grandfather was long gone by this time. Dad's mother died when he was fourteen; he respected my grandmother O'Brien and thought of her as a mother figure though he always called her Missus. They never had harsh words and Dad helped Mom's family any way he could. There was mutual respect between my father and Mom's parents.


When we arrived in Maddox Cove, Nan was in her usual place on the daybed by the stove. She did not know me when I entered with my parents. I sat next to Nan with Dad on my right. 


Nan looked like she had for the last few years except her hair was greying at the temples now. She was thinner as well but her face was still smooth with few wrinkles. She looked younger than her eighty-five years. Her hair was lovely, kept that way by my mother who could have been a hairdresser. 


After I spoke to Nan for a few minutes, she recognized my voice, though not my adult appearance. Then, pointing to Dad, she said, "Who's that?"


"It's me, Missus. Sam," Dad replied. After all the treatment, Dad looked nothing like himself. He'd had radiation on his brain where the cancer had migrated, lost his hair and taken steroids which left his body swollen. If Nan had all her faculties she would have had difficulty recognizing Dad.


"Noooo, that's not Sam," Nan said.


"Yes... it is, Nan. He's... been sick," I said, choking back the tears.


"Noooo, that's not Sam. That's an old man," insisted my grandmother.


"Yes, Missus. It's me," Dad was able to say but then fell silent.


Sat there that day between these two people, I grew up. Neither of them was anything like the person I knew and loved. Yet, here they were, in essence the same, but each fading in his and her own way. Sat there, realizing the loss already, what was to come, the finality that was on the horizon, the days which would never be again, I shed the last vestiges of innocence. Being married, having a child, working, had not matured me the way this moment had.


As I drove back to my childhood home, I felt drained. In many ways, a girl had driven her parents to visit her grandmother one last time; a woman drove them home. I had a few months to assimilate what I had learned. Dad lived two months, Nan less than a year.


That day, in part, made me who I am today. It is woven into my being and as real now as it was then, a coming of age, guided by two loved ones whispering goodbye.

41 comments:

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Life has a way of shaking us when it shows us what is real. Beautifully written and remembered memoire, Marie!

DJan said...

Such a beautiful but sad story of what it means to be mortal. I am so sorry it happened like that, but it has been experienced by all of us, in one way or another. Thank you for sharing this sad moment, Marie. I feel honored.

Linda said...

A heart wrenching and beautiful story. I feel like I was sitting in the room with you.

I love that he called her Missus.

Anvilcloud said...

Great insight which also brings back memories of my dad's dementia. However, his dementia worked and although he didn't seem to know if it was night or day, he continued to recognize people close to home.

Rhodesia said...

I have a few days like that which I will never forget August 29 1957. I had just turned 14 and I was away show jumping in South Africa. My brother who was 21 was killed in a car accident. I returned home to find his birthday present to me waiting on my bed. A beautiful china Palamino horse that I treasure to this day. Keep safe, Diane

John "By Stargoose And Hanglands" said...

Beautifully written memories. My parents passed in much the same way, Dad with cancer and Mum with dementia and several other medical problems. Somehow life both prepares us for these changes and leaves us utterly devastated by them.

Elephant's Child said...

This is one of the best 'coming of age' stories I have read. Powerful, beautiful, poignant.
Thank you.

William Kendall said...

Cancer has that way of ravaging the body like nothing else. Beautifully written.

Tanza Erlambang said...

You have such a beautiful part in life.... happy and sad ....
thank you for sharing well written story.

Sandi said...

We come to understand what is important in moments like these.

Rose said...

Oh, this makes me cry...not saying that to make you feel bad. It us beautifully written.

John's Island said...

Hi Marie. Simply a wonderful recollection. As I often do, after reading one of your posts, I just sat here for a while reflecting. What a moment that must have been for realizing two humans who had been so close would soon be gone. I do believe that is a moment when a person realizes that death will come to all of us. The sooner we all realize this and start living in the present moment, the better our lives will be. Thank you for sharing this story. I am going to bookmark this post and come back to look at it again in the future. God bless you and take good care. John

Boud said...

That's a perfectly lovely account of the moment when your life fell into before and after. Thank you for letting us in on it.

photowannabe said...

So beautifully written Marie.
Growing up or should I say maturing is poignant , painful but what life is all about.
I have had these same thought for myself. I'm 77 and Hubby 79.
Lots to think about and settle in my mind. No fear but sadness at times.
I'm so thankful for a close family and friends. They fill my heart to overflowing.
Sue

Bill said...

A powerful moment that teaches us what is really important in life. Beautifully written, Marie. Thanks for sharing!

Martha said...

This is so heartbreaking and beautifully written Marie. I'm sitting here with tears streaming down my face. Thank you for sharing this with us. Big hugs!

Red said...

Well written about a very important stage in life. You learned and I hope you also came to terms with these two losses.

The Furry Gnome said...

We've had a few moments like that recently.

Ruth Hiebert said...

This is a very well written article and so true. the sickness and death of a loved one changes us in so many ways.

Glenda Beall said...

Beautifully told moment in your life that will always be with you. I believe we have moments when we know we have grown up. Mine came when my mother lost her short term memory due to a ruptured aneurysm on her Carotid artery. Suddenly our roles reversed and life was never again the same. Facing that time is difficult, but it is part of living, and I am satisfied with my taking on the responsibility.

Joanne Noragon said...

It is hard, watching people leave us.

peppylady (Dora) said...

Lovely story, this is main reason I blog and read them. From every day people and what in there life regardless is past, present or future.
Coffee is on and stay safe

At Home In New Zealand said...

I can feel your deep emotions coming through your beautiful words as you describe this very meaningful life-changing event you experienced. Thankyou so much for sharing with us. Hugz, Mxx

Helen said...

Marie you write so eloquently.
A sad time recalled but your final words are uplifting - "a coming of age, guided by two loved ones whispering goodbye".

The Padre said...

Big Hugs

PerthDailyPhoto said...

Beautifully recounted Marie. Life certainly tests our strengths at times, it's not always easy to rise up, yet we somehow do. Enjoy your weekend 💜

Margaret said...

Beautifully written and evocative. My late husband looked nothing like himself by the end of his life--the steroids, the cancer treatments and the illness itself. What's more, he wasn't himself at all; he had lost the personality and interests that made him himself. That was the biggest tragedy of all.

Mage said...

Yes, it is so hard to see....to be there. Thanks for letting us share these moments with you.

Debbie said...

WoW Marie, such a sad time in your life, yet it is these moments that shape us, stay with us! Recounted with unbelievable eloquence, coming of age is not always easy it alway important. You are a really gifted writer!

Ginnie said...

Definitely a life moment you will never forget, Marie...and beautifully written. A tear and a smile.

Tanza Erlambang said...

# Yes, Biden son's got brain cancer called Glioblastoma cancer

## I read newspaper, northern part of America getting very cold.
- Hope, both of you are in excellent condition.

Goldendaze-Ginnie said...

How beautifully you describe the difficult act of growing up. I'm sure it comes to each of us in different ways. For years after he died I remembered my husband's decline. He was not a big man but always muscular and healthy looking despite the diabetes that ravaged him. He passed away at the young age of 59 and for years after all I could remember was how thin and fragile he was at that time. Finally I forced myself to go back and re-live it all and it brought him back to me ... helping me to grow up and learn that we alone can determine how we react to life,

eileeninmd said...

Hello, Marie
Beautiful writing and post. The story reminds me of my Dad at the end of his life. He did not recognize me or my siblings. It is sad to see out family members pass on. Take care, enjoy your weekend!

miruspeg said...

Hi Marie
I popped over from Debra's blog where you left a comment.
You write so eloquently.
All the best
Peggy

Retired Knitter said...

Yes, I have many maturing moments in taking care of my mom those last 8 years of her life ... and that maturity was gained in my 60s ... if you live long enough life changes you.

Susie of Arabia said...

Beautifully written. I enjoyed it. Thanks for sharing.

Liz Hinds said...

That is beautiful and wonderfully written. Yes, sometimes things happen and you look back and can point to them as the moment you grew up.

Susan Zarzycki said...

Thanks for sharing your vivid, heartbreaking memory. To a young you that was mind altering. Some memories don’t fade with age. I lost my first husband at age 58 to brain cancer. A piece of my joy was ripped from me and is still missing. Since then I have lost my father and my brother. As I get older I have to remind myself that death isn’t the end but the beginning of something better.❤️

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and heartfelt story that is so meaningful to you.
My mother in law in 96 and in relatively ok health mentally and physically. Yet, she can't live alone and needs assistance over the past 2 years. Watching her struggle, I can see aging is not for sissies. Life is tough for her and everyone involved in her care.

Królowa Karo said...

The departure of our loved ones is always a difficult challenge for us.

baili said...

tears falling from my eyes ,you made me reached there in that moment with you dear Marie

that moment sound familiar to me as daughter and a warmth waved through my bones and made it alive again

yes such moments stay with us forever ,they do us both ,tore us and compose us back as well because they built bridge between what we were and what we are today
thank you for beautiful sharing!