Monday, October 13, 2014

Giving thanks through it all

Thanksgiving feels different this year.

Since I last posted in this blog, life has changed forever for our family.  My mom, Meredith MacEachern, died on September 28 after being sick for about two months.  


When we arrived in PEI in early August for our usual summer visit, Mom was not well.  She described it as a kind of physical and mental collapse all at the same time:  she was lethargic, sleepy, emotionally blah, and lacking in appetite; she had gastrointestinal issues and a gross phlegmy taste in her mouth that actually bothered her more than almost all the other things she was feeling.

At first we hoped it might just be a minor problem:  a virus or infection, maybe, or stress over apartment-hunting and the prospect of her and Dad moving off the farm -- something that time or antibiotics or a change in circumstances would alleviate.  But day after day she got worse until she was sleeping 20 hours a day and eating almost nothing.  Because Mom's own doctor was on vacation, we took her to the Emergency department twice; the second time, August 16, she was admitted to hospital where she would spend the next four weeks.  Soon after her admission, blood work revealed that she had high calcium levels in her blood, which had been the likely cause of all her symptoms and which the doctor told us could very well be an indicator of cancer -- and a CAT scan soon revealed that Mom had stage 4 liver cancer, inoperable and incurable.

 During the last couple of weeks of Mom's hospitalization, she rallied somewhat, as treatment with fluids and meds brought the calcium down and revived her appetite.  In early September she was strong enough to get around with a walker and was able to move home to her and Dad's new apartment and have some brief quality time there.  But her condition quickly started regressing, and the night of Sept. 28 -- about 18 hours after I'd said goodbye to her before flying home -- she died while asleep in bed with Dad.

There are many more details I could include, and probably will in future posts, as I reflect more on all that has happened.  The paragraphs above certainly don't do justice to all we saw and heard and did and felt since August.  But today I will just share a few things for which I'm grateful:

- Mom never experienced any physical pain or, it seemed, much mental suffering either.  She was peaceful through everything.  She went "gentle into that good night"; not everyone does.
- There was enough time for her and Dad to discuss the future, prepare themselves as much as possible for what was coming, even settle funeral details.
- The doctors, nurses, and other medical staff we met through the hospital and Home Care and Palliative Care programs were uniformly helpful, kind, supportive, and professional.
- Church friends, family, and neighbours (even people in Dad and Mom's apartment building who had only known them for a week or two) showered us with care, concern, and practical help.
- My brothers (I have 4) and I all had our own periods of quality time with Mom and Dad and were able to be present at important parts of the journey:  I was there for the early crisis time when Mom was hospitalized and then for her final week of life; in a six-week period one brother made four trips from Maine to PEI to provide support at key times; another orchestrated the move from the farm to the apartment; another was there for Mom's discharge from hospital and early days at home; etc.
- From my dad, brothers, and other people I witnessed love in action: love that costs and requires sacrifice, not just nice-sounding words.

Especially in these early days, it's comforting to draw on memories that are suffused with gratitude and grace, rather than riddled with regrets.  There will undoubtedly be other stages to come -- but for now I feel thankful for how we were given strength and spirit to get through this time.


Mom photo:  Richard Prinsen 2012
tree photo:  freeimages.co.uk

22 comments:

  1. Dear Jeannie, I'm so sorry for your loss. I've been praying for you and will continue to do so in the coming months as you process things.

    I feel as though in this post you have humbly revealed the depth and breadth of your faith -- "Giving thanks through it all." Just yesterday I was listening to One Thousand Gifts and Ann Voskamp read a quote by St. John of Avila which struck me. I wrote itdown. (Maybe you're familiar with it; I wasn't.)

    One act of thanksgiving, when things go wrong with us, is worth a thousand thanks when things are agreeable to our inclinations.
    — Saint John of Avila

    And here you are, Jeannie, giving thanks for a whole list of things when your heart is still raw with pain! You are such a blessing, friend.

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    1. Thanks, Adriana. I've never heard that quote before. It's so true that it's easy to give thanks when things are "agreeable to our inclinations" -- yet on the other hand sometimes we don't give thanks because we take everything for granted. I guess the past couple of months have taught me that nothing can be taken for granted -- we need to enjoy the things and people in our lives that God's given us.

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  2. There is a special grace that God gives us when we lose a loved one that is so very close, a special strength that carries us through those initial few weeks and months where (even then) we know that life will never again be the same.

    One of the things that helped me after we lost our daughter (nearly a year ago now) was this poem by Annie Johnston Flint - a message that Grace is not just for salvation but for every moment:

    He Giveth More Grace

    He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,
    He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;
    To added affliction He addeth His mercy;
    To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

    When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
    When our strength has failed 'ere the day is half done,
    When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
    Our Father's full giving is only begun.

    Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
    Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
    Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
    The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

    His love has no limit; His grace has no measure.
    His pow'r has no boundary known unto men;
    For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
    He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again!

    2 Corinthians 12:9 And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    Blessings, my friend.

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    1. Thanks so much, Judy -- I really appreciate your comments, and the poem is SO TRUE. May God keep bringing comfort, strength, and joy to you and your family.

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  3. Jeannie you are right , things will never be the same! A Mother's love tho is forever and although gone from our sight she lives on through you all and how very proud she would have been of you all! As day to day life continues Remember family is forever !💕

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    1. Thanks, Barb. You are so right. I appreciate my family and extended family more and more all the time. Love you lots!!!

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  4. Dear Jeannie, my heart goes out to you as you travel through the joys and the griefs of all your remembering. Your Thanksgiving theme reminds me of a hymn that I first heard when my stepmom was in palliative care. Her brother had made a tape for her to listen to, with him singing a cappella, and this hymn, sung so simply, struck me as one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard: "My Life Flows On (How Can I Keep from Singing?" (http://www.hymnsite.com/fws/hymn.cgi?2212). We sang the hymn at my own mother's funeral two years ago. The line that most struck me is this one, "Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth, how can I keep from singing?" Love, Franceen

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    1. Franceen, we have that song on a CD by the St. Olaf Choir and I absolutely love it. Thanks for reminding me of it.

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  5. Jeannie, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. This post brought tears to my eyes. My parents are both still living, so I don't know this particular type of loss firsthand. But I am thankful that you and your brothers had time with your mom before she died. Time with a loved one is such a precious gift. Your family is in my prayers.

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    1. Thank you, Laura -- I really appreciate your coming by and commenting today. Happy (Canadian) Thanksgiving!

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  6. Jeannie, going through a holiday for the first time without your mother's company must be especially difficult. My prayers continue to be with you and your family. And I pray that God continues to bless you with people who come alongside you all too.

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    1. Thanks, Tim -- I appreciate those words and your prayers.

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  7. Jeannie, I'm so sorry for your loss.
    What a gift indeed that you have so many memories you can think of with thankfulness, not regret. God bless you and your family in this time of grief.

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    1. Thanks, Tuija -- it's nice to hear from you. I hope things are well in your part of the world today!

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  8. Jeannie:
    What a beautiful post and what an incredible gift of time that you were given to spend those last days and moments with you mom together with family. You have been in my thoughts and prayers as you journey this new path. I can imagine that all those different milestones in the next year or so will be bittersweet. Missing her terribly but also remembering the good times. I have this poem from my daughter that I know will stand true for you as you remember your mom! (t was on a plaque she gave me so not sure who penned it.)

    Mom:
    I've learned so many thing from you - what to say and what to do,
    but most of all you taught me who loves me even more than you.
    You taught me how to live and pray, that Jesus really was the way,
    and through the years I watched as He took very special care of me.
    So thank you, Mom, for now I see how faith in God has strengthened me.
    I know how much He loves me, too, because, dear Mom, He gave me you.

    I know you will cherish those times you had together and may God give you the strength as you continue forward to be all the things your mom taught you to be in her example, for your own kids.

    Blessings on you and may you feel His nearness today!

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    1. That's a lovely poem, Sharon! And thanks so much for your kind words.

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  9. God gives us the strength to carry on through life's challenges and pains. You, Jeannie, have the strength of character that God builds through a life of joys, sorrows, challenges and rewards. Your mother and father placed in you wisdom, kindness and faith, which is already a beacon to many. And in this time, you will know the same peace that your mother had in her final challenge.
    And now, as the remaining adult woman in your immediate family, you may find feel unexpected burdens. These will come only to enrich your appreciation for your mother: her character and her leadership.
    May God continue to bless you and your family, may there be particular support locally for your father, and may all of us be richer for knowing the path you journey is simply an example the LORD wants others to see of a life of steadfast faith and love. God bless you.

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    1. Dear Sarah - thanks SO much for the blessing of this comment. I miss you! :-( I hope you and A and J are doing well and adjusting to your new surroundings.

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  10. Beautifully said, Jeannie. I miss her so much too. Moving on without her here is hard to think about yet but it causes me to recognize all the more how blessed we were to know her and be blessed by her friendship. Your thankfulness is a positive thing indeed. I found that when my Dad died, holding on the the gift of thankfulness helped during stages of grief. The various stages came and went but perhaps the more reactive ones were lessened in intensity because of being "kept" in this balm of gratitude. Some stages were even delayed quite a bit until I was able to process them individually instead of all at once but it seemed in each step a direction toward thankfulness eased the way. We do have so much for which to be thankful for her life. I shall greatly miss her influence here but no doubt the effect of her influence will continue in our lives. Please be sure to call just to chat if that is helpful.

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    1. Hi Nancy - it looks like your comment worked this time. And thanks so much for it. I wonder if sometimes people think that thankfulness is just a coping mechanism to soften the blow -- and yet I can't help feeling this tremendous gratitude for how everything unfolded and how strengthened and held-up we felt. Ann Voskamp's book One Thousand Gifts, which I love, reminded us that Jesus' own attitude was always one of thankfulness and that it's such an important key to living a peaceful life.

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  11. What a blessing that your mom went "gentle into the good night." But what a difficult loss. May God surround you with special love and grace this Fall. I hope you're able to take care of yourself and be kind to yourself as you recover. I know you're a busy mother too. Thanks for writing about your mom here.

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    1. Thanks, Betsy - I really appreciate your kind words.

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