I want to share what December 15 means to me. December 15, 2014 my beloved father whom I affectionately referred to as “Daddy-o” died of cancer. However, December 15, 2015 has me feeling happier than I have in long time. I want to be clear that I loved (and still love) my father dearly and we had a wonderful relationship.
My father really thought he would live much longer than his 79 years. My mother had already died on December 31, 2008 of a massive stroke and if you knew her, that was definitely on her terms. She didn’t want a mini-stroke or any other chronic disease where constant care would have to be given. She didn’t want to get old and be a burden to anybody. My father and I were honored to be by her side as she left for her next journey. Back to Daddy-o, his own mother lived till an exciting age of 100 where she cherished her letter from the Queen congratulating her.
My dad was convinced he was going to get one of those letters forgetting that his own dad died in his 80s of lung cancer.
With quickness the same cancer took my dad through a rapid two month trip of chemo, radiation, and doctor’s appointments that ended with a peaceful stay at the West Island Palliative Care Residence. I took a leave of absence of work at a retail software company to take care of my dad in his home. He lived in a picturesque waterfront property on a river near the US border that provided him solace and peace after my mother died. Every day during this time I would check on him, make his meals, bring visitors, do banking and anything else he needed. Some days it was to sit, be present and listen.
We had 24 hours to transition my dad to the Residence once his room became available. This was a choice we made knowing that any more time might change Daddy-o’s mind and who knows, he might have run away! As we packed his bag and walked him to the car it was hard to imagine what he was thinking of. He was quiet during the 60-minute drive to the Residence and we left him to his thoughts as we processed our own.
We shared some wonderful gifts of time, presence and silence during my dad’s last days.
But most precious of all was his last morning and I couldn’t figure out which music to play on the iPad as his breathing changed. The choice became a 22-song Frank Sinatra playlist knowing how much he loved Frank. We sat listening, watching and wondering what his final song would be. Song 21 brought us “That’s Life” where the last lyric says “I’m gonna roll myself up in a big ball and die” and with that my father took his last breath. I could not believe what a beautiful moment that was and then Song 22 came on…..”My Way”. Yes, he certainly did it his way.
In the year that followed I raised $8235 doing the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer (a cycle from Repentigny to Quebec City), collected 4114 rolls of Cashmere toilet paper from friends and donated in gratitude to the West Island Palliative Care Residence and collected over 100 turkeys for On Rock Community Services to give out to needy families in the community. These acts of kindness remind me of the limited time we have and what we do with it.
Also in the year that followed I became mindful of signs and grew up in countless ways. Through it all I learned who my true friends were.
I did not go back to my job, took some time to reflect on my life and my purpose. I realized that there were many people like my father who wanted to stay home and be as autonomous as possible. This led me back to school and I am currently taking a Home Care certification with a goal of working with elderly and palliative care patients. I will be writing my final exam for the Palliative care portion of my program today – December 15.
December 15 is a day that changed my life in a positive and powerful way – oh what a difference a year makes!
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope many of you share in the gift of being with someone you love as they transition into the next part of their journey and the positive impact it may have, if you allow it.
Debbie Elvidge is a student at Pearson Adult Career Center in the Health Care Department. She is studying towards a Home Care Worker certification after 12 years with the Running Room where she worked as their area manager and taught numerous West Islanders the gift of running. Debbie is a mother to two daughters; Devon, 20 and Erin, 17. She was a stay-at-home mother during their early years and has continued to teach her girls strength, confidence and assurance to pursue their dreams. Debbie has also been married for the last six and a half years, proving that it’s never too late to find the love of your life. In her spare time she loves to fundraise, train for half-marathons and hang out with her friends over some good red wine.