My mom’s final month
A barn-raising is the only image to describe how our community came together in November 2016 to help Mom die peacefully, and at home
A structure lovingly and protectively surrounded my Mom. MONICA PLANT GRATEFUL DAUGHTER
The following is a modified excerpt from the story of my mom’s final month. Last November she was 91 years old, had Alzheimer’s disease and still lived in her home.
After two strokes, she was declared palliative. To navigate gaps in support — beyond what I as her daughter and caregiver and the Community Care Access Centre could provide — I reached out for help: to neighbours, parishioners, and friends. Below is part of the story of their response.
For the full story, see http://www.thespec.com/hamilton/.
Mom was dying, and I needed help. The CCAC could provide 90 hours a month of support (roughly two hours a day of support bathing Mom, changing her clothes, etc.), plus a daily visit from a palliative nurse; the rest of the time was to be filled by me and my out-of-town family.
As soon as I reached out, people responded. My family and I are not Amish or Old Order Mennonite, but to me — a lifelong urban dweller — a barn-raising is the only image to describe how our community came together in November 2016 to help Mom die peacefully, and at home.
One neighbour went door-todoor with paper and pen, creating a network of support.
This organizing was soon followed by what was to become a quasi-regular email — with updates on Mom’s health, an attached and updated care schedule, and a contact list of people from what would quickly become 25 participating households (from the street and my family’s parish).
People stopped each other on the street, sharing news. They said it felt good to do something positive, especially in light of what was happening then with the U.S. elections.
In short order, daily slots for respite were filled. Every afternoon (and some evenings), someone would come and sit with Mom. In the beginning, when Mom was still mobile and chatty, respite could involve reading stories with her, sitting with her by the bay window on the second floor and watching the street, as she often had done on the days when she was not at her day program, or simply talking.
Neighbours and friends took to these tasks in surprising ways; people I had been waving to on the street or at church suddenly became compelling storytellers, impromptu musicians, or compassionate and magical keepers of space.
In addition to respite, neighbours offered food. Bags of groceries, treats for me, and sweet-smelling potted herbs for Mom — all were welcomed. Most every night, someone brought dinner for me and my sometimes-visiting family.
Dinners came as delectable and substantial soups or dishes, a gift card to a local eatery, plates with enough meat and vegetables for two meals, and sometimes three-course meals — with soup, bread, butter, a main dish, and dessert. For one meal, members of a particular household became a mobile restaurant, bringing themselves, cutlery, dishes, wine, food, and flowers; we dined in our kitchen, their giving me the gift of company while the evening personal support worker stayed with Mom; they even insisted on taking the dirty dishes home.
But the kindness and generosity didn’t end there.
Some people dropped off or brought items with them when they came to provide respite: cards, clementines, blueberry muffins, macaroni and cheese, a consoling and inspiring book, and a “medley of apples.” (“Apples” tellingly was a former family nickname for Mom, whose birth name was Apollonia.)
Others at different turns helped pick Mom up after she fell or had a ministroke, provided unexpected visits and supplies, got myself and Mom organized — assessing what was needed for this end-of-life phase, and washed Mom’s bedding. One neighbour, a doctor, even provided an impromptu post-stroke medical consultation at home (because of Mom’s impaired movement) complete with multiple follow-ups.
During the fall last year, when the leaves stayed on the trees considerably longer than usual, neighbours and friends came by to rake the front yard leaves again, and again, and again. One did interior handiwork. Others made themselves available for spontaneous grocery and medication runs at different times of the day and evening — some not even accepting payment. A few friends offered me ongoing personal support, including time to hear me make sense of what had been happening.
This generosity extended well past days, into weeks — and not just for one week, or two, or even three. For four whole weeks, people showed up, continuing to be present in countless exquisite ways.
I’m not sure to what extent Mom was aware of an entire community supporting her. But I do know this effort meant that she spent the last month of her life in the company of many different people who loved her, who knew our family, and who had been part of the social geography of the street and the church over the 38 years that we had been a part of them. Mom was truly well and lovingly supported — by us as well as a group of superb professionals.
Mom died on November 30 — in the arms of my twin brother and me, and in her own bed in her own home — as she wanted and as had happened to our dad a year and a half earlier.
Not surprisingly, the community generosity didn’t end there. Neighbours continued bringing laundry baskets of food, toilet paper, hot meals for my family in between visitations, offers out to lunch, and even a cash gift for me. Former and current neighbours also showed up for the after-funeral party in our family home.
I haven’t personally witnessed a barn-raising, but I can tell you what this experience felt like through November 2016: like many, many hands at different times carefully building something so unspeakably perfect and beautiful — a structure that lovingly and protectively surrounded my Mom, my family, and me during a time of incredible vulnerability and grace.
To receive and to witness this barn-raising was a gift beyond words.
You don’t have to travel to Mennonite country for towering examples of community building; they gleam within our very midst.
Monica Plant is a writer, sculptor, and post-caregiver who lives in Hamilton. She is currently writing a book of her caregiving experience, and creating a project to develop supports for post-caregivers in Hamilton. Anyone interested in collaborating on or supporting either of these ventures, can contact her at email@example.com.
Monica Plant sits front and centre with her neighbourhood support family. The community around Undermount Avenue supported her to help care for her mother allowing her to die at home.
Monica Plant’s mother, Polly, was the recipient of a loving urban barn-raising, says her daughter.