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

The Hamilton Spectator - - FRONT PAGE - MONICA PLANT

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 plant­mon­ica@gmail.com.

GARY YOKOYAMA, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

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.

COURTESY THE PLANT FAM­ILY

Monica Plant’s mother, Polly, was the re­cip­i­ent of a lov­ing ur­ban barn-rais­ing, says her daugh­ter.

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