My mother battled cancer for nearly 11 years. 6 months ago we received news that no other treatment was available. I didn’t pretend she wasn’t someday going to die. I just didn’t dwell on it. I would have been a blubbering mess if I thought about the end every time I sat with her or watched her with my children. 2 1/2 weeks ago her doctor told us the news that there were only weeks left. Her liver was shutting down. This news surprised us all. My mother’s health had plateaued for the fall months and into January. I knew that the extreme exhaustion was difficult, but she continued to push on. She still came and sat at the table for large family gatherings. She sat on her couch and watched tv. We continued our talks with a cup of tea. But hearing the news that the end was near was a shock.
Hours after receiving this news, I went to see my mother. She was now in a hospital bed in the family room of my parents’ home. I cried on her shoulder, stroked her hair and told her that I loved her and would miss her. In the week that followed, I was at my mother’s side every day. Massaging her aching legs, stroking her hair, feeding her water. On one hand it was difficult to watch her deteriorate yet it was the most natural thing to be caring for her during her final days.
On February 19th in the early hours my mother’s breathing drastically changed. My father, my siblings and I gathered around her bed, holding her hand and watched her breathe her last breath at 3:21 am. It was an incredibly peaceful and difficult experience.
The next few days I operated on pure adrenaline. We planned my mother’s service, wrote her life story and a remembrance of her as our mother. I also felt this incredible need to search for photos and create picture boards to display at the visitation. As I spent an afternoon flipping through old family albums, I kept thinking about the importance of mothers (and fathers) being in pictures with their children. My father took most of the pictures when I was young so I didn’t have a difficult time finding pictures of my mother. There were plenty of posed family pictures from Christmas to choose from. But I was drawn to the few pictures that showed my mother caring for us. Reading us a book, giving us a hug, helping us carve a pumpkin at Halloween. These were pictures I needed to remember and display.
Back in September, I insisted on having a photo session with my parents. I wanted to have some beautiful pictures of my mother before the weather changed. I didn’t know if I would have this opportunity again. So, on a late September day, I met my parents on the grounds of Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo. My mother was tired that day but managed to walk over to a beautiful tree that had come as a seedling from the Russian Mennonite villages where my parents were born. It was there that I took the picture posted above. This was my mom’s favorite picture from our session.
I am so glad that we had this opportunity to capture my mom while she was still well enough to leave her home. I have captured many other images of her over the years that will be beautiful reminders of what she meant to me and our family. I remember there being times when she would tell me I had taken enough pictures. But I will never apologize for having too many pictures of my mother. Along with memories, this is all we have left.
I love you mom. I miss you so much.