My uncle died in February after a long, often tragic-to-watch battle with dementia. Truth is, when you lose your mind, you usually lose a whole lot more – identity for sure. Dignity too.
The reality is this; the person we show the world is defined by who we have created ourselves to be. For years my mother has been saying; “If I ever lose my mind, make sure you girls put my lipstick on right. Don’t let me have it all over my teeth! And for goodness sakes, do my nails every now and then, will ye?”
More than lipstick
Of course, my mother is so much more than perfectly applied lipstick from 8:00 a.m. onward and a to-die-for manicure, but it is part of the skin she feels most comfortable in. Once, while she was the moose license holder that year and she was off hunting with my father, uncle and a cousin she came out of the camper at 6:00 a.m. ready to hit the woods.
My cousin stopped short when he saw her – full makeup, hands fanning the air to dry a freshly applied coat of polish. “Gonna kiss the moose to death, are ya?” he asked her with a smile.
We all have our thing. Not to get too personal on my own “must do for mommy when” list that I’ve given my own children, but it involves tweezers and, like my very own mother, a good semi-regular manicure.
For my uncle, he just wanted someone to talk with, just like back in the good ol’ days on the wharf. From weather and water conditions to the daily catch, a friendly ear was all he needed. While there was no sea to see from his bedroom in a nursing home in St. John’s and there certainly was no daily catch to brag about, staff and visitors met him wherever he happened to be in his mind that day and he was happy.
But even though we had lost him years ago, saying goodbye was still sad. At 83 the end has a period, and with comfort care only rules, family, friends and even loving, caring nursing home staff sat and waited for that last breath.
It wasn’t quick. And it was painful to watch, one of those circumstances where death becomes a blessing. It took my uncle five very long days to die.
At the same time this was happening my deceased brother’s almost-mother-in-law – loving grandma to he and his partner’s darling baby boy – Eunice Hatcher-Collins, came into the city to start her cancer treatment.
At 60 years old, Eunice was an otherwise healthy, vibrant and active woman. A teacher, a mother, a grandmother, a wife, a sister and a very, very good friend to so many, Eunice had no ‘sick with cancer’ symptoms besides having a bad back. I had spent time with her weeks before her diagnosis, laughing and carrying on about everything from swapping clothes to her planned retirement.
Love & memories
Neither was to be. From the time she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer to the day she died – in the loving embrace of her three children and others who adored her dearly – 25 very short days had passed. Eunice came into the city from her Gander home thinking she would be in for a few days of radiation then back to her normal life. She never returned home.
Funny how, when facing such a reality, your home and everything you’ve accumulated in it becomes so quickly dispensable. What does become important? Just those you love and the memories you hold dear.
Both these deaths linger with me for different reasons. My uncle’s five days seemed so very tragically long after living for years lost in the past, while Eunice’s 25 days were so very utterly horrifically and cruelly short given that one day prior she had been planning her future.
But, as someone who believes and trusts in a higher power, these things are not for me to question or challenge.
While I’m far from total acceptance of either death, what I have come to terms with is that I’m mourning both losses and that’s OK. In time, comfort will come as happy memories of both my uncle and Eunice replace the tragedy of the tale of two very different, though both heart-saddening, ends.
Pam Pardy Ghent, The Herald’s Managing Editor, can be reached by emailing [email protected]