Canada

My Mom's Celebration of Life by Leslie Fandrich

MomCelebration.jpg

Yesterday, our family and friends gathered to celebrate and remember my Mom's life. Yes, it was a funeral, but it was so much more than that. This wasn't a sombre religious affair. Sure, there were tears, but the focus was on my Mom. Who she was, what she brought to all of our lives, and what her life meant to all of us. It was a wonderful day.

MemorialService-4.jpg
MemorialService-3.jpg
 Inside three panel spread of the Service Card.

Inside three panel spread of the Service Card.

 Inside fold, back and front of the Service Card.

Inside fold, back and front of the Service Card.

 Our first family picture without my Mom. The new normal. In most of the pictures we took of our family, you could see circles of light, usually over my sister and her husband. Call them dust particles if you want, but I'm going to believe that my Mom was close by.

Our first family picture without my Mom. The new normal. In most of the pictures we took of our family, you could see circles of light, usually over my sister and her husband. Call them dust particles if you want, but I'm going to believe that my Mom was close by.

I made the memorial video, with the help of my sister and aunt and uncle. We searched though dozens of old family photo albums and picked from hundreds of digital images. When I asked my Mom what her favorite song was, she said "It's My Life" by Bon Jovi, so I put it in. The lyrics were perfect. We were lucky enough to be able to show her the video before she died. She cried the whole way through, in a good way, and commented that she thought she blossomed when she became a mother. My Dad said it gave him some perspective. I love all the pictures from the Eighties.

MemorialService-2.jpg
MemorialService-1.jpg

My husband also wrote a song after he visited with my Mom last month. He got home, without me, and it just came pouring out of his heart all at once. It's called Paper Airplane.

If you are just tuning in, here are all the earlier posts about what's been going on:

Finally, if you wished you could have been there, I have a video of the complete service. It's a full hour (I cut out the 15 minutes of the Memorial Video up above), but if you have the time and interest, you may like to listen to my Eulogy and the tributes from family and friends. Everyone who spoke brought something different to the picture of who my Mom was and I really appreciated hearing about my Mom from another perspective.

It was a great day. After the service, we all gathered at the reception center for a few hours and then a large group of family and friends went over to my sister's place. It was so nice, huddling with my family, sharing stories and being close with so many who loved my Mom. It was comforting, fun, and special. Returning home will be hard, but it will bring about a new phase of this process for me. Alone with my thoughts, I expect to be reliving these last two months and feeling it more deeply than ever. Now, the grieving really begins.

In Memoriam // Bonny Fandrich // 1950 - 2013 by Leslie Fandrich

BonnyFandrich_Blog.jpg

Mrs. Bonny Fandrich (nee Bouchard), beloved wife of Bryan Fandrich, passed away peacefully at the Carmel Hospice in Medicine Hat on Thursday, April 11, 2013, at the age of 62 years from a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor.

Bonny leaves to cherish her memory; two daughters, Leslie Fandrich (Chris Janata) of Warwick, New York and Jill (Mark) Braithwaite of Calgary, Alberta; one step daughter, Tracy (Allen) Woloshyniuk of Coalhurst, Alberta; and four grandchildren, Milo and Quinn Janata and William and Nicole Woloshyniuk. Bonny is also survived by three dear sisters, Shirley, Alita and Vicki, three sisters-in-law, six brothers-in-law and 31 nieces and nephews. She was predeceased by her parents Roland and Mary Bouchard of Red Deer, and her parents-in-law Edward and Iris Fandrich of Medicine Hat.

Bonny was born June 10, 1950 in Red Deer, Alberta. She moved to Medicine Hat with her family when she was 16, excelled at Track and Field in school and loved playing the accordion. Her love affair with Bryan began in 1968. After she built a house with him, they got married in 1972 and their two daughters were born soon after. In 1981, when “the girls” were six and four they moved up to a grand old house on “the Hill” with a view of the cliffs, where they raised their family and lived until just last year. Bonny worked hard in every aspect of her life. Her home and garden were her pride and joy, there was a home cooked meal on the table almost every night and she assisted Bryan in the refrigeration business as well as helping maintain and manage several rental properties. She was devoted to her family and her relationship with her two daughters was always very close. She loved riding horses as a young girl, aerobics and bike riding were her passions in the 80’s and 90’s and she always took pride in looking her best. She was still wearing sexy heels at age 60. The family grew up camping in “the van” and travelling all over Southern Alberta and into the United States. Memorable trips included Yellowstone, the Lewis & Clark Caverns and into British Columbia. Bonny laughed easily, loved deeply and enjoyed her life immensely. In her later life she loved travelling to New York to visit her daughter’s family and with Bryan she completed a life long dream when they travelled to Hawaii in 2010 to attend a dear friend’s wedding. That trip happened right before she was diagnosed with cancer and it would sadly be her last. She bravely faced her cancer diagnosis and fought as hard as she could, living with the challenges it brought her with strength and determination.

Bonny’s family would like to thank all the doctors, nurses and staff at Tom Baker Cancer Center in Calgary and the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital and give a special heartfelt thanks to everyone at the Carmel Hospice in Medicine Hat for the tireless and devoted care they provided to all of us during this most vulnerable time. Cremation has taken place and a Memorial Celebration of Bonny’s life will be held in Calgary at McInnis & Holloway Funeral Homes, Fish Creek Chapel 14441 Bannister Road Southeast, Calgary, Alberta on Saturday, April 20, 2013 at 2:00pm with a reception to follow. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in Bonny’s name can be made directly to the Carmel Hospice, St. Joseph’s Home, 156 - 3rd Street NE, Medicine Hat, Alberta, T1A 5M1.

She's Gone by Leslie Fandrich

Bonny.jpg

The words are hard to find right now. For all the writing I've done about my Mom's journey, right now in this moment knowing she is really gone leaves me speechless. I can't believe it even though I know it's true.

I'll write more about the last week that I spent with her in a few days, but for now all I can say is that when I saw her tonight she was finally calm and at peace and that made me feel better. She was still and perfect and her pain was gone. 

I'm still so sad though. I cried more in an hour and a half tonight than I have all week with her, finally able to let go of the tears and deeply feel this immense loss. And now? Shock. Disbelief. Exhaustion. The process gets dialed back to zero and I start grieving all over again in a new way.

This sucks. But it is life. It is love. And it's all we've really got. I'm so grateful for every moment I had with her. It wasn't enough, but it never is when you really love someone. Cherish every moment.

Big hugs to everyone who has been touched by my Mom's strength, bright light and love. I cannot tell you all how much your love and support has meant to me at this time. This note that she wrote is addressed to me and my sister, but it's for you too. So simple, so sweet and so wise. "Be Happy. Be Loved. Try Something Magical."

8637136886_140f6bbc86_c_edit.jpg

I'm going to miss her so much.

Bonny Fandrich: June 10, 1950 - April 11, 2013

Arrival and Departure by Leslie Fandrich

Spring-6037.jpg

The weather was gorgeous today in New York. I didn't wear a jacket, the air smelled like grass and dirt and the sunshine was warm on my skin. When my Mom first entered Hospice it was still cold outside and she told my sister she wanted to see spring blossom one last time. I took these pictures last year and they are for her.

I'm heading back to Canada tomorrow. My Mom has been holding steady for the last 3 weeks, but they increased her pain medication last weekend (she's now getting up to 20mls of Dilaudid an hour) and the confusion, anxiety and hallucinations also increased so they have been giving her an anti-anxiety medication called Versed. It's a sedative that allows her to relax, sleep and feel less stressed out about what's going on. In the last three days, if she wakes up and the Versed has worn off, she is very upset and doesn't know what to do with herself. Unfortunately, she is getting to the point where she needs to be fully sedated and with that will come a catheter, a cessation of eating and reduced mobility. I don't think it will be long after that.

Spring-6250.jpg

I'm not going back to take care of her, the team of nurses that she has at the Hospice facility are doing a great job of that, but my presence may bring her some comfort. I am mostly going for myself and for my sister and Dad. They need my support and I need to bear witness to this. I can't stay away. As hard as it will be to see her like this, I know I need to be there. To share in the grief, to be part of the process, to see her out in the same way that she saw me in. With love.

I'm trying to be really zen about this you guys, and it works sometimes, but I've also had this nagging headache for two days and the feeling of dread about what's to come. In a perfect world everything would be serene and peaceful and beautiful, but that's not reality. At least not all the time. I hope there will be beautiful moments, but this is also the hardest, most stressful time in my life and this is a difficult process. She's angry, she's emotional, she doesn't understand what she needs to do. How does a person die?

Spring-6035.jpg

I try to remind myself that death is like birth. It's a transition. It's a changing of states. It's traumatic and you have to labor at it. The body does strange things. You need to accept the process and ride the waves. Eventually, at the end of all the work, there is a release and things change forever. Her and I have been through this together before, and we can go through it together again. I can do this for her. I am ready.

It's a strange duality, spring blossoming and my Mom dying. But I am grateful for the warm sun and the new flowers to bring a little beauty to the world while this is happening. It's the way she wanted it.

One Thousand Goodbyes by Leslie Fandrich

Mom_Hospice-8715.jpg

Three weeks ago I wrote about visiting the oncologist with my Mom and learning that she only had a few months left to live. It was an emotional trip and for the first time since she was diagnosed we were faced with the fact that she was really and truly going to be leaving us soon. When I got home, I planned a trip to visit with my husband and the kids during spring break at the end of March, but things took a turn for the worse and my Mom ended up in the palliative unit of the hospital on March 2nd. We got word from the doctors that we should come visit right away. What a day that was. After we rearranged our travel plans I therapeutically sorted my kid's entire box of Lego into separate color bins just to cope. Gray. Black. Blue. Red. You know which box was the fullest? Gray. And there were barely any purple legos. That needs to change.

The last week and a half has been so hard and amazing at the same time. Last week all kinds of family and friends were dropping in to see my Mom. I’m pretty sure almost everyone who loves her was here and there have been so many wonderful visits with lots of hugs and laughter. We’ve got an amazing family and they all care about my Mom so much. It’s especially sweet to see her with my kids. I really wanted her to have some good quality time with them and even though they are a bundle of energy and flitting about, I think she had some good moments with them.

Mom_Hospice-8683.jpg
Mom_Hospice-8857.jpg
Mom_Hospice-8874.jpg
Mom_Hospice-8852.jpg

Last Saturday she was moved from Palliative Care at the hospital to the Hospice facility and I can’t tell you enough how amazing it is here. It’s newly renovated with an amazing staff of nurses who are taking such good care of her. Her pain is a growing beast and they have been doing what they can to stay on top of it. Her fentanyl has been increased to 100 mgs and she was taken off the Oxycodone pills and is now getting a 4 mg shot of Dilaudid every few hours. On Monday she will be put on a pain medication pump that automatically delivers a shot every few hours and she can press a button to get an extra shot when she needs it. They will monitor the usage and increase it as necessary.

Dilaudid is amazing. She is feeling way more relaxed and today has been her best day yet. Tuesday night, the phone rang at my Dad’s house at 12:30 am, just two hours after I had gone to bed and I woke up in a panic, my heart pounding and ran down to where my Dad was on the phone. She was calling to tell us she had just gotten another shot of Dilaudid and she was feeling pretty good. Oh my goodness! It was a midnight call to tell us she was feeling fine. I guess I'd rather get that over the alternative, but I really hope it doesn't happen again. My system can’t handle the shock of waking up to the phone ringing in the middle of the night too many times.

Mom_Hospice-8797.jpg
Mom_Hospice-8680.jpg
Mom_Hospice-8795.jpg

Chris and the kids went home on Monday and I stayed behind to take care of things and make sure my Mom is comfortable. I miss my family, but they understand that this is where I need to be right now. I told Milo, my oldest son, that I needed to stay here with Grandma, he said, "Mom, if you were sick like that, I'd stay too." He is such a great kid, to understand so well what I am going through. My husband is nothing less than a super star for carrying the weight of our family while I do this.

Before her pain medication was changed, the greatest challenge for me was dealing with any disorientation and confusion that she had. It's disconcerting to see her searching for something that isn't there, or arranging and rearranging her bed sheets over and over again. She has experienced some paranoia and hallucinations and dealing with her irrational thoughts has been difficult, but it hasn't seemed to last for very long and I think the new pain medication is totally helping with that. Today she’s been busy, chatty and very happy, asking for her jewelry and dropping in to visit my Dad at home after an appointment at the hospital. I am so grateful for her pain being under control and for the lucidity that she is having today.

Taking care of myself has been important too. I got my bangs trimmed yesterday and I found a wonderful cafe just down the street with the best panini sandwiches. Perhaps it tasted better in contrast to the reality I am facing, but whatever the reason, I really enjoyed that quiet hour alone. I also saw a friend yesterday and kissed her beautiful kids and I am making sure I am getting enough sleep and down time.

Mom_Hospice_01.jpg

The very hardest part of all of this is, of course, the goodbyes. Each person who has visited has done it just a little differently and the best way they know how. For some, my Mom has been comforting and reassuring. For others, like my husband, he couldn't say goodbye and instead said, "Arrivederci” which is Italian for "Until we meet again." It's almost unbearable to think that you will not see or speak to someone again, and so sometimes, you just don't. My kids said goodbye just the same way they did every other day and I didn’t emphasize to them that it was the last one. I know the significance though, and my heart breaks at the thought that they won't get to spend time with her again. I was happy that just before we left, the kids sat quietly in chairs next to her bed and talked with her more calmly than they had all week. Maybe they did know, in their own way, after all. In the car, after we left, Chris said, “So, is that it?” and for him, it was. 

As for me, I've been saying goodbye to her twice every day for ten days now, so there have been at least twenty goodbyes from me. Thirty by the time I am supposed to return home. As the days go on I am aware that each goodbye may be the last but I'm just trying to stay in the moment and enjoy this time with her. I am asking her questions about her life, making sure I know what her favorite things are and indulging her requests to brush and braid my hair. I am so happy to listen to her memories and stories and to hear about her life. Things have come up that I have never heard before, like her Granny Boksan’s cow named Bossy. There is also emotional work to do when you are faced with this kind of time and I am so grateful to be a part of her journey. She has been focusing on forgiveness and letting go of emotions that weigh her down. I know her so much better because of these special conversations.

No one can tell us what the next few weeks hold. I know that she is getting the care she needs in Hospice and that she is feeling as good as she can under the circumstances. If she has more days like today, she may still be with us for a while. She seems to have a lot of fight left in her yet and the comfort that the pain medication is finally giving her is so welcome. Whatever is in store for us, we are enjoying these days together, and that is what counts.