We lost a friend to cancer this week. She was my mother’s age. I visited her a few hours before she died, and it was clear that she had only hours left. Those telltale signs: shallow, labored breathing; a hollowness about her cheeks; intermittent consciousness. She’d stopped eating and drinking.
Edna was a large, vivacious woman who lived life independently and on her own terms. She wasn’t very social, and could be amazingly brusque and prickly at times, yet warm and engaging at others. When she was diagnosed recently with lung cancer that metastasized, a whole host of amazing individuals stepped up to visit and care for her.
As my brother-in-law wrote, Edna “had little patience for…well, just about anything. She smoked too much, weighed too much, worked too much.” She had her cats, and an amazing garden with a small pond filled with koi. The first time I entered her home, I felt its tranquility.
I never thought of Edna as old. Certainly not in her taste of music nor in her use of colloquial language. The English word was her bread-and-butter—she worked as a scientific editor and had many satisfied clients.
Edna recently celebrated her 78th birthday. It was just after being released from hospital and her first rounds of chemo and before her second hospitalization. She was adamant about celebrating, as if she knew it would be her last one. Bring cake, she told her small band of friends.
And that is the image I will keep in my mind: Edna reigning supreme at her party, the constant cigarette between her fingers, her humor, her hearty laugh. She died peacefully in her own home, her bed stationed by the windows facing the garden.
I feel like God gave me the chance to practice my compassion, to step up and care for someone who had unfamiliar limitations and needed support. I am of course much closer to my own mother, but I see a similarity here. Alzheimer’s is constantly throwing barriers in my way to loving Mom purely and without ego.
This past visit was no exception, with Mom at first rejecting my presence. When she realized I was paying her attention, she invited me to sit down next to her. We “read” a magazine she had been given. It was a fashion magazine, and it caught her interest for a while. I decided to get her up and moving so we went for a short walk, then sat in a quieter, more isolated area of the main room. My idea was to engage her in song. Mom’s focus was on anything but me. She was much more interested in calling out to individuals who passed us by (most who could not respond) than in singing with me. I finally gave up and sat her back down with her magazine and activated her headphones. I left her heartily singing along to Fred Astaire.
Edna’s passing is also a lesson in understanding my own limitations. I am not always emotionally available for others outside my own immediate family. Caring for my mom takes an emotional toll on me that I am not necessarily conscious of. I must learn to preserve my own energy yet also respond positively when the opportunity to help others presents itself. It is a balance of over and under responding to the needs of those around me.
May Edna’s memory be for a blessing. And may we all succeed in tapping the wells within us of caring and compassion.
First I stuffed my face with chocolate. It’s my go-to stress reliever. Then I decided I should probably make something healthy for dinner. Cooking is a great way to distract myself from other things. I’ve been pleased with my local grocery store’s selection of new and “exotic” foods, most specifically in their squash section. I can now readily find green zucchini and even acorn squash. Today, I decided to make spaghetti squash. Easy and nutritious.
Spaghetti Squash with Vegan Tomato Sauce
There's nothing like preparing a new dish to keep your mind from wandering. Cooking demands attention!
1 large spaghetti squash
1 Tbsp and 1 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 cups spinach leaves, chopped
1½ cups chopped tomatoes
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 cup vegan ground meat substitute
1 tsp basil, garlic powder, oregano, and parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut squash in half and scoop out seeds with spoon. Rub cut side of squash with olive oil, then place cut side down on a tray with baking paper and cook at 350° F / 180° C for 40 to 50 minutes until outer skin can be pricked easily with a knife. Set aside to cool. In a large frying pan, sauté onions in olive oil, then add mushrooms and spinach. Cook on medium heat for about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, paste and spices. Stir well then let simmer on low heat for another 10 minutes or until tomatoes cook fully. Add vegan ground meat substitute and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, adding a little water if needed. Using a fork, scrape the insides of the squash to remove “spaghetti” strands. Serve spaghetti on bed of sauce and top with parmesan.