I arrived in England for a four week stay, late on a cold January evening in 2004. After a 25 hour long journey, due to closed airports in England, when I finally got to Mum's empty house in Alvechurch, I slept deeply and woke up the next morning feeling well rested and refreshed.
Rob had to go to work, and I spent the day quietly, waiting impatiently for him to come home so that we could go to the hospital together. It felt like I had waited so long through the months since October and her stroke, and I just couldn't wait any longer to see her.
Night falls early in the winter in England and we arrived at the Alexandra Hospital in Redditch in the dark.
A sense of deja vu flowed over me. A year ago to the month, I had made many visits to this very hospital as Dad lay dying of pneumonia. The beeping of life support machinery; the very hallways I had walked at that time; and the smell of the place, all were part of my memories of "then."
I had already asked Rob if Mum would be wondering where I was. She knew that I was coming and I imagined her impatience to see me, and that she must be thinking, "Where is Belinda?" I thought of previous times of meeting over the years. How we had anticipated the moment at the airport, or the opening of the front door--that first glimpse of the beloved face. It felt so different this time.
Rob said that she didn't have the same awareness of time as she had before. But I walked on speedy winged feet once at the hospital. At last I was here. At last I was going to see her!
When we arrived at Mum's room, it was quiet. We approached her bed and found her lying on her back with her eyes closed, apparently asleep.
I didn't want to wake her, so I said to to Rob that I would just read the "patients notes" while we waited. But at the sound of my voice, Mum's eyes opened, and as we looked into each other's eyes, a new chapter in our relationship began; different, with new things to learn; but as precious to both of us as it ever was.
Rob and I spent an hour with Mum that first evening. Oh, it was hard to leave. I saw such deep sadness in Mum's eyes.
She said with utter resignation, "I just have to accept it," and those words cut deep into my heart because Mum was not one to accept anything unacceptable. I knew what place those words came from and the grief she felt for loss of independence; lost ability to express her thoughts, to speak easily and fluently; and her enjoyment of reading , watching TV or eating.
I showed her some photos I had brought. She enjoyed looking at them, and listening as I read the messages on the card my writers group had sent. She always went with me to our meetings when she was in Canada, and, like every one else, they all loved her.
But that was enough for Mum, I could tell that we had exhausted her mental energy. Another envelope with photos in it she said she would look at tomorrow.
Mum wanted so much to come home. She didn't like being in the hospital. There was hope that she could possibly come home the following week.
I tried to encourage her not to give up--that she could still walk and talk quite well, and she acknowledged that; but Mum seemed for the first time, to have lost her joy in life--her hope. I hoped that I could help bring that back.
I found myself wondering, not for the first time, whether it was the plane journey home that had caused the blood clot in her leg that likely led to the stroke. I would never know. The doctor who treated her said that he doubted it, because it happened a week after coming home, but I wasn't sure.
I saw all that Mum had lost and wondered if it would have happened anyway. If it wouldn't have, and she knew the price she would have had to pay for coming to Canada, would she say that it was worth it?
I looked at the photos of her four weeks with us, the many, many, happy moments we all had together; her grandchildren and great grandchildren, all so happy to to have Omie there. I remembered her joy in giving the children the four plush dogs she brought with her, and her excitement at the bargain they were in the village chemist's shop. I thought of the games of Scrabble; our Thanksgiving dinner; the fall drive to buy apples and how she had sat with me and peeled so many of them for pies--and our wonderful time in British Columbia.
She had said to Paul, with so much love and passion, "I'd go to the ends of the earth for my Belinda," and I remembered the blaze of love on her face as she sat in the pew listening to our worship team practicing her favourite hymn, "I the Lord of Sea and Sky."
I believed that all of that was meant to be; I couldn't imagine that it wasn't, and I knew that it was wrong to think that her stroke was some terrible price she had to pay for all of that, but I couldn't help it. We had taken a gamble, wanting to believe the doctor who said it was safe for her to travel even though she had been having problems with her leg. "Should we have?" It was a question I would never stop asking myself...
To be continued.