It's been just over a year since I got the news that my mother-in-law was rushed to the hospital. A couple of days later, she was gone. Her death was eerily and disturbingly similar to my mom's. I hated that Matt had to live through such an experience all over again. He took my mom's death very hard because they had a really special relationship, but this was HIS mom and that makes it so much harder.
There are two stories about Colleen that I think about most often. The first one happened back in 2002. On April 21, I had to go to the ER because I feared I was having a miscarriage. The doctor in the ER confirmed my suspicions, then sent us home. I didn't know what to do with myself, but I was most definitely not up for company. Matt called his parents and his dad jumped into action, ready to drive to Ottawa to be with us. I loved him for caring so much, but I begged Matt to call his dad and kindly ask him not to come.
It turns out, Matt didn't have to ask.
Colleen, having given birth to a stillborn little girl, reminded Frank that they'd wanted to be alone. Perhaps other couples would have welcomed the company and the direct support. But Colleen seemed to know it wasn't the right time yet. Later on, when I was finally able to talk about it, I thanked her for her sensitivity and understanding. To this day, I am thankful for everything she did to support us during that time. Her compassion helped both of us grieve our loss. I'll never forget it.
The other story is one that amuses me as much today as it did two years ago, but it has a bit of background that isn't quite so amusing.
In early April 2013, Colleen collapsed and was taken to the hospital. The doctors spent nearly two weeks trying to figure out what was wrong with her. They were in a race, because she was in very bad shape. After Matt saw his mom the first time, he was convinced she wasn't going to make it. Within a few days, she was transferred to an Ottawa hospital because her local hospital felt she needed more than they could provide. Frank came to stay with us while the doctors worked to figure out what was wrong. I didn't go to the hospital myself until after we finally received the diagnosis. I wanted to let Frank and Matt have all the time they wanted with her.
On April 15th, while I was at a conference sitting next to one of my sisters-in-law, we got the news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon. Not long after, Shelly and I read the news that Colleen had Multiple Myeloma.
Most likely, she'd had it for quite a while. She had lesions all over her bones, which caused her system to become overloaded with calcium, leading to kidney failure and the collapse that put her in the hospital. As the calcium was flushed out of her system, her kidney function improved and she felt more like herself. But the cancer had done a lot of damage. She had to have surgery to put a rod in one of her legs before she could go home.
In all, Colleen was in the hospital for 6 weeks. I know many patients end up staying in much longer, but my mother-in-law was a true homebody. She loved nothing more than being at her house, cleaning, tending her garden, or going about town visiting with her group of friends that she'd known for decades. Being away from all of them for 6 weeks was difficult. She handled it extremely well, despite the anxiety she was experiencing from everything that was going on.
Toward the end of her stay in the hospital, and after they started her chemotherapy, Colleen was starting to eat and enjoy food. After the diagnosis, I went to the hospital to see Colleen three nights each week and we'd spend a couple of hours visiting. Matt went almost all of the nights I didn't go. During one of my visits with her, Colleen mentioned that she was really missing fresh fruit. So, when I came the next time, I stopped first at Farmboy - one of her favourite grocery stories - and discovered they had fresh sliced mangoes. Colleen loved mangoes - a lot. I grabbed some other fruit to go with it and surprised her right about when her dinner tray was delivered.
In the 16 years I knew Colleen, I don't think I ever saw her happier than when she took that first bite of mango. I don't think she ended up eating any of the dinner the hospital provided. She feasted on fresh fruit, constantly thanking me for such a small thing. We all knew that she'd be released soon at that point, but I made sure I brought her fruit with every trip I made. Bringing her all her favourites from St. Hubert's for lunch on the day she was being released was almost as satisfying. Especially seeing how much she enjoyed sending the hospital lunch tray back to the kitchen. :)
Colleen's illness brought us closer together. I've always appreciated her kindness and generosity, but I didn't always understand her as a person. After she got sick, it didn't matter anymore. I just wanted to be there for her. I think it was instinct and the fact that taking care of ill or elderly family members was a very big part of my years growing up. Though I didn't do nearly as much as I would have liked to do for her, I was happy to be able to be there for her and Frank every chance I got.
I really believe that it's a privilege to be a part of someone exiting this life. We didn't know how long Colleen would live with her cancer. She was doing so well for so long that I honestly thought she had years before we'd have to say goodbye. Then the treatment regimen changed and she wasn't doing as well anymore. Cancer tends to suck like that.
Colleen raised an amazing youngest son that I have had the pleasure of spending the last 17 years with and she passed on her love of vacuuming to him, which I'll be forever grateful for. Before she spoke to or met me, she was cautioning Matt to be careful - after all, he met me online and I might be an ax murderer. :) It didn't take her long to change her mind and welcome me to the family.
It's amazing how fast a year can go when it feels like time should slow down or stop after such a monumental loss.
The day of Colleen's funeral, one of her friends mentioned she looked forward to reading what I would write about Colleen. It's taken me a year to find the words, so I hope I've lived up to her expectations.