Featured

Celebrating Jeannie

Jeannie’s funeral was Monday, August 24, 2020, at Hillhurst United Church and here’s the video of the event: https://youtu.be/f0Hh-bIfXIc

Words cannot begin to describe the passion, beauty and love that poured out from the small group – due to Covid restrictions – that gathered to hear stories of Jeannie’s life and listen to music Jeannie loved. Though the congregation was not allowed to sing along, during the final song – I’ll Fly Away – we spontaneously clapped and stomped our feet on the wood floors of the lovely other church as we wholeheartedly rejoiced in the wonder that was Jeannie. Oh, oh, oh.

Hugs, so many, many hugs,

David, for Annie and John and Chris and Dom and Erin

Featured

Jeannie Finch – 1955 to 2020

            Friend, lover, mother, daughter, sister, grandma, auntie and elder in her many communities, Jeanne Vernette Anderson Finch died peacefully at home on Sunday morning, August 16, 2020.

            Glioblastoma multiforme took her from us, the brain cancer appearing in a test in June of 2018. Medical science extended her life about two years. And her quality of life remained good through the “extra time” she treasured as her truncated retirement and enjoyed with many family members and friends.

            Jeannie chose to die at home, under the excellent medical care of her family physician Dr. Frances Vettergreen and oncologist Dr. Paula de Robles at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre and other skilled medical staff in oncology. Nurse Robin Lyons coached and supported Annie and David in her role as Palliative Home Care Coordinator at Alberta Health Services in Calgary and allowed Jeannie to die peacefully in her music room, surrounded by art and books and musical instruments, birds visiting her at a feeder near her hospital bed.

            Born Jeanne Vernette Anderson (her father John Vernon really wanted a son after three daughters) to John Vernon and Beda Minnie Anderson at Buffalo, Minnesota on July 20 1955, she was the daughter of evangelical missionaries. Jeannie spent her childhood in Venezuela. As a legacy of those early years, she spoke Spanish. Her father “Bud” was a passionate Old Testament scholar and inculcated in her a philosopher’s ability to probe the deepest questions about the human experience. Her love of adventure continued through her life. She eventually earned a degree in Sociology after moving to Canada in 1979, where she became a proud Canadian.

            Living with cancer and living with dying are difficult. But the cadre of friends who became a family for Jeannie and David at the Living With Cancer Program at the Sage Centre in Calgary supported her in ways physical, mental, spiritual and musical, not to mention with humour and compassion and hugs. More hugs. And even more hugs. “They are like shooting stars,” she said on June 30, 2020, “some brighter than others, some with longer tails, all blazing and beautiful in the dark night of dying.” 

            Passions a many filled Jeannie’s life, among them a zeal for lifelong learning. Calgary Learns, her employer at the time of her brain cancer diagnosis, set up the Jeannie’s Fund (just type in Jeannie’s Fund for the link) to provide support for professional development for teachers of lifelong learners. Nothing would please Jeannie more than a donation to this fund, into which she invested tens of thousands of dollars.

            Jeannie’s end of life – her “extra time” – was just like the first 63 years of her life; loving family and friends, enjoying skiing and paddling and biking, singing a wide range of music, curating Christmas and Easter feasts for more than a dozen at our home, doting on daughter Annie and grandson John and her husband of almost 42 years, David.

            As a survivor of breast cancer in 2002, she was not bitter or resentful to find out about the terminal brain cancer that took her from us in the lovely  summer of 2020. “Why not me?” she asked when she got breast cancer, and again in 2020. Disease and old age take us all. Normal. Instead she considered herself lucky to be able to rock her way through a craniotomy – “like getting kicked in the head by a horse” – and chemo and radiation. Two lovely holidays with her sisters Shari and Joni in PEI and Victoria accentuated the gift of her extra years, as well as more time with David and Annie and John.

            Faithful to the end to the integrity of experiencing the lived reality, she worked hard with decreasing cognitive abilities to pass on her responsibilities to others and to do her best to rest in her final days with the limited and failing energy that is often the experience of dying of brain cancer. Jeannie lived a full life. Do likewise.

David Finch

Featured

Jeannie is gone…

Peacefully, with Annie and David holding her hands, Jeannie died Sunday morning, August 16, 2020 at home. Jeannie died a “good death” as was her wish, where she wanted, how she wanted and with the people she wanted to be at her side.

We are devastated. The world is not the same. Oh Jeannie…

It was a “good death” for Annie and me too, supported by health care professionals and family and friends. We thank you all.

A small family service is planned and will be recorded and made available online. Watch this space for information on how to view this video.

Hugs and many more hugs,

David

Featured

Jeannie’s Ruminations

Jeannie is still with us, her body waiting for the full effects of the brain cancer to end her life. Days at our home are very quiet. She still wakes enough for short visits or talks. But mostly she sleeps.

In late 2019 and early 2020 Jeannie penciled a few prose poems in the daily log we keep of medications and changes in her condition. She gave me permission to publish them, as gifts to us all.

 

Sunday December 29, 2019

The sun is golden on your face

Your eyes ocean jewels with twin black pinpricks

Don’t cry, it will be light a while longer

God, you are beautiful.

 

Tuesday December 31, 2019

I belong here yet, even as I belong to you

And need to spread the gospel of belonging to my family and friends

Oh such rest I find in belonging!

 

Sunday January 4, 2020

(after a stroke put her in the hospital overnight)

I invite you to peer over the lip of your cascading losses

Welcome the uncertainty

   And notice how you love the sharp clean air up here.

Dangle you arm into the cold water

   To write words on a stone.

I will weep with you.

 

Tuesday January 7, 2020

I am rooted

   In your love,

I am bathed

   In your grace.

 

Friday January 10, 2020

You are spiritually face-blind, dearheart.

I’ll come get you, bring you to my side.

The crowd is confusing, I know

It doesn’t matter who they are

Stay at my side

I’ll explain how to find me, how to find my own here.

 

Monday January 13, 2020

There you are!

I’m glad you heard my voice.

I love you and miss you when you are not by my side.

We have much companioning to do.

 

Hugs, David

 

Featured

Complete – by Annie Finch

(Jeannie is now in her final days. Annie has, as she put it, “accidentally” written a blog post. Her text is below, and is, at her request, not accompanied by any images)

It was never a fight. The first time my mom had cancer she didn’t like to think of her body as a battleground. Instead, she told me she thought of herself as a garden. The glory of winning a battle is nothing compared to the beauty of any garden. She didn’t fight; she took care of herself, tended her health, and sought to restore balance. This time has been different. This time we knew there was only one outcome. This time the goal was to make the most of the time we had, to enjoy each other and our lives, to be good and gracious and engaged. Hope was different this time. We had total control over the outcome. We accepted our task of living, and yet it hurts so much now that she has reached her goal. Now she is done with living. She is no longer interested in what can be in this life. First her mind, and now her body has stopped doing what she wants, stopped allowing her to live the way she wants to live. And so she is done with life, not given up, not conceded defeat, but she has achieved her goal of living her life to the fullest. And this change is so painful to see because for me it was a fight. I wanted her to win, to get better, to stay. So I am called to practice letting go. Letting go not of her, not of my love or my hope, but letting go of my idea the there is victory to be had. No one wins this game. We all die in the end. The only thing we have is the meaning we create together by living and loving. And it hurts. Not but, always and. She has not lost, now she is complete. My mother has completed her life.

We think we can control our bodies because they rely on our volitional selves to meet basic needs, but this is not control. Throughout the last two years, my mom has remarked that her body didn’t get the memo that she was dying, and it still wanted to move, to walk, to get tired out, to eat and drink and talk for hours. Her body wanted all the same things it had thrived on before. But her capacity decreased. She could still walk and talk for hours, but the recovery time stretched to days. She could garden and mow the lawn, but that would be it for the week. And now, as she has completed her life, her body doesn’t know. She sleeps most of the time and loves to eat and drink. She is a completed person in a body that won’t let her go. This state is temporary. She changes so much each day, even by the hour, that I know this won’t last long. I don’t know what will come next, and soon her body will die. And always I will know that she is complete.

Annie

Featured

Walking Each Other Home

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at Thursday, 23 July, 20201229PM.png

Jeannie turned 65 so we caked her on Sunday. She loved the attention and the food. The palliative docs are balancing her meds to keep her calm. Still loves her rum and lattes and life.

Always a joker, one night as I kissed her when I was going out shopping she said to our daughter Annie, lying in bed with her, “Your kisses are really different from Dad’s!” Annie laughed and said, “That was Dad. My kisses are not as prickly…”

Some of you might think we are carefully guarding you from the tough parts of this journey to death’s door, but really, this process is mostly gentle. Boring at times – we get lots of reading done and have enforced quiet time. Funny too. Occasionally frustrating and of course there are tears. We have lots of hours to reflect on the important things in life. Like relationships. Kindness. Touch. And of course, love.

We’ve read many books, Jeannie and I, and we recommend one in particular for anyone preparing to face death. Or walk to its door with another. Dr. Kathryn Mannix, a palliative physician who has witnessed thousands of deaths, pulled together a collection of stories in With the End in Mind: Dying, Death, and Wisdom in an Age of Denial. Her perspective is amazing.

Screen Shot 2020-07-23 at Thursday, 23 July, 20201228PM.png

And so we cherish these moments with Jeannie as a family. Thank you for your love and support as we walk with Jeannie.

Hugs, and still more hugs, David

Featured

More Precious Time

Jeannie is more comfortable now, as the end gets closer. More drugs are helping her with the unusual mental activity as the brain cancer does its damage.   

For the most part, Jeannie sleeps. She visits with family members and a couple of close friends when she is awake, but that is only a few hours each day. Juggling medications is part of life at our home now.  

Though getting weaker, she is eating heartily, enjoying meat and vegetables and brownies – and rum. Her body is still working well enough that she can often get up and walk to the bathroom and that makes her feel accomplished.   

Please know she talks about you all as a group, and mentions people by name too. You are all very special to her. I hope you find courage in her walk to death’s door. As the saying goes, “If you can’t be a good example then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning!” Jeannie is a good example, and so are each of you.

Hugs, David and the family

Featured

Loving To The End

In much the same way that some families self-isolate after the birth of a child, our family is encompassing Jeannie with a cloak of compassion and love – the very definition of palliative care. So we don’t have much to share this week.

            But we can tell you that several months ago – and regularly since – Jeannie and Annie and I have read this poem. We have it taped up beside a window in the kitchen, another copy in the lovely room we have set up as a hospice. Jeannie continues to say that it accurately represents her reality. Though composed to explain the experience of a person with Alzheimer’s disease, it perfectly fits Jeannie’s loss of cognitive function as she moves into a more mystical reality.

Hugs, David, for us all

Do Not Ask Me to Remember

Do not ask me to remember,

Don’t try to make me understand,

Let me rest and know you’re with me,

Kiss my cheek and hold my hand.

I’m confused beyond your concept,

I am sad and sick and lost.

All I know is that I need you

To be with me at all cost.

Do not lose your patience with me,

Do not scold or curse or cry.

I can’t help the way I’m acting,

Can’t be different though I try.

Just remember that I need you,

That the best of me is gone,

Please don’t fail to stand beside me,

Love me ’til my life is done.

– Owen Darnell

Featured

The Final Gate of Wisdom

            “Tell me again about the Gold Gate,” she said this morning.

            Cultural anthropologist Angeles Arrien wrote about the common passages people experience around the globe. Of the eight gates of wisdom, embracing death is the final gate.

            Non-attachment, accepting the death of my human body, and turning to the numinous light are the Gold Gate.

            We had been reading the Arrien book before the events of Thursday showed that Jeannie is nearing the end. After the initial confusion, Jeannie started tutoring us in her care as she passes through the Gold Gate.

            Non-attachment is difficult of course, but she trusts Annie and me and a palliative team to care for her needs. Her new vocabulary includes a “medical drink” of ice cream and root beer. Or rum and ice. She says “surprise” every time she sees her freshly squeezed morning orange juice. And when she says “overtop” she wants her sheets or blanket or comforter neatly arranged over her.

            She talks about the death of her physical body and accepts it. Her decreasing capacities, inability to walk more than a few steps at a time, more confusion, loss of strength. She sighs and cries, sometime laughs about the losses too. And hugs us often.

            The “numinous” light thrills her. She knows she is moving into the mystery and awe of a mysterious spiritual light, even saying she could feel it on the couch with the sun shining on her. Through tears she asked me if I am a “stay with me” or a person who will be with her to the end. Yes, I am her companion to the end. As is Annie.

            It’s all anyone wants. To be touched and loved and have a “stay with me” to the end. The Gold Gate.

Hugs, David