Ten years ago, just after Christmas, my mother passed away from cancer in the Mel Miller Hospice Palliative Care unit in the Covenant Health Edmonton General Continuing Care Centre.
My mother, Marie Kozub, was the biggest fan of Christmas. She also believed in angels. One of her favourite songs was “I Have a Dream” by ABBA. (“I believe in angels,” it goes, “something good in everything I see.”) Sometimes, when I’d visit her in the palliative care unit, I’d play ABBA for her. Sometimes, it was just too much. “Shut it off, Mark,” she’d say, weak, winded. “Everything sounds swirly to me today.”
I can’t tell you how hard it was to make the trek back to the palliative care unit this Christmas. I did it to honour Mom—and to write a story about the nurses who work there. People like Janet Colter, LPN.
“It’s a tough, challenging unit. We’re moving all the time,” Janet told me. “But I’ve met some amazing people. I remember one fellow. He wasn’t that old, maybe in his fifties, with a lovely family. He had multiple sclerosis. And then he had cancer on top of that! And this guy was lovely. You’d say, ‘How are you doing?’ and he’d say, ‘I’m doing fine. Why wouldn’t I be?’ You learn from people, how they can be so gracious.”
Janet never met my mother. She started working in the unit a few years after Mom passed. But there were several nurses on the unit who were helpful, loving and kind.
I will never forget my mother’s last day and the nurse who joined hands with me and my sister so we could say our last words.
“I’m so impressed by the team,” said Lisa Shirley, RN, Unit Manager. “They have both the aptitude and the attitude to do the job.”
But it takes more than staff. It takes volunteers too. I was reminded of that at the very end of my recent return visit to palliative.
As I was bundling up to leave, I felt cold and empty inside. Truth is, I really missed Mom. And I prayed for a sign.
Then, suddenly, I heard it. Around the corner, a volunteer was singing to a family. She wasn’t singing just any old song.
“I believe in angels … something good in everything I see…”
The original version of this essay appeared in longer form in the College of Licensed Practical Nurses' CARE Magazine Winter 2016 edition on page 26.
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