inspiration and peace

I’ve finally found some inspiration to blog… but it’s not a happy source of inspiration. Unfortunately, Craig’s mom passed away early Wednesday morning. Her cancer caught up with her, and took her quite quickly. She was 66 years old.

It’s a fairly long story that played out over only a handful of days…

Heide (on the right), with her sister Gretel and brother Ingo (who drowned at age 14) - 1948, Bonn, Germany

As you may recall, Heide was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer (that had spread to several lymph nodes and her liver) back in December. She weathered two rounds of aggressive chemotherapy – with little complaint – and was declared cancer-free in June. Over the summer she underwent a mastectomy and the removal of several lymph nodes as a preventative measure, since cancer is most likely to recur in places where it had already been. We knew that her cancer was very aggressive and that it could very likely return. A couple of weeks into her radiation treatment, Heide passed out at her appointment last Thursday afternoon.  As a result of some tests that were run, doctors found that the cancer had returned to her liver. She was admitted to the hospital, and that was all we knew at that point.

We had already planned to take the day off on Friday to visit with our friend Jenny, who was in DC on business. We planned to spend the day with her and then visit DC’s Little Ethiopia to pick up some spices (so we could finally start some Ethiopian cooking) and meet up with Alan and Lindy for dinner. When Craig got an update in the morning from the nurse at the hospital, he was told that his mom was stable and would be discharged that afternoon. We decided to meet Jenny for lunch and then head to the hospital. We canceled our dinner plans, not knowing how long we would be and how much attention Heide would need once she got home.

Then, just as we were about to head out the door, we got news that the oncologist advised that we come right away, because Heide was in very bad shape and could go into a coma at any time and never wake up. Woah! Obviously, we canceled our lunch plans and went straight to the hospital, which was about an hour and a half away in Alexandria, Virginia. We got a hold of Craig’s aunt (Heide’s sister), Gretel, on the way and we all met at the hospital.

We were pleased to see Heide awake and fairly alert. She was amazingly jaundiced. She was definitely tired and weak, but she was eating a bit and was able to get in and out of bed, with some assistance, to go to the bathroom. She was mostly lucid but would slip into speaking in German (her native language). Both Craig and I have woefully forgotten most of our German, but Gretel had nice conversations with her. She said Heide was bringing up childhood memories. Shortly before we left for the night, Craig got a call from the oncologist, who said that Heide’s liver was riddled with cancer and that she was in complete liver failure. He said that most people at this point only last one to two weeks. We also learned that the cancer was in her bones.

Craig, Gretel, and I decided to take shifts visiting with her, since we didn’t want her to be alone in the hospital. I took the first shift on Saturday and Heide slept the entire time. Craig and Gretel had some good time with her later in the day and evening. She was eating – although not a lot – and was in and out of lucidity. By Sunday she was not able to eat more than a few bites of applesauce here or there, and she was not able to speak much more than “yeah” or “no.” She was in such rapid decline. Each day I saw her, I thought, this can’t get much worse, and then the next day, it was markedly worse. By Monday she wasn’t eating and we weren’t sure if she knew who we were, and she was in notable discomfort. She barely opened her eyes at all. By Tuesday she was in clear pain and I don’t think we once saw her open her eyes. There was no communication at all. Her breathing was loud and obviously laborious. It was absolutely heartbreaking to watch.

Since we knew her diagnosis was bleak, and it was so clear that there was no chance of recovery, we elected to do nothing more than keep her comfortable. There wasn’t ever even any treatment offered to us, but I suppose we could have insisted on a feeding tube or something like that. But really, by about Sunday, it was clear to us that the best thing that could happen to Heide was for her to be able to find peace and move on from this world. Accordingly, we made arrangements for her to go to hospice. However, a bed did not open up until Tuesday afternoon.


She was transferred to the hospice center on Tuesday afternoon. We all stayed with her through the evening and then went home.

At 1:15am, the phone rang. It was one of those middle-of-the-night phone calls that makes you jump out of bed and think, who died?!, and of course, we knew it could really be the call telling us that she had died. The hospice nurse told Craig that Heide’s breathing pattern had changed quite a bit, and that she thought that she might die within the hour. So, we rushed down there as fast as we could. But when we arrived, the nurse met us at the door and told us, “I’m sorry, she didn’t wait for you.” I thought that was a nice way of telling us that Heide had died. Gretel arrived shortly thereafter and we all spent some time with Heide. It was very, very sad, of course, but all three of us took a tremendous amount of comfort in seeing her in such a peaceful state.

Craig is holding up, although it goes without saying that it is absolutely terrible to lose your mother. He has received a great deal of support from friends and family, as have I. We truly appreciate the phone calls, emails, and FB comments. The shock of the diagnosis was quite intense, since it seemingly came out of nowhere and took her so quickly. But we are so grateful that she found peace and did not have to struggle any longer.

Due to her schizophrenia, Heide lived a life more difficult than anyone should have to live. But when she was well, she truly enjoyed life. Her two favorite people in the world were her son and her sister, and I am so grateful that she was  surrounded by her loved ones in her final days, even though this all happened so quickly. It gives us all a great amount of peace.

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23 Responses to inspiration and peace

  1. Janet says:

    Oh Kelly, you and Craig have my deepest sympathies. May happy memories bring you peace. I’m glad she is no longer in pain. It does sound like it progressed very rapidly. I’m glad you could all spend those final days with her. I loved reading this post…especially the photos. Beautiful!

  2. Jenny says:

    I’m so sorry, Kelly & Craig. I’m so happy to have gotten to know a bit about Heide. She seemed like SUCH a FIGHTER! I will be praying for you guys and you spend time reflecting and grieving. Thank you for sharing her life with us all and I love the pictures. So happy you have those.

  3. Belinda says:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Craig. What a tough couple of weeks it has been. What comfort that Heide is no longer in pain. I absolutely love the photos that you have posted. They are beautiful.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    All my thoughts and positive energy are headed toward all of you. This must be so incredibly difficult and so sudden. Please pass my condolences along to Craig.
    Such beautiful photos you posted in her memory. What a tribute.

  5. Erin says:

    So sorry Kelly. I was wondering about the abruptness of her illness. It seemed like yesterday that you were announcing that she was cancer free.

    So very sorry.

  6. Kala says:

    What a tough couple of weeks. This post is wonderful with the pictures and the story. My thoughts and prayers are with you Kelly and Craig.

  7. Christine says:

    My deepest sympathies to you and Craig (as well as Gretel and other loved ones) I am so, so sorry. I can’t imagine how tough this time must be for you, my thoughts and prayers are with you both. Hugs.

  8. Liz says:

    My very deepest condolences.

  9. Robin says:

    What a beautiful tribute to your mother in law. Hang in there…
    (((hugs))))
    Robin

  10. Meg B says:

    I am so so sorry for your loss and just touched by the tribute and photos… my mother is a breast cancer survivor and I recall all too well the surgeries, chemo and radiation. hang in there…

  11. Kelly Cole says:

    This was so sudden. Cancer sucks. I’m very sorry for you and especially for Craig. I’m happy that Heide was able to find peace at a hospice center with her family surrounding her. Thank for posting all the photos and giving us a glimpse into Craig’s mom’s life. I know she will be very missed. My thoughts are with you guys.

  12. amy says:

    I saw your FB post, and then noticed that you had a blog post. I had to wait to read it, because I knew it would make me cry. I am so sorry for your loss, and my deepest sympathy goes out to you and Craig during this difficult time.

  13. What a wonderful tribute with all the beautiful photos. I am very sorry for your loss and so so glad she was able to spend her last few days with some peace at the hospice. Thank you so much for sharing, even though this is such a difficult time.

  14. Kelly, Craig,

    Lindy and I are very sorry for your loss. As always, this was a story beautifully told. But we’re sure it was heartbreaking to tell.

    Our thoughts are with you, and we hope to see you soon…

  15. Leah says:

    Kelly – I am so sorry for your loss. She sounds like a beautiful woman, inside and out, and what a beautiful story.

    My thoughts are with you and your husband. Cancer sucks.

  16. Martha says:

    Thank you so much for sharing these amazing pictures of Heide’s life with us as well as her final days here on Earth. I’m glad she’s no longer in pain…I’m sorry that freedom means pain for you and Craig. Please know that I’m thinking of you.

  17. Jen says:

    So very sorry. I hate cancer.

  18. sue says:

    Kelly, this is a beautiful post. thank you for sharing so many wonderful photos. thinking of you all. . .

  19. Krista says:

    Oh I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing so many beautiful pictures of Craig’s mom. We lost Matt’s grandmother last week to cancer too. It is such a horrible disease.

  20. Nikki says:

    I’m so very sorry.

  21. Sandra says:

    Mein herzliches Beileid.

    Thank you for sharing those wonderful pictures of her life.

    I have been thinking of your family, it must be so hard to lose a parent.

  22. kristine says:

    Kelly,

    I haven’t been reading blogs since this summer. I came over to your blog to say thank you for your kind words on the yahoo group.

    You have my deepest sympathies. This a beautiful rememberance.

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