Post Script to "A Rose In the Garden of Eden"
Posted to the Web August 1, 2005
The text below was originally written April 27, 2004. It describes the period and the miracle in 1999 which restored our mother to us for many more years. It is appended as a Post Script to "A Rose In the Garden of Eden" for the sake of posterity.
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A Living Hesped In Honor of our Mother, Rose Caron Zeitz z"l. (1927-2005)
April 27, 2004 B"H
In life as in death, our mother never did anything conventional. Quiet, sweet, unassuming, and gentle, she was always independent, and she always had her own way of doing things.
This living hesped (eulogy) is one of those things that she had her own ideas about. She wanted it written during her lifetime, not after her death. She wanted it to be not only a celebration of her life but also of her death. Most of all she wanted to have some in put. Why? Because she had burning desire to thank her children and all of her loved ones for making her life so lovely and so full, by their very presence in it. I promised her I would write and she could input, but years went by and so many other pressing matters always got in the way. I finally started to write the day after her 77th birthday (to 120!).
Our mother first began her journey to the next world back in 1999. After nursing me through a cancer operation in Toronto, our mother returned to Montreal where she suffered a heart attack on March 22, 1999.
Between March and June 1999, she would be in and out of the hospital like a yo-yo, with a series of heart attacks and heart-failure episodes, all relating to and exacerbated by her diabetes.
In between my own cancer follow-up treatments and my trips to North Carolina to see my husband, Jonathan, (who was still in prison at the time) I traveled back and forth to Montreal half a dozen times in those critical months.
In June 1999, after another month's stay in hospital, Mom was ready to go home. Because of my own medical condition, I was on sick leave from work. My siblings asked if I could come to Montreal and stay with her at her house for a few days until she was able to be on her own. I flew in from North Carolina a day before she was discharged, planning to spend the week with her.
On June 15th I took Mom home. She was thrilled to finally be back in her own home and to sleep in her own bed. That same night, however, she became desperately ill again.
She was too ill to even call out to me for help. Asleep in another room, I had no inkling that she was in trouble. At 4:30 am, in desperation, she reached for her bedside radio and quickly turned it up full blast. The sudden blast of music pierced the night and jolted me awake.
I rushed into Mom's room. Just one look told me we had a problem. I asked her if I should call an ambulance. She said, "Not yet." The idea of bouncing back to the hospital again, was crushing for both of us. We were hoping against hope she would miraculously pull out of it. For the next 2 hours we would try everything we could to put an end to the tailspin she was in. But to no avail. By 6:45am Mom agreed that it was time to call the ambulance. I called other members of the family to alert them that we were on our way back to the hospital, and then dialed 911.
The medics arrived with a stretcher. Mom was holding herself together, and got onto the stretcher unassisted. She was calm and clear. She gave me instructions. She gave the paramedics instructions; told them where to find her medications; and gave them her hospital card. She seemed to be doing so well that I did not accompany her in the ambulance. I told her I would follow in my own car and meet her at the hospital a few minutes later. In the time it took me to walk the dog, close up the house and drive to the hospital, Mom had done a 360 degree turn for the worse.
Marvin, Steven, Auntie Sylvia and Uncle Sammy, (our oldest brother, youngest brother and Mom's youngest sister and her husband respectively) whom I had called earlier, all arrived at the hospital within moments of Mom's arrival at the emergency room.
Mom was being treated in intensive care, and we could only go in to see her two at a time. Steven told me to come with him. We moved through the two sets of double doors and found our way to a cubicle in the emergency room where Mom was already hooked up to an IV drip and was receiving oxygen. Her condition had so deteriorated that I did not recognize her as the same person who had gotten into the ambulance a short while ago.
She was experiencing profound heart failure, and was drowning in her own lungs. Steven and I stood with her, helpless, holding her hand, wiping her brow and trying to comfort her. But she was too sick, gasping, retching, and groaning in agony, to even know we were there. After a while we rotated, letting Auntie Sylvia come in, and I went out. Then Marvin and Steven rotated. For a while all we could do was to watch her suffering and to pray. But since we had been through this so many times in the last few months, we no longer knew what to pray for...
My turn came to rotate in again. Steven was already in with Mom. I went through the two sets of double doors. As I entered the vicinity of the Emergency Room a man in white surgical scrubs approached me.
"Are you Madame Caron's family?" he asked. (In Quebec, in the hospital, Mom was known by her maiden name, Caron.) I don't remember if he asked in French or in English. "Yes," I replied, "I'm her daughter." "I'm Dr. Porier," he said. May I speak to you for a moment, privately?" "Can I go and get my brothers?" I asked, "It will save you from repeating what ever it is." "No," he said, "There isn't enough time. You will tell your brothers. Come with me, please."
I followed him into a tiny office. He invited me to sit. He began by saying, " Your mother is very ill." "I know," I replied. "Very ill," he repeated. "She has been here in Emergency a number of times in the last few months."
"Yes," I said, "I know..."
"This time is different. It does not look hopeful... We do not think she is going to make it this time... It is very unlikely... I asked you to come in here so that you can prepare your family for the worst...so it won't come as a shock, " he said. I nodded. He continued, "I hope you do not mind that I am telling you the way it is...I think it is best for every one to be prepared for the worst now."
"Yes," I replied, " I understand...Thank you."
Our conversation ended and I left to find the others. Steven and Marvin, in the mean time, were trying to locate Michael (middle brother) and to contact Laura (sister) in Toronto to let them know that they had to come as soon as possible if they wanted to say goodbye to Mom.
Back in the Emergency Room again, Steven and I were standing beside our Mom's bed, watching her agony. Another doctor came in to treat her. I don't remember his name. He too addressed us and told us that our mother was very, very sick and that it did not look good. He told us that she had had so many heart episodes lately, and that each episode left her physically in a little worse shape, and now it was as if all of her reserves had been depleted... He gave us little reason to hope.
But Steven persevered, and asked, "Doctor, is there any chance that she can pull out of this? Any chance that she can turn it around? - She has done 360 degree turn-arounds in the past, you know. Is there any chance she can survive this?"
The doctor paused before answering. He said that there is always a chance, but cautioned that even if she were to survive this episode, she would be in terrible shape, and would not survive the next episode which was sure to follow. His words were in a measure prophetic, for the next episode was not long in coming...
After several hours in the emergency room, Mom surprised everyone, by continuing to cling to life. She was moved upstairs to an intensive care cardiac unit, but the prognosis remained the same...very little hope.
Upstairs in the intensive care unit, we continued to rotate in to see Mom. As Steven and I were walking out of the unit and Marvin was walking in, the critical care specialist who had taken care of Mom during her previous hospital stays, Dr. Patrick Bellemare, approached us.
Dr. Bellemare was Mom's guardian angel and treated her with such tenderness that we all felt a special affection towards him. He used to joke that she was like a kitten with nine lives. This time, his face was grave. He turned to the 3 of us and said, "It looks like your Mom is all out of miracles." We understood.
Dr. Bellemare continued, " The reason that I wanted to speak with you, is to tell you that I hope you will respect your mother's wishes. When she was still well, we had many conversations about what to do in the event that such a time as this would arise. Your mother was very clear with me that she did not want to be kept alive artificially, hooked up to machines. We agreed that if the time came, no exaggerated efforts would be made to keep her alive; just to keep her pain-free and comfortable until the end. That is the plan we have implemented, and we hope that you and the rest of the family will give your blessing." Of course we did.
Marvin then asked, "Doctor, our sister has to come from Toronto. She wants to say goodbye to our mother. How much time do we have?" It was early morning.
Dr. Bellemare asked, "How long will it take her to get here?" "
"She can probably be here later in the afternoon," Marvin replied. The Doctor looked grim. He said, "I don't know if you have that much time."
Dr. Pierre Lalonde, the head of the Cardiac Ward at the Sacre Coeur arrived. He and Dr. Bellemare went to see Mom and conferred again. Then Dr. Lalonde called my brothers and me together again, in Dr. Bellemare's presence. As chief physician, he had to speak with the 3 of us. He again told us to put Mom's affairs in order; that the end was near. We nodded our understanding and he left.
Marvin and I left the room to make phone calls. Steven remained behind with Dr. Bellemare. Together they approached Mom's bed. She was hooked up to an IV and to a heart monitor and other contraptions. As they were standing there, the monitors began to go crazy, and there were electronic impulses shooting across the screen wildly. Steven turned to Dr. Bellemare and asked, "What is going on? Why are the machines going crazy?"
"She is having a heart attack," said Dr. Bellemare.
"Can't you do something?!!" cried Steven. "Can't you stop it?!"
"No. It just has to run its course. When it is over we will be able to assess the damage."
Steven came out of the unit to announce that Mom was in the throes of a major heart attack. It was clear that we were running out of time.
Mom came through the heart attack that day. She was not conscious of her surroundings, but she was still alive. I knew she would not leave the world until Laura and Michael arrived. She seemed to be waiting for them, to say good-bye.
Late afternoon, Michael arrived. Mom regained consciousness long enough to tell him that, "It was not my time to go..." and then lapsed from consciousness again. Laura arrived. She wordlessly communed with Mom, who showed no signs of being awake or aware.
By evening all of our aunts and uncles were with us in the hospital. They all came to say good-bye. Everyone rotated in and out of intensive care, two by two. Mom continued to hang on. In pain and hardly conscious, she continued to hang on. Nevertheless, it will be any minute now, they told us.
The hours kept ticking by. At around 11pm, the consensus was that everyone should go home and get a good night's sleep and to come back in the morning. Unspoken was the understanding that it was unlikely that Mom would still be with us in the morning.
I volunteered to stay with Mom overnight. Steven, concerned for my health (I was newly out of an operation and still undergoing treatment for cancer) did everything he could to dissuade me. So did my other siblings. But I insisted and won out. If death is imminent and there is a chance that the soul may leave the body, then it is a religious obligation that the person must not be left alone. I told that to the nurses in the intensive care unit. As French Catholics working in a religiously-oriented hospital (Sacre Coeur in English is "Sacred Heart") they were sympathetic and allowed me to sit in a chair by Mom's bed, all night long.
Mom awoke many times during the night in terrible pain and thoroughly sick with nausea. She did not recognize her surroundings. But when morning came, Mom was still alive.
Laura brought our father to the hospital the next morning. He came to day goodbye. Mom knew he was there, but she was too weak and too out of it to speak at all.
All day long, family and friends flooded the hospital, wanting the chance to say one last goodbye. All the nieces and nephews came to say goodbye to Auntie Rose. So did all the grandchildren - even some that were not hers - to say good bye to Baube Rose. Baube Rose did not answer but she seemed to know. Her heart monitor showed a lively and strong rhythm when the children were in the room.
The wear and tear of so many visitors on staff in the intensive care unit became unbearable. That afternoon, Mom was transferred to a quarantine room in another intensive care unit, to give the large family more privacy, and to allow her to die with dignity.
The flow of visitors did not stop. It was Friday. The doctors all dropped by to say good-bye to us and to Mom. They told us that they did not expect to see her again. They were certain that by the time they returned on Monday, she would be home in Gan Eden.
Mom was still there on Saturday. As I settled down to sleep in a chair in the quarantine room with her that night, I knew she would still be there on Sunday. Not because there was any improvement in her condition. But Sunday was Laura's birthday, and I knew Mom would not leave on her birthday.
Every time I spoke with my husband, Jonathan, who was deeply grieved that he could not be by my side, he told me, "Esther, you mustn't give up. You must daven very hard, and you have to believe that she can get better! What ever you do, don't give up!"
I argued with him, saying, "Jonathan the only reason you say not to give up hope is because you can't see her. If you would see her, you would see that there is nothing to hope for!"
I brought a manicure set to the hospital. I began to cut Mom's nails. Laura wanted me to stop. She feared that Mom might be discomfited by the manicure, even though she was quite unconscious. It broke my heart to remind her that the Chevra Keddishe would not be permitted to cut Mom's nails and that this might be the last chance to do it for her.
Our brother Michael repeatedly cautioned us all, "Be careful of what you daven for." The doctors warned us that even in the unlikely event that Mom did recover, she would be so damaged by this latest episode, it would be unlikely that she would be able to tie her own shoelaces or hold a knife and fork by herself.
I went to the cemetery to visit Mom's parents' grave. I asked Baube and Zaide to intercede in Heaven for her. I davened. I pleaded with HaShem, "Ha tov b'einecha, t'asseh! (HaShem, please do what is good in Your eyes!) Only please, do it quickly! If Mom is going to get well, let it be quickly, and let it be a recovery to life, not a living death. And if You want her home, then please take her home quickly and end her interminable suffering!"
Laura pointed out that the first time Mom sat up and regained consciousness was after the trip to the cemetery.
The days continued to go by. There were additional medical crisises, even a desperate stop-gap operation. Always there were more downs than ups. Each crisis virtually assured that the end of Mom's life was at hand. Even more days passed, and the days began to turn into weeks. There were transfers from ward to ward, from unit to unit, until Mom was finally passed to a unit where she would be kept comfortable until the end.
Then, one hot summer day, Laura, Marvin, Michael, Steven and I sat out on the balcony at the Sacre Coeur Hospital, and planned Mom's funeral. In fleeting moments when she was consciousness, I had asked Mom where she wants to be buried. I told her, "G-d willing, you will live to 120 and at the end of 120 years you will merit to be buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. But, in the event that a decision has to be made sooner - G-d Forbid - what do you prefer: the De La Savanne Cemetery where your parents are? Or the Dollard Cemetery where the rest of the family has purchased plots?"
Good old Mom, she answered without hesitation, that she preferred to be buried on the Mount of Olives. End of discussion!
So there we were, the five of us, suffering the humidity and heat of the Montreal summer, sitting on the balcony and planning a funeral, while inside HaShem was making a miracle.
Five years have passed since then. Dr. Eric Schampaere, Mom's heart doctor, is delighted every time Mom Shows up in his office for another of her twice yearly visits. She has been doing that for the last 5 years! Dr. Schampaere refuses to take any credit for Mom's survival. Instead, he points to the Heavens and says that that the only way to explain it, and that the Almighty is the only one who deserves thanks!
The rest of the story is history. How Mom not only recovered, moved to a new home, built a new life, and fell in love again at the age of 76 is all part of the miracle. G-d willing, we will not need this document until the end of 120 years, and G-d willing, Mom will get her wish and be buried on the Mount of Olives after all! Amain Ken Yihi Rahtzon!