I thought about my mom a lot this past Sunday. And although there's nothing unusual about that, the reason I was thinking about her was out of the ordinary.
This past Sunday was the Heart and Stroke Mother Daughter Walk. And while many were fortunate enough to be walking with their mom, I wasn't. My mom was the same place she's been for the past 19 months - in my heart.
Although the ultimate cause of her death was lung cancer, cardiovascular disease drastically reduced the quality of her life during her last nine years on Earth.
My mom had her first brush with heart disease in February 1995. Ten days after she turned 65, she experienced a scary shortness of breath and chest pain. Instead of going to the doctor immediately, she went outside, had another smoke and waited for the pain to pass. This went on all weekend. On Monday she finally decided to see someone about the discomfort. Much to her surprise, the doctor wouldn't let her leave his office. Instead he informed her she would be going by ambulance to the hospital in Penticton (from his office in OK Falls). And still she tried to argue. He prevailed, and a day later she was on her way to St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver to have a stint inserted.
Fast forward to August the same year. Mom was walking in the heat in Kamloops on a visit to my sister's when our mother became out of breath and unable to go any farther. Another visit to the heart specialist, and this time Mom was on her way to St. Paul's for open-heart surgery to repair clogged arteries. After a heart-stopping few days for my brother and me watching our little mother hooked up to every machine known to mankind, she turned the corner and came back to the land of the living.
For a few years she seemed fine. Then one day she was driving the causeway in Penticton when she suddenly couldn't get her bearings. She had no idea where she was or how she got there on a road she had travelled hundreds or perhaps thousands of times before.
We didn't think much of it.
On another occasion, Mom was knitting, a hobby she had done for years, when suddenly she couldn't make any sense of the pattern. Frightened, she called my sister and asked her help in sorting out the pattern.
Again, I'm sad to say, no alarm bells went off.
And finally, it was August of 2001. My niece had just been married and our large extended family had been together in Kamloops for several days. As with most marriages and most families, the occasion brought joy and, as we found out four days later, far too much stress for the matriarch of our family.
On Aug. 22, 2001 my mother suffered a massive stroke. And while physically it left her virtually unscathed, mentally it was a different story.
Suddenly my mom, one of the world's most independent individuals, could no longer find the bathroom in her own home, could no longer recognize her neighbours, could no longer live on her own. She was, for all intents and purposes, no longer herself.
On Sunday when I walked the five kilometres, my passionate hope was that someday no other family will have to watch the effects of heart and stroke disease on a woman they love.
Next year I'll be out there again. See you then, Mom.