Her name is Grace Cecelia Swanson.
She was the youngest of 13 children, her mother passed away giving birth to her. Her aunt took her and raised her, when she was three years old her elder sisters stole her away as she played with dolls on the porch of their aunt’s home. She was then raised by her father and older sisters.
When she grew up she married and became a Johnson. She also became a very hard-working mother of four. She was a passionate artist and loved the beach. She would often combine the two, painting on beach pebbles and drift wood she’d find on her morning walks along the shore line.
Her one and only daughter happens to be my mother.
I remember staying with her in her caravan. We’d wonder her tiny yet beautiful gardens, she took pride in her day lilies and fed the rainbow lorikeets daily, they were very spoilt with honey on bread. She had a bubbly, giggly personality.
She also worried a lot.
I remember when I was younger she would come stay at our house, she always complained of pains and aches in her tummy. She’d seen so many doctors and been told so many things, I remember my parents saying she’s a worry wart and a complainer.
Finally she saw another doctor and it was discovered that she had a growth. The size of a football in her stomach.
It was cancer.
When I was a teen and Bella was only a baby I lived in a unit very close by, I’d visit her everyday for coffee and chats or her delicious cheesecake or carrot cake she’d love making. We’d go for walks along the beach together which Bella and I loved, we’d find beautiful shells and stones, she’d help me to paint them and show me what was best to use.
She saw beauty in everything.
I remember her getting thinner and thinner, in the beginning it was ok but different she’d always been a larger lady, cuddly and comforting. I remember the day I popped over for a chat. As she was making coffee she dropped something and bent to pick it up.
Her spin was clearly visible through her clothes her tail bone could have been used as a weapon.
Yet she still smiled.
She fought the cancer hard, first time around she kicked its butt. Second time around she kicked its butt. Third time, well third time, there is an understandning you make with your cancer.
You want me that bad?
You got me.
In the beginning she was still her happy self. I don’t remember her complaining. I remember her being her normal funny self.
After chemo she laughed that she didn’t have to worry about her bikini line anymore.
‘Its all gone!’ she’d say with a big smile.
She’d wear a wig, which she loved.
I cannot even begin to describe the strength that woman had. She’d divorced my mother’s father years ago. I’d only ever seen my grandfather once from a distance and after the things I’ve learnt of him from my mother, I think even that was too much in put into my life. She had a boyfriend. They’d been together for years. The moment she got sick he was nowhere to be seen.
I never saw her cry. I never saw her show any kind of weakness ever.
I do remember after her stomach was mostly removed. She could only eat a spoonful of food at meal times. She had to take more tablets and pills than food. Still she was strong. She would look after her garden, and her birds, still walk everywhere as she hadn’t had a car for years.
The first time I saw her in hospital broke my heart. I couldn’t look at her. Tears would well up. She was laying there with a smile on her face saying it was ok, how dare I do this to her?
I toughened up. I visited everyday, we never talked about her cancer ever, half the time we didn’t even think about it, I’m sure she did. A lot.
Finally one day she showed me a painting she did on a canvas. She also showed me where the picture came from, it was off little decorative wall hanging with a poem about heaven. She told me that her painting was her idea of heaven. I could see that the quality of it was not up to her usual standard. I was a little worried and confused but said I thought it was beautiful none the less.
Not long after this she moved in with my uncle and aunt who very bravely with their four children, took care of her. I didn’t get a chance to see her everyday anymore, I would still walk the beach with Bella sometimes picking up pebbles I thought she’d like to paint. I never did get around to giving them to her.
I had been told she was getting worse and worse. I very selfishly wasn’t sure if I wanted to see her or not. I was afraid of how she’d be, I didn’t want to cry and make her feel bad.
We all knew she was dying but I didn’t want her to think like that, and me standing there in front of her with tears and lack of hope in my eyes would be so wrong I thought. How stupid of me, she of all people knew the reality of the situation. Finally I went to see her with my mum one day.
The moment I walked into that room a black sheet fell over my soul. I didn’t cry. What I saw deserved more than tears. My beautiful grandmother was a mere shadow, she was so thin and frail, her skin pale grey so papery. I could see in her face that she had not smiled for weeks.
There was no more hidden laughter, the promise of some cheeky comment. There was no glow, no happiness. All I could see was pain, despair and loss.
The smell in that room was horrible, she smelt old. She smelt like she was already decaying. So horrible and terribly sad.
She held my hand for a moment, I couldn’t say a word to her and I certainly wouldn’t be saying good-bye. She just turned away, looking out the window. She couldn’t speak either. She wanted me to leave.
She had told my mum that she didn’t want me to see her like that, that she’d prefer to leave me with happier memories. But I am glad I did see her. I am happy that I saw what the end looked like for her.
I was so grateful.
From what I have been told on the morning of the 4th of January 2005, my aunt took my grandmother her pills. She hadn’t wanted any help taking them, which she usually did as she couldn’t swallow without help. I think an understanding would have come over my aunt. She hugged her told her she loved her and said she’d see her soon.
Later that day we all received the phone call saying that she had passed away.
I was so grateful.
I went to her funeral. I wore pastel green and white. This was a happy day. She was free. I cried. I cried because I would miss her, I wouldn’t get a chance to walk along the beach with her again, or watch boring tennis which she loved with her, I wouldn’t be eating her tasty cakes and coffee while chatting with her. I will however someday have a day lily patch in my garden for her and feed the rainbow lorikeets bread and honey. I was happy that day knowing her pain was finally over, I was happy that she now was at peace. I was grateful to see her at her worst because I could understand how badly she wanted to just let go.
She was so strong right to the end.
After the funeral, my mother and her 3 brothers took her ashes and scattered them at the mouth of Coffs creek. That was her favorite beach. I’d take Bella and a baby Sophie who was born the day she passed away 2 years later; any chance it was warm, I intend to do the same with all my kids when we move home. Just to be a little closer. I even say a little hello when I drive by. Magic happens at the mouth of that river, at sunrise there is a glow created by the golden sun hitting the air born sea spray; it glitters so magnificently, it last but a moment at the right time of day.
Her last little bit of art to help create a better more beautiful world.
I think she left that for me.
She also left me her painting of her heaven.
It is one of my most treasured things.
I will always miss her and she knows that.
I wish we as her family could have helped her long before she had to suffer so terribly. She knew when she had lost her fight. She knew when she was taking massive amounts of morphine daily just so she could function at the capacity of a high needs person. She knew when finally even those large doses couldn’t even mask the pain. She knew she just had to wait.
The sad thing is that her soul had moved on long before her body would let her go. She was trapped for such a long time. In a terrible cage of pain and suffering. It crushed the soul of anyone who saw her like that. I can’t imagine how my uncle and aunt and their kids did it daily.
I know that if she had the option of being able to slip away peacefully she would have chosen it. I know I personally would have respected her enough to allow her that choice.
I hope someday we as individuals have the option of euthanasia.
I do not want my children to see me like that.
I am not as strong as my grandmother was, I wouldn’t be able to go through pain like that.
I would like to pass away quietly and calmly with as little impact as possible.
It’s going to happen to every single one of us someday, why can’t we chose?
And why are those who love us most unable to make that choice for us if we are no longer capable?
Considering all the very strict procedures surrounding euthanasia and that fact that we are ‘lucky’ to live in a free country, my only question is why ISN’T euthanasia legal in Australia?