Last Saturday was a tough day for Sherryl. She began to feel "weird" early afternoon and, a few hours later, she wouldn't wake when one of us gently touched her shoulder and called her name. We were scared because we didn't think Sherryl was going to make it through the night. A little after 9:00pm, we called Hospice. We were told a nurse would arrive at the house in about 45 minutes. As promised, the nurse arrived at the door soon after our call: a male with a pleasant smile. We introduced ourselves to him before taking him back to Sherryl's bedroom. And he introduced himself to us. "My name is Bruce," he said. Not a common name, Bruce was our father's first name, too.
Once in the bedroom, Bruce stood over Sherryl, got her to respond to him, then answered our questions and gave his advice. "Follow her lead," he told us. "Continue to do what you're doing so she is comfortable." And so we did. Comfort care.
Sherryl made it through the night and early Sunday, Nadine heard Sherryl calling
her name loudly. Sherryl had spilled her cup of juice and needed help.
She had the strength to reach for the cup, to try to take a sip, and
then to shout Nadine's name -- quite a difference from not
responding to us the night before. As late as this morning, Sherryl continues to have moments when she's nearly as chatty as she's ever been. Although her appetite has been close to nil, she enjoyed some applesauce yesterday and she continues to drink lots of liquids.
A different nurse from Hospice visited Sherryl today to assess and address medical needs. And then an aid visited Sherryl to help her with non-medical care. Sherryl felt relaxed and calm, and floated into another nap after being cared for by the aid. The aid had a cheerful demeanor, she was very tender, and her name was Ana. Our mother's name was Anna, too, with a minor difference in the way it was spelled.
And so, just as she was during the first months of her life, Sherryl has now been in the adept and compassionate care of Bruce and An(n)a. The circle of life. It's always there, and you don't need to look very far to find it.
Nadine and I cried together on the phone later Sunday morning. We were relieved that Sherryl had made it through the night and that some of her strength had returned. And we believe it wasn't a coincidence that a caring human being who had the same name as our father had joined us in our childhood home to help us with what we needed. Vulnerable little girls again, Daddy had arrived. "Mom and Dad are here," we sobbed on the phone. "They're coming to take their little girl, to help her find her way." And then, although it couldn't be farther from the truth but the notion was just absurd enough to lend much-needed comic relief to the moment, we began to laugh hysterically. "Sure, Sherryl gets the personal escort! They'd send a bus for us!"
For Dad, who sailed the oceans of this world, one of Sherryl's favorite songs.
As the last of the chemotherapy cocktail evaporates from Sherryl's system, her spirits are a bit higher. Her strength, on the other hand, is very low. Her muscles are weak and she now gets winded just walking across the room with her walker. Her appetite is better than it was a couple of weeks ago, and she's sleeping more soundly during the day and at night.
Sherryl had a more than a couple of special visitors today and thoroughly enjoyed their conversation. This evening she is exhausted though, so we are going to begin to monitor the number of people who visit her each day.
Hospice staff continue to come and go as needed, they each have such a nice demeanor. Special thanks to all our family and friends for your prayers. Words just do not express our gratitude for your love and support.
Sherryl was not strong enough to leave home for her doctor's appointment today. When Richard called to cancel the appointment, it was decided that now is the time for Hospice services to begin. Another telephone call later, Hospice had arranged to make their first visit to Sherryl this morning.
The same RN case manager who last week met with Sherryl at the Hospice center made the house visit today and gathered all the information needed to formalize the transition away from aggressive medical treatment. In addition to the services the Hospice team provides, they will bring to Sherryl's house a small wheelchair and a bedside table. They will also, in collaboration with Sherryl's doctors, assume her medical care.
Sherryl has been sleeping for the past few days and felt "crummy" today. Her back is bothering her and her stomach is upset. She wants to feel better, but can't seem to shake these symptoms. She doesn't feel like having any visitors, and her spirits are fading.
Sherryl has been resting as much as possible the past several days. Her appetite is returning slowly, but she is experiencing some pain in her right hip. She has difficulty walking, still uses her walker, and wants to do more walking each day -- even if it's only around the house. She has an appointment with her oncologist this week and she's hoping the doctor will prescribe a mild medication for pain.
Sherryl contacted Hospice by phone and spoke with a nurse case manager who told her she did not yet need Hospice's care, but now is a good time to understand all the program has to offer. Sherryl scheduled an appointment at the Hospice Center the following week to meet with the case manager and to learn about all of Hospice's services and benefits.
The case manager was as kind in person as she was on the phone. Patient and gentle, she explained the scope of the program and stated that Hospice "supports life." She explained that Hospice assumes care when a doctor and patient agree to stop aggressive treatment, i.e., chemotherapy. The woman told Sherryl that she (Sherryl) would be able to select her own case manager when the time comes. Sherryl recalled the telephone conversation she'd had with the same woman with whom she was meeting, and she recalled this woman saying to her that she did not yet need their services. Sherryl's response was, "If you're available, I'd like for it to be you. You gave me a string to a balloon."
Hold on to that string, RaRa. It's helium-powered hope. That balloon will keep you and your spirits buoyed. And we're all here to help you, too.
Sherryl said she knew it was going to be a bad day when she stepped on the scale at her doctor's office and her weight had dropped to a number she hadn't seen since she was in her early teens. Then her oncologist told her the current chemotherapy is not working and that her tumor marker is over 900. He gently told her there are no more chemotherapies for her, and then he reminded her of a conversation they'd had a while back, one about a day when they would know there would be no more treatment.
Sherryl's oncologist told her it's now time to focus on the quality of her life. And he told her it's now time to contact Hospice. Sherryl has contacted them and has an appointment next week; she learned that she does not need their services yet. That news, coupled with the physical absence of medications, has given her spirits a boost. The precious-sounding lilt in her voice is audible, and she's talking about a craft project she wants to begin at home as soon as she feels a little bit better.
Sherryl has always wanted to "be at peace with cancer." She has never intended to give up and still does not feel completely defeated by the disease. But she understands the reality of her situation and will continue on this journey exhibiting a level of grace and dignity that is a lesson to us all.
Interpreted as a prayer for mercy during devastating times, Justin Timberlake and Matt Morris sang it live last month on TV during the Hope for Haiti Now concert. And k.d. lang sang it this past Friday night in Vancouver during opening ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Sherryl didn't see either of those performances, but she did see the song performed by the Canadian Tenors on the Oprah Winfrey Show last week. She raved about this beautiful song and how moved the four tenors were when, as a surprise to them, Celine Dion joined them on stage mid-way through their performance. Sherryl loved that a huge surprise was planned and carried out, and she loved the beauty of Celine's voice soaring with the voices of the Canadian Tenors. But most of all, she loved the emotional reactions from each of the unsuspecting tenors as they discovered Celine had joined them on stage. Even during difficult times, Sherryl is focused on making people happy, delighting them.
This is a devastating time for our family, and we are being as brave as possible. We are trying to emulate Sherryl's resilience -- for her, and for the younger members of our family. But silently, we are each singing this prayer for mercy, too. Hallelujah.
It was a tremendously difficult decision. It wasn't on her timeline or on her terms. So it doesn't seem fair -- at all. How can it be that someone who is the human version of Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree is not afforded the opportunity to make choices about her own life?
After 23 years of caring for infants and toddlers in a "home away from home," as a result of the current economic climate, and because her lack of physical strength impedes her ability to care for little children, Sherryl has decided to close her beloved day care. Our family has spent the month of January dismantling the physical representation of Sherryl's life's work. Clark Street will soon become a memory to all who entered a special place built with love for little people, a place where thousands and thousands of hours were spent teaching and learning how to love, share, and grow.
The first generation Sherryl cared for is now in their 20s, and we've often wondered exactly how many children have been in Sherryl's care over the years. There's a mathematical formula to estimate that figure, and whatever the answer, that is the minimum number of lives Sherryl has touched. In addition to those children, Sherryl has formed friendships with many, many parents as well as with those who have worked beside her over the years -- friendships for a lifetime. And for as much as Sherryl cherishes those children, their parents, and her co-workers, they treasure her, too, for all she has brought to their lives.
Closing "Sherryl Morris Day Care" marks the end of an era, and the tears Sherryl sheds are for the good-byes. She is not bitter because this decision was not made on her terms; she is immensely sad to see the work she loves come to an end. But through the tears, there are thousands of sweet, happy memories that conjure up smiles. Sherryl will remember the time she spent with the children, the bonds she formed with parents, and the fun she shared with those who worked with her. And they will remember their time at day care, too -- because of Sherryl. Memories: her handprint is on their hearts, and theirs are on hers. They all have been changed ... for good.