My Mother, Dorothea Terese Sinclair, faced many challenges after being diagnosed with lymphoma in 2009, at the age of 78. Over the next few years Mum was also diagnosed with macular degeneration and, later, symptoms of dementia. Mum had always been very healthy and active throughout her life, only ever being admitted to hospital to give birth to her seven children. After 2009 that changed. She endured more frequent hospitalization and eventually required “live-in” aged care. Mum had a simple, deep faith and as her body and mind gradually failed, her faith and love for God grew in profound depth and simplicity. Jesus and Mary were her constant companions as she faced the new challenges that increasingly became part of everyday life. Before moving into aged care and, later, on Sundays visits home, she loved to take part in Mass, whether in the aged care chapel or on television when at home. She knew Mass responses by heart even when she could no longer remember family names. Eventually, even that was taken from her. Although she heard what was being said she could no longer make sense of what she heard.
Mum began to develop a more simplistic manner when visiting or passing by the chapel in her wheelchair. She would ask where we were and then “blow a kiss” to Jesus in the tabernacle, saying loudly, “love you”! As she passed any statue of Mary, Mum would ask who it was and reach out to hold Mary’s hand. She spoke openly to Mary as if speaking with another mother. Her words were usually the same: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you… Look after yourself love. You did a good job with Jesus. Take care”. As health problems became more pronounced, Mum and family experienced difficult times as her mood changes sometimes became extreme. Good days became rare in her last year of life but she still remained ready to reach out a hand to “Mary” as we passed by her statue.
On 10 October 2017 my mother was admitted to Westmead Hospital with a life threatening condition and severe pain. Days later she was transferred to Mount Druitt Palliative Care Unit. Mum’s first days in palliative care were especially difficult but staff care was exceptional. Although she was given physical pain relief she remained restless and was rarely able to engage with those around her for any length of time. As Mum’s deterioration became increasingly obvious, Fr. Greg Morgan (my sister Julie’s brother-in-law), came to offer Mum the last rites. On the evening of Wednesday, 18 October, family members, sisters and family friends, stood by my Mother’s bed, encircling her with prayer and our love. Mum remained still, eyes closed, non-responsive to words spoken to her or to any touch during the anointing of her body. Although it was impossible to tell for sure, I sensed Mum had some awareness of what was happening despite her inability to show any obvious response. This proved to be true.
As the last rites drew to a close, all present witnessed something both precious and humbling as Fr. Greg broke a tiny piece from a “Consecrated Host” he had brought for Mum. He put the tiny particle to Mum’s lips but her jaw locked as it had locked each time anyone tried to feed her during past weeks. Facing Mum’s hesitance, Fr. Greg passed the tiny Eucharistic particle to me, since I was nearest to Mum on the opposite side of the bed. I spoke softly to her, telling her it was not ordinary food… “it’s the Eucharist”, I said. “It’s Jesus”! I immediately felt Mum’s lips begin to loosen, against the touch of my thumb, but I could still feel her jaw ready to lock if we were forcing her to eat.
Suddenly, as I slipped the host between my mother’s lips, her face immediately changed. Mum recognised the familiar taste of her Lord! Her previously taunt expression became relaxed as she raised her two hands and placed them, one hand on top of the other, across her mouth. She began kissing the palm of her hand, as if attempting to kiss the Eucharist she had just received. A gasp of surprise could be heard coming from those in the room as they witnessed what happened. Mum then reached out and took my hand in her hands and began kissing my hand. I could not believe the strength I felt in the hand that held mine! I eventually slipped Father Greg’s hand into her hand and she kissed his hand in gratitude. Her eyes were still closed but her body became filled with strength. We then heard words being spoken, softly at first, from Mum’s lips. Not understanding what she said and shocked that she could still speak, we asked Mum what she wanted. She then said, more loudly and with great effort….“ I’m Happy…….I’m very, very happy”! To make her meaning clearer she said, even more loudly…. “JOY”, as she raised her hands upward a little. These were the last words spoken by my Mother. God’s gift to her and to us!
One week later, at 10.45am on 25 October, Mum slipped away into the arms of her beloved God, surrounded by family members who heard no sound as they realised Mum’s breathing had silently stopped. I learned so much from my mother’s simple yet profound faith, not only evident in her last days. As Mum lived her life, so did she travel her final journey home! My Mother lived a hidden life of love: she was not perfect, but always faithful to the journey!
Sr. Rosanne Sinclair