Romanian Flowers – Last wishes

I help out as a Palliative Care Crisis Volunteer at the Sarcee Hospice. Officially my job is to sit with patients and families and help them deal with this very difficult transition in their lives, or in the case of people without family, to make sure no one dies alone.

Unfortunately, life’s been a bit crazy lately (good crazy, but crazy all the same) and I haven’t had much time to be there the past few months. I was feeling guilty about not having the time to be there – I usually volunteer once a week – and thought I’d donate 2 hangings to act as me by proxy (if I can’t be there in person, I can be there in acrylic). I came into the hospice to drop off the 2 hangings and Sandy (the social worker) was telling me this amazing story of one of their newer patients. Sophia (not patient’s real name) was originally from Romania and immigrated to Canada 20 years ago. She had not seen her son since she left Romania (he remained there) and it was her wish to be reunited with him again before she died. The hospice worked feverishly with the local MLA to cut through all the red tape and arrange a visa to fly her son in from Romania for a visit. He had arrived just the day before and they were reunited at long last. Sandy started to tell me the incredible life story of this patient, and right away I wanted to meet her.

Sandy has this habit of introducing me to everybody as an artist (which I’m not entirely comfortable with – but she continually cracks me up so I let her get away with it), and then razzing me in front of as many people she can for the fact I haven’t been around much lately. She introduced me in this usual manner and Sophia rolled her head over on her pillow and smiled in my direction. You could see the universe behind those massive big brown eyes of hers. They glittered with an amazing force and there was still a lot of life behind them – tired, but still wanting to play. And that smile! I don’t think you would ever see a smile this intense from a person who is in 100% health and full of life. It only comes from a diminishing soul being stripped away of its casing that knows very well what is happening to it. The radiance in her smile could drive darkness away from any room, or out of any being.

There was a recognition there. She was one of those people that my heart has always instantly broken for, not out of pity, but out of an immediate recognition of an analogous past or experience. The moment I saw her I heard that old familiar voice that said, “Yes, yes I know you. We are the same somehow.” There was some essence both of our spirits innately knew. “Oh,” she said and held my hand, “maybe next month when I have some money, I can buy something of yours and send it to my niece in Romania!” CRACK…. ow… my heart hurts suddenly.

This is definitely one of those amazing moments in ones life that belies description, and the mere fact of even attempting to wrap text around it diminishes the experience.

One of Sophia’s other dying wishes (apart from being reunited with her son) was to see her niece from Romania, whom she had never met. Unfortunately with visa requirements and government restrictions, it was impossible to get her niece to Canada. Of course, after I mentally pieced back together my heart, I told her I would be my great privilege to paint something that her son could take back to Romania with him when he left in 3 weeks time. However, in no way would I allow her to give me money for it.

The staff at the hospice are an amazing bunch, and generally are able to give a fair estimate on the length of time the patients will be our guests (so to speak). But death, believe it or not, is not an exact science. I’ve seen it time and time again where a person’s will can override the odds. I’ve witnessed many people who should have passed carry on for weeks, and others who, although terminal, slip away when they could have easily gone on for several months.

In Sophia’s case, we felt she would be one of the hospice’s longer term patients. Most patients come into the hospice with a diagnosis of less than 6 week, but we suspected Sophia would be with us for longer than that. Her spirit certainly told us that anyway! I had 3 weeks to paint something before her son left, but somehow I sensed more of an urgency to this. Subconsciously something was telling me to do this painting for her right away. I was heading off to Toronto late the following week and felt it important to get this done for her before I left.

I painted a sunflower (similar to my Wallflowers) and went back to the hospice a few days later.

I handed her the painting and that smile shone out of her again, as bright as the stars and as deep as the cosmos. It was all knowing, all seeing. She sat up and immediately started ordering everyone around the room to pose for photos. Again, she wanted to pay me but there was no way I was going to let that happen. “You smile is all the payment I need!” I told her. She was so excited. We took many photos that day. Some of Sophia and her son holding the painting and a photo of her niece, and some of just Sophia and her son holding a Canadian flag. The photo with the flag was for a thank you card I was going to make up to present to the local MLA for putting pressure on immigration to grant her son an entry visa into Canada. It was extremely gratifying for me to see the joy in Sophia’s face this day. She kept telling me that her niece would display this painting in her school so that all the children could enjoy this small token from Canada.

Her last wishes were now as complete as we could make them. There was an energy in the room that day. Every molecule of vacant space had become occupied by incandescent mystical presence. There was a sound deeper than white noise, almost like being in a vacuum of some kind (like I would know what that feels like…) but somehow the air was being squeezed from the room and replaced by something else. And all too soon we soon realized it was that of a prevailing aura after greatness has left the room… because greatness was about to leave the room.

As bright and vivacious as Sophia’s spirit was, her body just couldn’t hold on. She passed away 3 days after we took these photos.
Romanian Flowers / June 2005