When my mom explained, “I wish to create some Christmas cookies,” it was a tiny shock. I understood what her idea of cookie making involved — she cooked for a family of seven kids, and everything was always made in huge batches — but she no longer had the power to stir and she could not sit verynbsp;long.
My mom had what doctors would call multiple chronic complex conditions. They call it the new means of dying, actually. You get diabetes, after that you can not breathe so well, your heart is not so wonderful. They think you’ve got lung cancer, and you’ve got what is called spinal stenosis, where your spinal canal narrows and your spine just starts to collapse on itself. It is excruciating, and residing with this chronic pain creates all kinds of new issues. She had macular degeneration in both eyes, so she had been virtuallynbsp;blind.
But she was determined that baking biscuits was what she wanted to do. It was something that my mom had always adored. So I got out all of the old cookbooks she had, and it was easy to see which cookies we were going to bake because they were the ones on all of the greasynbsp;pages.
Pretty soo we had this long list: the peanut-butter biscuits that we, as little children, would squish using a fork, all of the sorts of biscuits we would cut out with cups since we did not have star-shaped cookie cutters afterward, and the rum balls which my little brother loved thenbsp;many.
She then said, “You know, I wish to create a dozen cookies for everybody helping me.” And that is when the job became more grandiose. There were the different physicians, the various specialists for her eyes, or her cancer or her lungs. Then there were the many care providers, from nurses to the men and women who delivered lunch. Then there were the individuals who cut her own hair or cared for her toes andnbsp;toenails.
In the long run, we’re going to be making 49 dozen biscuits. That is nearly 600nbsp;biscuits.
When you are making that lots of cookies, you are filling the vehicle with the ingredients many times over, and filling the flat. It had been a cottage industry, like a tiny organization. As each batch came out of the oven, mother would get into her wheelchair and be pushed to the kitchen to possibly put some sprinkles on. Every time she did, all the memories came back to her, all the scents of this baking. She was in utternbsp;joy.
This went on for 2 weeks. We cleared out all of the cookie tins in a number of dollarnbsp;stores.
It was her job to say who would get what. She could not see, but she could dictate a small note saying thank you for all of them and she could hold a pencil to do a little squiggle which was hernbsp;touch.
Gradually, these biscuits were piled into tins and piled all around the apartment. In the long run, my twin sister, Judi, and I went out to deliver them all. That took a couple of days. It was probably the finest Christmas we had had with her all of our adultnbsp;lives.
This interview was edited andnbsp;condensed.
As told to Wencynbsp;Leung.
Janet Dunnett is the author of The Dwindling: A Daughter’s Caregiving Journey to the Edge of Life, published earlier this year. She resides in Qualicum Beach,nbsp;B.C.