Mary Urlocker - Rest in Peace


From the Orlando Sentinel

Mary L. Urlocker died July 4, 2006 after a seven year struggle with ovarian cancer.  She was born in Deseronto, Ontario.  She is survived by husband Bob of 50 years and five loving children: Karen, Shawn, Michael, Mark and Tim as well as a sister Carmel Troxell of Allentown, PA and brothers Raymond and Ted of Toronto.  She was also blessed with eleven grandchildren. She was a Registered Nurse from St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto.

Mary's funeral mass will be celebrated at Annunciation Catholic Church, Altamonte Springs, Florida on Friday July 7 at 10:00 am where she received much comfort and inspiration in her fight against cancer.  She was a member of Errol Estate Country Club, the Orlando Women's Golf Association and Women Playing for T.I.M.E, a charity for MD Anderson Cancer Center in Orlando where she received loving care.  She enjoyed competitive golf and developed many close friends who will remember her bright smile.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for your prayers and for donations to be made to:

Women Playing for T.I.M.E
In memory of Mary Urlocker
3160 South Gate Commerce Blvd, Suite 50,
Orlando, Florida 32806

The Last Breath


My mother was no longer conscious this morning.  Each of us were in with her in the final hours, holding her hand, speaking softly.  I put on some Jimmy Cliff music that she liked and sang quietly to her the song "Many Rivers to Cross."

Many rivers to cross
But I can't seem to find my way over
Wandering I am lost
As I travel along the white cliffs of dover

Many rivers to cross
And it's only my will that keeps me alive

A few hours later, her color was fading.  Her breathing was still erratic with pauses of ten to fifteen seconds between breaths.  All of us gathered by her side.  My sister Karen said the rosary along with my father and my wife.  Two nights ago she had called for Karen and whispered "hail, hail" asking for the rosary.  Tim and I held her hands.  Kids were outside playing.  After one decade of the rosary, that is, ten Hail Mary's, she stopped breathing.  The nurse checked and there was no pulse.  I left her side and I held my wife.  Everyone cried. And then after another two minutes that seemed like an hour, my mother gasped for air.  She was always a fighter and she would not let go. 

She began breathing again, still erratic, still noisy.  We waited.  And then Karen resumed the rosary.  When she completed all five decades of the rosary about ten minutes later, my mother finally let go.  We waited a couple of minutes to be sure.  We said our final goodbyes.  My father kissed her for the last time.  And then the nurse turned off the oxygen pump and everything was quiet.



Last couple of days we've been camped out at my parents' house.  People are sleeping on couches or on the floor wherever they can.  My brother Tim (pictured above) has not left the house since he arrived; he wants to stay close to our mom.  His wife Kelly and two boys are flying out tonight which will be good. 

Yesterday I was pretty discouraged.  I managed to go for a run around 10:00 pm for an hour and when I got back I felt normal for the first time all day.  Unfortunately, everyone was asleep. 

It's hard to be here, but its also hard to be away.  We're all just waiting and there's not much we can do at this stage.  Nurses from the hospice are here around the clock and that's been much appreciated.  They are doing the best they can to keep my mother comfortable.  But she's not responding much anymore.  I think she can still hear us and once in a while she will say something, but mostly she is resting. 

Her breathing has become a noisy death rattle  due to retained secretions in the upper respitory area.  Her breathing is also irregular with deep breaths with long pauses, known as Cheyne-Stokes respiration.  I think she is close to the end.



I caught a flight out from San Francisco to Orlando today.  I got to my parents' house around 11:00 pm.  Everyone was asleep except for the nurse and my wife.  Today was the first day that my mom did not get out of bed.  A couple of times she wanted to get up, but she just didn't have the strength. She hasn't been able to swallow food or liquid today.  She has tried to speak a few words, but not too much.

Earlier in the evening, my brother Tim put his ipod headphones in my mother's ears and played some irish songs including Danny Boy.  She responded to the music and moved her feet to the beat. 

The photo above is me, tired and discouraged.



My mother had a resurgence today, perhaps owing to my father's birthday.  Or more likely because she's been sleeping better with the help of Haldol, a new prescription the hospice nurses have put her on.  She is not talking much, but she managed to sing my "Happy Birthday" to my father. 

My wife made a cake for my father and my mom had a couple of bites and a sip of champagne.  Later when she was standing in the kitchen and a Bob Marley song came on, she reached for my father and danced with him.  My parents have been married fifty years and its they love eachother as much now as they when they first met. 

The hospice is now providing round-the-clock nurses, which has been helpful.  The doctor says my mother has been extraordinarily resilient.  I don't know where she gets her strength from.

The Last Goodbye


The photo above is from my mom's graduation from St Michael's College nursing school in Toronto when she was twenty-two.  She's seventy-three years old now and won't live much longer. 

I've said a lot of goodbye's to my mom in the last year.  She survived ovarian cancer for more than six years and three different rounds of chemotherapy.  But this past Christmas, I knew she would not last the year.  Chemotherapy wasn't working anymore and so it was just a matter of time.  My parents are very strong and they didn't want to worry anyone.  So they just quietly went down the path, worked through things, made arrangements, accepted what was happening. 

And over the last six months we've all done plenty of the same.  I've flown out to visit my parents, sometimes on red eye flights, sometimes just for a few days, to try to get more time. She outlived the doctor's predictions and and eeked out a few extra months.  But now there is no more time. 

With every trip to see my mother, I've treated it as if its the last time.  I've made sure to say everything that ever needed saying.   But even after doing that, there is always one more thing.  I can't help but think of a million questions that now can never be answered.  If we could string them all together, my mother would live forever.  But she won't and it's tearing me up inside. 

I've told my mother I love her.  I've thanked her for raising me.  I've told her all her kids turned out right.  I've told her my dad is going to be ok.  I've told her she's going to go to heaven. And yesterday I kissed her goodbye for the last time.

As much as you prepare for the last goodbye, it hurts.  It really hurts. 

Day by day you see someone you love dying in front of your very eyes.  Day by day, she is weaker.  She is less focused.  She is less there.  My mother is tiny and fragile.  She is skin and bones.  And the things that made her who she is are rapidly fading away.  Her humor, her smile, her sparkle, they are mostly gone.  She is strong willed which is good to see since that's what has allowed her to survive so long, but even that is fading.  She told me the other day that she wished she could end it.  "Getting sick is a bugger," she said.

I comforted her the best I could.  She cared for all of us over the years; I could never pay her back in a life time, let alone a few days. I showed her pictures and remind her of times when I was growing up. I recalled our camping trips, or when we used to go skiing, or visits with cousins and aunts and uncles.  She remembered them along with me.  Or seemed to.  Sometimes, she was distracted just trying to breathe.  Once in a while she was confused.  But mostly she took it all in.

She can still talk a little, but not much.  Her breathing is labored and I know it will stop at some point.  And then she will be in a better place.   

Helping Hands


It's been good to visit with my parents.  I'm glad I've been here able to see my mom and to help take care of her in the final days.  She did better last night, her breathing was easier and she slept until about 3:00 am. We were up for an hour or so, but then I went back to bed. 

Early this morning, my father came to get my wife and I.  My mom was insisting she wanted to get out of the hospital bed and my father made her promise that she would wait until he could get us so we could help her up.  By the time we got back to their bedroom, she had already climbed out of the bed and was standing up on her own.  I'm not sure how she got over the rails on the bed, but she did.  She's always been strong willed!

She wanted to walk a bit, which she shouldn't do too much, but my wife and father (pictured above) helped her walk to the living room so she could have a change of scenery.  I joked with her that she had "broken out of jail."

Later today I will be heading back to California.  My brother Tim will be coming in and then around midnight, my sister Karen will arrive.  It's been a bit of a scramble for them to get flights so I'm glad things have worked out.

My mom's been getting lots of cards and emails.  And plenty of people have brought over food, for which we are thankful. My parents' friend Marie has been over helping out and she is a saint.  My mom said "she'd give you the shirt of her back."  This morning when Marie came over my mom had a great big smile. 

Today I'll help my dad finalize the funeral arrangements so there's one less thing to worry about later on.  It's good to get out of the house once in a while and still be helping. 

Taking a Trip

My mother is in the final stages of dying.  When we were first putting her to bed last night she was saying she needed to get ready to take a trip.  She wanted to get her shoes and be ready to go.  My father asked where she was going and she said "Arizona," where my brother Tim lives.  My father told her it was very hot there and we would go later.  She seemed ok with that.  Later we learned from the hospice literature that it's normal for someone in the final stages of dying to feel they are making a journey.  Which of course, they are.

My wife and I stayed up most of last night with my mom.  She slept a couple of hours but was coughing and had trouble breathing most of the night, so none of us got much sleep.  We gave her water and helped her get to the bathroom when she needed to.  She is still coherant and knows what's going on.  "I'm sorry to be a nuisance," she said at one point.  And later on, "I hope you don't get what I've got."  She also told me "You've got a real gem there," referring to my wife.  Yes, I do. 

He breathing was troubled; there is a lot of fluid build up in her lungs and it creates a haunting "death rattle" or wheezing sound.  This has been going on for a few nights now.  I understand better how hard this has been for my father; he stayed up three nights in a row tending to my mother.  He's been very appreciative of having the help. 

Around 7:00 am, my father got up and I crashed in the guest room for a couple of hours.  I'm glad that my wife and I have been able to come out and help and provide comfort to my mother.  It is not easy by any means, but it feels right.

I'd like to ask everyone to keep my mom in their thoughts and prayers during this final stage.  If you want to post comments on the blog, please do so and I will read them to her.  You can do this by clicking on the link below any posting that says "Comments".

For anyone who is going through a similar process, I encourage you to read through the document below or materials from Hospice to understand the "arc" of dying.  I found it very comforting to know what will happen at each stage and that there is a normal sequence to things.  There is very practical information that will make things easier and more comfortable for everyone.

Night Crew


My brother Mike has been visiting my parents for the last few days, helping out my father.  Things have been difficult.  I don't think my father has slept much in the last three days.  Last night my father slept in the spare bedroom and Mike took care of my mom.  She woke up a lot during the night and Mike said it was pretty rough.  But better to share the load. 

I will try to get my dad out of the house today and go to a movie or the gym or something, just to get his mind of things.  "I try to be strong," he told me, "but sometimes I just break down."