My mother, Grace Elliott was my biggest fan and strongest supporter.  I had written about her over the course of her most recent cancer battle and I knew when the time was right I would also write about her death.

There were just too many damn funny things that happened that early Monday morning. My mother was also very funny and I like to think that this was her gift to us: a last laugh.

On a Sunday evening in June of last year around 10pm, as I was getting ready to leave the hospital, my Mom said to me: “I hope I get to die in my sleep.” I said: “I hope you do too”.

3 ½ hours later; she did.

It had been a peaceful and brief hospital stay as my Mom had only come into Emergency on the Friday morning with a small bowel obstruction.  She was lucid, communicative and ‘herself’ until the end with the bonus of a semi-private room to herself when her roommate went home on the weekend.

My cousin Nancy had spoken to me on the Saturday morning saying that her mother, my beloved Aunt Pat was quite upset that my Mom was in the hospital. Aunt Pat kept asking her daughter  Nancy why we wouldn’t just “let her go…she has already suffered so much.” I said “You know Nancy. It seems a little harsh. I mean Mom is just sitting there watching TV re-runs and doing crossword puzzles. I think if we take a pillow to her now, she’s not going to like it.”

Fast forward to that phone call a day later in the wee hours from Dr Luke Vandersomething, the gentle Dutch giant who had come into my Mom’s medical life a couple of months before.

He said to me when I answered the phone: “I am so sorry to tell you but your mother has passed.”

I couldn’t believe it.  She was of course failing but it didn’t seem possible that we had been watching 60 Minutes and talking about skating and laughing about silliness just 5 or so hours before.

I started to cry at the same time as my brain was jumping into action. I said to Luke:

“I don’t know what to do.”

He said comfortingly; “I know this is a very tough call to receive, I mean you know it’s coming but it’s still hard.”

I said: “You don’t understand. Seriously.  I really don’t know what to do?”

He cooed: “I know. You and your mom were very close and I am sure that having looked after her will leave a huge void. You need to take some time and blah, blah, blah…”

I said much more emphatically: “No, that’s not what I mean. I mean I don’t know what to do.  Do I back up the station wagon? I mean, for real, what happens next?”

So what happened next was my sister had to go….actually…. I made her go to the hospital. We all have our areas of expertise and hers is more “medical” mine is more “administrative”. Someone had to identify the body and collect my Mom’s things.

My sister and I had previously agreed on a funeral place and she had made the initial call. The funeral people sent me an email and an attachment with the required paperwork. It took me a bit of time to read the following  email: (I changed the name of the funeral home and its representative – read on – you’ll see why)

Dear Ms. Kwong,

On behalf of ‘ACME’ Funeral Home we would like to extend our deepest sympathies to you and your family. We would like to thank you for choosing us to help you in your time of need.  We have been in touch with Toronto General Hospital and once the requisite paperwork is completed, we will collect your sister.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you require any assistance.


‘Anna Smith’  – Funeral Director – ACME Funeral Home




I thought I should respond quickly just in case my sister was detained in the parking lot of the hospital for some reason– we sure wouldn’t want this case of mistaken identity to get out of control…

Dear Anna,

Thank you so much for your prompt attention and your kind words in your recent email. I have just a couple of quick comments:

My sister is the one who called you. My mother is the one you need to pick up. That said, my sister can be excitable, so if she does get out of hand, maybe we could talk about a “twofer”?


Pj Kwong


My sister arrived at my house about 4:30am while it was still quiet. I said: “How did you get here?” she said: “With my car” (The implied ‘idiot’ was in the tone). I continued: “Did anybody follow you?” She countered: “What is wrong with you? Nobody followed me. The streets are empty.”  I had printed off the emails and handed them to her to read while saying: “I just wanted to make sure. For the foreseeable future, don’t get into any station wagons in particular with tinted windows and double especially if they want you to lie down.”

To say I was killing myself laughing is one understatement; to say my sister did not find the whole thing quite as funny, is another. (Although it makes us both smile now)

The other thing that makes us smile is the fact that my sister not only collected my Mom’s personal effects but also those of the woman who had been her roommate.  The woman in question left the hospital without her fuschia slippers and coordinating flowered housecoat. Hey wait a second.  They say there are no accidents – unless you count the unfortunate choice of fabrics in this case. So maybe what would have been a nursing/hospital/chase down the owner problem got moved down the line to us? Regardless, it was a few days with the stuff in the back of my sister’s car before she checked and by then it was too late.

That’s the thing, throughout 7 cancers in 24 years, my mother never lost her sense of humour. For example: telling nurses that hospital gowns should be called ‘semi-private coverage’. She often said of a dolt-ish person that they belonged not to the super bright Mensa but rather its sister organization that she made up called Densa.  She decided instead of a traditional funeral, she wanted a celebration and even named it: ‘Grace’s Post-Party-um’ – a dinner two and a half weeks after she died, that included friends and family where we shared memories, pictures and great food.

I was lucky to be able to spend the time that I did with my Mom. There was more laughter than tears even closer to the end of her life. I feel privileged to have been able to help her along the way.

The following are links to the stories that I wrote about some of our antics. She loved the fact that the depth of material found as a result of her medical care didn’t go to waste.  Just call her Newman  Hospital Hijinks  Angels Among Us The Victory Bell

To all of you who knew her and to those just meeting her for the first time here: I think leaving a legacy,especially one of humour = a successful life.

Thanks Mom. I am proud to be the proverbial apple from your tree.