I think about you often. There have been moments over the past ten years when I have thought/ asked myself what would you have told me to do. There have been times when I have heard your voice in my head saying ‘ What is she doing?” like you used to when you were not happy with me. A couple of weeks ago, I actually heard your voice on a video that I found in my photo archive that was taken on your camera a few months before you died. I had never seen it before. It had been on your camera and I had saved the files but never looked at them. I cried after hearing it. The tears came like water through a faucet. It surprised me that after all these years, hearing it would affect me like that. I realized then, that the way I see you has changed.
Grief and time have changed the lens that I look back through. I can’t speak for anyone else who knew you. I can only share what I feel now. Today it has been ten years since I held your hand in Parkwood. Sat beside you until you left your body behind, then I drove home from the hospital, numb and unable to process anything that had happened leading up to that moment when I saw and felt you take that last breath. Life became very different and difficult after that.
I can’t remember the number of times that I have tried to articulate how I have grieved your death. Not to share publically necessarily, but to help myself heal, at least to start. Grief I have come to understand does not have an end date and changes with time. I have been told over the years by different people that I should just get over it. That I should just let it go and move on. Your death came at a time in my own life that was already so filled with deep loss, that watching you die became intermingled with so much pain and sadness that I did not know how to separate it from the living that I had to do at the time.
I wrote this for you and gave the eulogy at your funeral. I like to believe that you were there to hear it then. It feels important that you (and I) might hear it again:
A mother is not a person to lean on but a person to make leaning unnecessary.- Dorothy C. Fisher
Last November, I flew to Nova Scotia to drive Mom home to London, for what would be her last trip to the east coast. I have driven those highways a few times over the past few years with my daughters, but this was the first time with my Mom. As we drove through the different cities and towns along Highway 2, 20 and 401, we had a lot of time to just talk. 22 hours in fact. Mom told me many stories about her life, stories of places and people along the way.
Somewhere just past the border of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, we sang the entire John Denver Greatest Hits CD, one of her favourites. We reminisced about our time together as a family. We laughed remembering the Christmas when we had to cook the turkey and heat up the tortière in the fireplace because the ice storm had knocked out the power, and DeeDee, Grandfather and Cousin Lois were visiting. Tuna fish just wouldn’t cut it. Or the time Rob and Darryl made a go cart when we were still living in the farmhouse, and how Rob launched Darryl off the steep ramp they had built, into the piles of leaves they had raked up. Darryl flew, arms flailing high into the air, then disappeared into the leaves. After some minutes he emerged with a huge grin on his face, ready to go again. Mom breathed a huge sigh of relief, and then went for a spin herself.
Mom loved to do many things, and I will remember her in this way. Mom loved to make jam and jellies. I can still hear the pop of the lids when the jam jars set. She was unafraid to steal, I mean, borrow, crab apples even from the front lawn of the church in Kinburn to make jelly. Blooming crab apple trees in spring were her favourite.
She loved to sing in the choir. I remember many times listening to her and Katie, when we were younger, sit at the piano together, to sing hymns in two part harmony. She loved to take long walks by the ocean, to do jigsaw puzzles and crosswords…if she had been a contestant on Jeopardy she surely would have won. She loved to teach, and had a passion for learning; most of all to help others learn. On this last drive together, she told me about the children she had taught over the years at the various schools that she had taught at, especially Erskine Johnson and Fitzroy Centennial Public School in Ottawa. After all those years, she could still remember everything about those kids, especially the hardest students to teach. She loved children – especially her grandchildren, her nieces and nephews and her own children – all of us.
When we drove through Hudson, Quebec, Mom told me stories about her childhood – spending her summers as a teen, golfing, playing basketball in high school with her friends, and golfing. She talked about how close she felt to her friends growing up in the small community, and how wonderful it was to reconnect with them at their high school reunion not so long ago. She told me stories about her time at Neuchatel Junior College in Switzerland, and travelling with DeeDee to Italy over her school holidays. She really loved to travel. She had many fond stories about the different places she had been, and especially of her cruise to Alaska with Dad, Uncle Bill and Aunt Jan.
Something happened on that trip back from Nova Scotia that I will never forget. As we drove into Drummondville on the first night, I saw a brilliant turquoise falling star. So bright, brighter than I had ever seen before. I was just about to ask Mom if she had seen it too, when she turned to me and asked that very question. Neither of us had imagined it. I pulled off to the side of the highway, and we both made wishes at that very moment.
Mom had a drive and iron will unmatched by anyone that I have ever known. Her passion ensured that she lived her life in her own way. She was not afraid to speak her mind, be direct or call you out on something she didn’t agree with. No one dared to steal the corner pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that she was working on… ok, maybe I did but no one ever could prove that.
I am deeply grateful for sharing this life with Mum. It wasn’t always easy but she had a profound effect on my life. She has touched the lives of many people throughout the years. I know that I would not be the person I am today, if Mom had not been part of it. She pushed me to look at the world with a critical eye, to push myself to be more than I thought I could ever be. Though we may not have shared the same blood, we had a special bond together that I am grateful to have shared.
unfold your wings
you are free now
rise up to the sky, little darling
we are here now in the glow
of everything that you are
oh little butterfly
the pain of change is over now
go into the winds and softer breezes
dance as only you can
in this new and golden light
our hearts are overflowing
fingertip to fingertip to wing
Thank you Mom, for everything that you have given to me, to our family, and to everyone.
Thank you for the gift of you.
July 29, 2010
I think about the time we shared before you passed. I am grateful for it because it planted a seed that took ten years to flower and help me understand many things I did not at the time. Now that I am older, I understand how it is better to look back on everything with a compassionate and open heart and to let that past be what it was. The past cannot be changed. I have learned to allow myself to feel, especially when I have been told by others how and what to feel. In many ways, it had to happen in order to shape the person that I am today. It has been part of a lifetime of learning, evolving, and growing that I am not wiling to dismiss or ignore. I will spend today thinking and remembering with a softer heart than I had before.
The path of the pandemic this year has very much echoed the events that occurred ten years ago. When I began this year I felt that it would be a year, among other things, a year of forgiveness. I am learning in a deep way to sit with forgiveness, wrestle with it and embrace it. I wish that you were here so that we could talk about it in person. Since we can, this letter to you will have to do.