Besides a wife and mother, she was tireless tending a large, beautiful yard and massive garden that to this day leaves me in awe. A single “keeper” who worked hour after hour with nothing but pure joy and satisfaction. She could take a large flock of 50+ chickens in the morning and turn them into culled and cleaned chickens in the ever-present, oversize freezer. That was something. Those days are gone, and she was my last connection to it other than wonderful, wistful memories. That life that (of course) we never fully appreciated when we were in it and living it. Those of you who lived at that time know very well what I mean. Then add to that her duties of designated truck driver, grain hauler, and all those things that a woman on a farm did – not only for family and farm but the community as well. Back in the days of multiple Church Fowl Suppers, Curling Bonspiels, community-wide events of all kinds all supplied with everything from the turkey to the fresh buns to the pies homemade… organized and served by the ladies of the community that my Mom was always a part of. I know that many/most of you from back then can say the very same things about your own Moms and Grandmas. Priceless times and memories. The most precious of all.
She never complained nor felt sorry for herself even though I remember times when she could have. And I mean she never complained! Life there wasn’t easy – and there are times where as a son I didn’t help much. If I only I knew then how in that place and time I had it made. I was a lucky and very advantaged kid. When times were tough weather-wise or equipment-wise and we (I) felt like it was just too much, Mom was there doing what needed done with the attitude and spirit of just get it done. I’d like to replace that wimpy memory of myself with one where I’m sitting in the cab of the truck out in the field taking a break, and telling both my Mom and Dad that in spite of challenges and difficulties – I was a very fortunate son. Fortunate for this life and to have then as parents. This life was never perfect – nor should it be, but I’d want to tell them with tears in my eyes I’d do anything for them. Absolutely anything – because they had demonstrated time and again that they would and did do anything for me. They’re both gone now and life has shifted to something I don’t recognize.
All or most of you have lost some people very close to you, so you know. You’ve lost grandparents, a parent… perhaps both. You’ve lost relatives, siblings perhaps, and of course good friends. But there is something visceral about losing your Mom. She was here when you took your first breath, and you’d never done a single thing on this earth without her being on this earth with you and for you. She is your best friend, your biggest fan, your strongest supporter, and relentless advocate. Always staying in the background so you could have your time in the “spotlight”. And she never needing a “thank-you” for any of it – though that simple and spoken “thank-you” would have been so deserved and appreciated. She’d have treasured it each time.
She was there for my first breath on Earth – and I wanted to be there for her last. The night before she passed I got to talk to her when she was aware and could still respond. We exchanged our deepest, saddest, sincerest “love you’s”… she reached for my hand to kiss it. And for a few seconds we locked eye-to-eye. I never really knew the look of absolute and unconditional love – but that was it. I don’t feel deserving, but that image as we looked into each other’s eyes is burned into memory for eternity. Yesterday (Jan 15th) morning she was no longer responsive and I sat with her from very early morning. Like Robin William’s line from the movie “Good Will Hunting” – the nurses knew the term “visiting hours” no longer apply to you. She clung on as people who loved her came through to see her for the last time. As you probably have seen – even the unresponsive know what’s happening around them. My dear sister Bernice caught a flight in difficult weather to Kelowna, got a vehicle and drove through nasty winter road conditions down to be with Mom. Less than an hour after she arrived Wed. night, Mom passed. There is no question she was holding on until Bernice got there. She passed quietly, calmly, peacefully. The same non-dramatic way she boldly lived her life.
In later years she was quite a different lady. From a mostly “homebody” on the farm, and since my Dad’s passing in 2004, she was now the party girl at Assisted-Living where she lived in. Leading the sing-songs, the sarcastic humor, and the back and forth good fun banter. Then getting remarried at 87! The lady knew how to live and make every day bright, fun, special… right to the end in spite of any handicaps. We were so lucky she was always content and upbeat. She and I (mostly her) were able to do a rendition of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at her place in Sunnybank in Oliver just back on Dec. 23rd. And I recall “forgiving her” for days long ago in Waskesiu, Sask. (early-mid 60’s) before the advent of Wet-Wipes when the “wet-wipe” was your Mom’s saliva on a Kleenex then applied to your face. Time and again. So much more hygienic that the ketchup or mustard smeared harmlessly there!
“They” say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger? I’d say “not so much”. Last thing I feel right now is “strong”. “They” say time heals all wounds? Whoever said that hadn’t lost a Mom. “They” know better by now. That wound never heals. “They” say your life flashes before your eyes at the end – and if true, I wonder what “flashed” for her. Family Christmases years passed? The farm, our farm puppies, the farm cats, the garden, her curling getaways with the ladies (which she loved so much)? I wonder. She would spend time when I was a kid teaching me to dance. My Dad couldn’t dance a lick but she could cut a rug. She taught me patiently - and we would dance. It’s a metaphor. Teaching me to dance, she also taught me life. She gave the tools to my sister Bernice and I how to live on when she was gone. I only wish I could be a shadow of the wonder, charm, strength, and bravery that she was. And I mean that. I have fallen far short of gallantry so many times – so I hope there were parts of me she was proud of. That’s not false humility but the sincerest truth. I want badly to be worthy of her but that’s a very high bar. She did it so naturally. Another reason I treasure that last look of “unconditional” we shared the night before her passing. I treasure that more than I can ever describe in words. In my mind I see her there on the floor dancing still as she dances through eternity. But now I’m sitting away, quite alone like a self-conscious kid in the school auditorium afraid to ask a girl to dance.
I take some comfort from that fact I made it to her before she passed and we could have our lucid moments – exchanging a thousand unspoken words in a couple seconds with a look. We both needed that. Another Robin Williams line – “I had to see about a girl”. And she was my best girl… my Mom. Gone at 93 years and 7 months. My window sun catchers have rainbows twirling through my living room today and she’s dancing on every one. Someday somewhere I hope to be on that dance floor with my beautiful Mom again, and I’ll ask my Dad if I can cut in… only for a moment.