An Unexpected Turn

At the end of July, I received some bad news. My mother had been hospitalized in a small rural hospital in Eastern Ontario. After a CT scan, it was discovered that she had cancer. My family was in a state of shock. My mother did not have a history of cancer in her family, and she had always led a healthy life. Her condition deteriorated before our eyes, and she died three weeks after being admitted to hospital, even before we had the results of her biopsy.

Although this is a very personal event, I have chosen to share this with you because I've tried countless times to write about the many exciting things I have seen in the last month to no avail. It's as though I had to address this issu
e before I could move forward...

To all of my friends who are also readers, I'd like to thank you for your loyal support. I would also like to offer special thanks to my friends who came with their respective spouses to the funeral in the tiny rural community where my mother lived. You've all been wonderful.

The picture below is of my mother's garden.
The following is the eulogy I wrote in the wee hours of Saturday, August 15:

My mother's passing has taken us all unexpectedly. Nevertheless, to those who have gathered here today, I am pleased to have had the opportunity to meet all of you and hear your kind words. What is more, your kind words have shed some valuable insight into my mother's public life. I knew that she liked social events, but I had no idea that she was involved in so many community groups.

I was aware of her involvement in the Osgoode Township Museum, the Women's Institute, the church choir, the Historical Society, the TOPS weightloss group and that she was a member of a film club. But I had no idea that she also took part in groups for gardeners and walkers or that she enjoyed shuffleboard enough to join a group. I was also surprised to discover that my mother was a deacon in the Orange Lodge, as, to my knowledge, we don't have a drop of Irish blood. However, I did notice that the ladies in this group have a wonderful sense of humour and that would have been incentive enough for my mother to join.

In addition to being very social, my mother could be described as a compassionate person. She worked with the mentally disabled at the Kingston Psychiatric Hospital for over 20 years, a job that she told me she found rewarding, and on more than one occasion, my mother invited one of her patients to join us over the Christmas holidays. After she left this job to move with her new husband to Ottawa, she often spoke of her favourite patients whom she missed.

My mother was also a great lover of animals, particularly the young of any species. We had many cats and a more than a few dogs, and there was some fairly stiff competition among them to see who would get to sit on her lap after dinner. On countless post-super occasions, we had a dog-eat-dog or cat-eat-dog situation on our hands.

My mother also had a keen eye for design. As a child, she often refused to buy clothing if the garment in question had a crooked seam, a potentially faulty zipper or if the design was just too simple to warrant the forking over of any cash. My mother was a sewer, and if she could whip something up in a night at a fraction of the cost she would do it. As a Westerner and cowgirl, my mother had a holster that she wore around the house, carrying her weapon of choice—her scissors because "you never know when you might need'em." Danger in the form of dangling threads lurked everywhere. Remember Heather, cut don't pull.

She also came up with some very creative Hallowe'en costumes over the years. One year my brother was an owl. She had taken an old canvas raincoat and sewn layers of newspaper cut into strips to it. In the morning, when my brother left for school, he had a gorgeous thick newsprint plumage that fluttered in the wind. At the end of the day, however, he had some very noticeable bald spots, plucked clean by other kids who had succumbed to temptation.

This seamstress was also able to sew without a pattern. In fact, her children were not the only ones to don her creations. Her dogs also had this pleasure. Imagine the creative mind that concocted a bunny suit and a tutu for some lucky whippet.

But sewing was not enough to satisfy my mother's creative desires. In the 1970s, she moved on to batiquing, tie dying, macramé, weaving, soap making, oil painting and woodworking. In the mid-eighties, her focus shifted from crafts to medieval history. She went to university at the age of 44 and completed a BA in History from Carleton University. Her subsequent craft was stained glass, an interest that I shared. Her most recent endeavour involved watercolours, and I know that some of her paintings were displayed at the North Gower Library and have heard that another is hanging at the Osgoode Township Museum.

My mother's curiosity resulted in her living a very full life. She did a lot in her 68 years, and she was always excited about learning. I believe that my mother's ability to accomplish so much stems from her background as a farmer. I know that, at a very young age, she had labour-intensive chores to do before she could move on to her hobbies and interests. Her leisure activities were in a sense a reward for a hard day’s work. My mother never shied away from difficult tasks, and woe betide any of her children who did not give something a worthwhile try before throwing in the towel.

My mother was all of the above: social, compassionate, creative, curious and hardworking. She was also my mother, and her passing has led me to realize just how privileged this relationship was. My mother was my first exposure to life and my first experience with love, nurture, understanding, disappointment, resolve, perseverance and respect. My mother’s presence in my life is everywhere, and her passing was a little bit like the unearthing of the roots of a tree. The sheer depth and reach of the roots reflect just how much I loved her.


Anonymous | August 23, 2009 at 6:18 PM

So beautiful, you do your Mothers Memory Proud. No Photograph could depict her as your words have, an excellent piece of Prose.

John_Ward Leighton | August 23, 2009 at 6:57 PM

Wonderful tribute,


C. McKane | August 23, 2009 at 8:33 PM

What a remarkable woman your mother was.
Thank you for sharing such a personal story.
Thinking of you and your family,

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