My best friend’s mother passed away this week. ‘Passed away’ – where did that expression come from? It makes it sound like death was a graceful movement from one room to another, like from the hallway to the parlor. In a way, I suppose it is, if the passing is gentle and gradual rather than sudden and painful.
Dear, sweet, gentle Margo. Jess said Margo was like ‘a bird’ at the end. I completely understand what she meant.
I sat with my dad for a week while he was in palliative care, under a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) order. Again, I can intellectually comprehend why a DNR exists – no extraordinary measures for someone nearing the end of their life on earth.
But whenever the nurses came to bathe or turn him, he’d flinch and wince. When I protested, they said it was a primitive deep-brain reaction to touch, but I didn’t believe them, because when I stroked the tender, brown skin of his bald head or squeezed his fingers in mine, his body was relaxed and warm. Finally, after two days, I lost my composure. I yelled and threatened lawsuits and public complaints if they didn’t give him pain medication to soften the blow of his internal flight.
He reminded me of a sparrow, lying on his side, with his chest barely lifting the pale green flannelette blanket covering his body. A week with no food or water had pared him to the essentials – flesh clinging tightly to his fine bones, his face unlined again and child-like in its innocence. The pain and indignities and sorrow he experienced during his lifetime were receding to nothing.
My mother died suddenly, on the Canada Day weekend in 1998. We didn’t get to say goodbye. I raged then wept for years about that cruel, cheating twist. The woman who’d been the most important person in my life had been snatched away. Sure, I know she chose her time to go, but still…she left me without a word.
It wasn’t until this winter that I could finally clear out the last of her things I’d stored in our basement work room for almost eighteen years. They’d lost their power, you see.
When I touched her gloves or an old hat or the box of knitting patterns, I no longer felt the tug of tears behind my eyes. They’d become things that could be given away or recycled. Not that her memory had faded. It was just that the emotion I’d attached to things she’d once touched, had diminished to manageable levels.
So I will also remember Margo LaSalle, who was like a second mother to me during those formative years after Jess and I met in high school in 1961, with love and respect. She endured. I think of her gentle laugh, her sardonic raised eyebrow when she caught us at one of our high-jinks (no, that’s not cigarette smoke, yes, we were home before curfew, no, we weren’t necking down by the Canal), how she was always busy around the house.
She was a business woman before it became fashionable, running a hairdressing salon from the basement of their sidesplit on Jasmin Crescent, selling real estate – always, always working hard. She sewed my first drum corps captain’s uniform and dried our tears, she cooked for us and never questioned why I was always hanging around. I know my mother and Margo talked about their over-exuberant daughters who got into scrapes and skipped school. They recognized our friendship, and let us be. They didn’t push- they let us grow and fall and learn from our mistakes. They were always there.
The thing is, Jess and I turned out very much like our beloved mothers. Strong, resourceful, enduring, good-humored, loving, forgiving.
We are the memory-keepers for our families, the picture-takers, the gatherers, the prodders to do the right thing. I clearly remember, when events in my life were tilting towards awful, that my mother called me a ‘dutiful daughter’ because I kept trying to make things right for everyone and didn’t pay enough attention to myself until I almost broke. Margo said something similar to Jess, who was always there for her parents, took care of them, jollied them along, made sure they were well taken care of.
Our parents lived through World Wars and the Great Depression. They suffered loss, hunger and disappointments we can’t imagine. At the end of their lives, they found peace and freedom from pain. God speed, dear people, god speed. As always, you’ve gone ahead to prepare a way for us.
My memories of Margo are interwoven with my love for my friend. Like our love for our mothers, that will be eternal. Rest in peace, lovely Margo. Your life was well lived. Your legacy lives on strong, in your splendid daughter, and in your grandchildren and great-grandchildren.