But what good did being virtuous do her? She worked nights for many years so that she could still be home with us during the day, when we needed her. The toll that took on her was tremendous. I remember the church ladies gave us Christmas baskets and used clothing – the poor coloured kids were always fed and well dressed, even without their charity, thank you very much, because my mother literally worked herself to the bone for us. She was adamant about the need to get a higher education and never stopped learning! There was no question but that we would get university educations. She bought and paid for two houses, on an income that probably never exceeded $20,000. At a time when the traditional was all people knew, she lived a non-traditional life. And she did find joy – in the church, in singing, in her work, in her friends and family, in conquering adversity and excelling at whatever she tackled.
She loved us unequivocally. She was generous, joyful, wise and unfailingly practical. She was warm and had a helping hand for everyone. It is so strange that her heart, which knew no limits, could not sustain her life beyond July 4, 1998. Mom was always prepared and I believe she was prepared for her death. She had been working on a hooked rug for my son’s wedding – all but a 6 inch square is complete. He says to leave it that way, in her memory. She had bought her dress and shoes and her wedding hat, which I brought back to Toronto.
For the last week, after I heard the news, I have felt like I can’t get enough air. I don’t know whether I mourn for her (who, right up till the end, got what she wanted!!!) or for myself, that she is not there to lean on or talk with or share our lives with. On Valentine’s Day, my youngest brother had sent her a fax machine and I would come home from work and find a faxed note she had sent off. I sent her pictures from when I first learned to ski and she was thrilled at this success, as she always was. My grandchildren would draw and write crooked notes to her and we’d fax them off on Sunday afternoons. That is over. I don’t know if I can bear thinking about it for very long.
Her legacy is vast and will endure, because there is a library fund that has been set up in her name. Above all, she valued education, hard work, laughter, her faith in God and being kind, no matter what. Her ashes were scattered in a forest in the mountains, near Banff, by a formation called the Three Sisters, in a tributary of the Bow River. The stream sang and sparkled, just as she did. My aunt, my brothers, my son, my cousin and I drank the clear water, scattered red rose petals and white carnations and said prayers for her in that forest-scented sun-dappled grove of towering trees. Now she is back with Nature, nurturing as always. As a ritual of closure, it was fitting and somehow comforting – the smell of pine, the bright light and clear water, the sounds of birds, the stones and trees.
Her lesson – she lived her life as she wanted. Sometimes I found her too self-effacing, but she always got her way. I am going to live like that. She did no harm because she was so good. I have to try to be like that. The marriage-thing has taken on a new dimension for me, because I have come to realize that my husband is like my father in many ways (Sigmund, don’t look!). My mother had to survive in an era hostile to single women. I do not have that challenge. My risk is to get on with it – and, in some way, through her sudden death which pains me so, my mother has shown me that we can get through the absolute worst that can happen, and emerge intact.
Leaving should be clean, swift, orderly. I did not know that 10 days ago – I understand that now, again, thanks to Mom. I know she is with me. I have her values, as well as some of the possessions she has safeguarded for a long, long time. She cherished us and her extended family much more. That is where the power of continuity is – in people – those who loved you, those who laughed with you, those who will remember you, not always deliberately, but in the chance scent of a flower, a fragment of laughter, an unexpected phrase repeated in her tone of voice.
I am so numb, yet I am weary of people saying they are sorry about her passing. I appreciate their condolences, but I get cranky because they did not love her as I did, so what are they being sorry for? I had thought weeks ago that I was cried out, when my girlfriend died in Sorel, but I was wrong.
I will live through this, and someday write about it, but right now, it is just too much. I feel turned inside out and dried up. I know this will pass, but my life has been changed irrevocably. Now, I will be having adventures for her, seeing places she did not have time to visit, experiencing sensations she did not have the opportunity to savour. It is a fearsome responsibility, you know, but I feel that it is what she would want me to do, or else I would not live up to her promise or her expectations of my potential.
No one, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for this.