It’s Mother’s Day today and it is also my own mother’s 99th birthday. It is wonderful that she has lived such a long and full life, but at the same time the fact that I haven’t had a conversation with her in four years hurts. She is still with us but her mind is elsewhere. She has dementia. She lives in a home in my old hometown, looked after by my sister and her family. My daughter visits when she can since she lives in the same province now but of course she has a busy life and I get to know how mom’s doing when she updates me. It’s all good but I do so much miss our long heartfelt conversations with her either by phone (which it usually was since I have spent more of my life away from the Ottawa area) or in person when we could. One of my happiest memories lately has been the weekend that she, my daughter and I spent in Pembroke enjoying each others’ company while my daughter was attending school there.
It’s so hard to see those you love and who have been a huge part of your life fade away. I saw that with her sister – my aunt – who suffered from a series of strokes. It was different with my dad who died of cancer, but again to see that force that was so present diminish is just so so painful. Any time you see a loved one pass in tiny steps it’s the mourning you start when it is obvious there is no coming back from this that wears on your heart. So forgive me a little if on this Mother’s Day I really just feel like crying.
I’ve been writing a novel for several years about a man who loses his mother to dementia. At the time I started writing it was more the reality of those I knew than as close to home as it is for me now though even then my mother wasn’t quite herself. It’s been a bit harder for me to continue on my novel (if you’re curious it is “Late Night Cleaners Club” at Tablo.io – you can read what I’ve written so far on there by searching the title) as there are days I just feel sad and don’t want to write about dementia and aging even if my novel is fiction. A little too close to home right now. I have been following Jann Arden’s Facebook and Twitter and my wonderful daughter bought me her book “Feeding My Mother” which I am enjoying in small doses and again, there are times I absorb myself in the subject and other times I just want it all to go away and let me pick up the phone and talk to my mom for hours again.
You never stop being your mother’s child, even if there are stormy waters under the bridge. I am fortunate that she may not have always liked what I did or the direction I was going but she was always there for me regardless. Not everyone is so fortunate and I hope my own children know that I am the same way. I may not always understand my childrens’ paths but I will always be there for them in some way, shape or form even if it is a late night “Mom you up?” text.
Right now though, this piece isn’t about me. It’s about my mom and how very much she has shaped who I am, in her own quiet way. So that’s the first point: you don’t need to be loud to get your point across. Just be smart and think about what you say. Which leads to the second point which was to let unkind words be like water off a duck’s back. Much easier said than done I’m afraid. I’m an Aries, I don’t bite my tongue well so this is something she always kept reminding me of. However, I had always told her that sometimes you do need to stand up for yourself, to not be taken advantage of and let people know when they are stepping on your toes. You can’t always let the water slide off the duck’s back if the water is mainly acid. Ah well.
My mom was the middle child of 4 children. She was born just after the end of the First World War during the great Flu epidemic. She is actually one of the very few people still alive who has antibodies to it. Can you imagine? Her parents and their immediate family all moved from Charlottetown PEI to Ottawa to start their careers. One thing I’ve discovered is that people who worked for the Federal Government at the time were invited to work. So my grandfather and his brother both got positions and later there was a great-aunt who became a Translator for the UN. They did well for themselves and lived good lives. My mother told me tales of having milk and butter delivered by a horse-drawn carriage; of iceboxes and ice delivered in big blocks from a truck; of coal delivered down a chute; of model A cars and flags that stood in for eventual turn signals; of Depression era men who would make marks on their fence telling others their house was a good place to stop for a bowl of soup. She grew up in the Depression and when the Second World War came around her older sister took her application form for the WRENs and joined while her father insisted she stay home. She worked at the Bank of Canada and got a degree. Her older sister and brother having gone to war, when it was over she was determined to see the world too so she joined External Affairs.
My mother’s travels to Ireland and Italy and Switzerland with External Affairs is a story in itself but it did lead to a later marriage to my father (she was in her early 40s when she had me). She got a Master’s in Library Science and worked in government as a librarian for many years and it was a period of time I remember. I spent many an after school reading ancient Warden’s Logs from the penitentiaries (I loved the ones from the 1880s and up to the turn of the century) as well as the magazines they had about policing. Later when I was working for the government myself we would go for lunch together, which was great. But while I was growing she travelled a lot in her job and I got to go with her many times. That was fantastic. So while there were times I wished we had a mom who stayed home like everybody else’s mom, who else did I know got to leave school and go spend a week in Springhill that included going a mile down an old coal mine and standing in absolute darkness? Or how about the lobster boils we always seemed to go to when we went to the East Coast? I loved our trips to Vancouver – we did this by train and by air. I loved those journeys so much I tried for a bit to move to BC when I first left home to no avail. Now I’m on the East coast and I love it here by the ocean. I just wish she had stayed healthy enough to come visit me after I moved.
Well, I could go on and on about my mom and some day I will. But for now I have to get ready for my own work trip to BC this week, and yes, as always I will think of her when I walk those streets again.
À la prochaine,