This past week I said goodbye to my Mom. It seems no matter how prepared we think we are for such a loss, the magnitude of emotions that ensue, still catches us off guard.
Forgive me, in advance, for this lengthy post, but in the absence of being able to have a proper celebration of life because of Covid 19, I felt compelled to share some thoughts about Mom as I would have done, had we all been able to gather together.
So I ask you to indulge me, whether you knew my mom or not, while I make an attempt to put into words, a snapshot of her life.
Anyone who knows me, is very aware of the challenging journey I have been on with Mom for the past number of years. When her dementia settled in, bit by bit, it slowly chipped away at the person we all knew & loved.
Although dementia is part of her life story, it is not representative of who Mom was as a person, nor is it my focus today.
Mom was best known for her smile, her effervescent personality, her caring disposition, her love of being social and of course, her infamous shopping sprees.
Born in 1934, Mom was the second daughter to Jack & Hilda Carnegie; a baby sister to Nancy. It wasn’t too long into mom’s life before she was dubbed the social one, an attribute that would remain a part of her for the better part of her life. She was a happy child, always busy and making friends wherever she went.
She was somewhat of a tomboy at an early age, loving to fish and get dirty, relishing their family times at the cottage, living a carefree life in all that such a property gifts to a child. She talked about those carefree days with such fondness and I only wish I had taken the time to learn more about them.
Growing up in the small town of Omemee, Mom attended high school in Lindsay where she met a wonderful group of friends, many of whom she remained in contact with for years and years. She also met my father during that time, who commuted from the nearby town of Bobcaygeon. After attending secretarial college in Peterborough, she & Dad married & moved to Oshawa to begin their life together.
For the first few years of their marriage, they rented the upper floor of a house owned by their dear friends, Kay & Fred Fox, eventually purchasing their first home just around the corner on Masson Street. Auntie Kay & Uncle Fred remained constant in Mom’s life, sharing many years of friendship & fun together.
In 1959, Mom gave birth to her 1st child, Stephen, beginning the journey of being a mother. She used to tell me that Steve had his days & nights mixed up, sleeping most of the day and awake most of the night, but eventually they managed to sort him out. He challenged her in many ways, as children do, but I shall not divulge his secrets here, well, except for the time she came out to find him at the wheel of the car, rolling backwards out of our driveway, across to the neighbours driveway, now rolling back to ours, laughing his head off and looking very proud of himself. He was 2 at the time. Admittedly, I may have been partly to blame for her distraction in not keeping an eye on him.
In 1961, I was born, apparently challenging Mom’s maternal skills to the limit. She shared with me many times, that I cried constantly day & night and that it was a miracle I was still alive. Stories of being left out in the carriage on the front porch of Masson Street screaming my head off, only to have the neighbours call to say, “do you know your baby is screaming?” I was eventually moved to the basement in the carriage beside the furnace, so as not to disturb the neighbours and the hopes of being far enough away so she didn’t have to listen to me cry. When the doctor suggested she just let me cry until I fell asleep, she said I’d cry until I threw up. Not an ideal baby but I did manage to improve as a human as time went on.
Thinking their family was complete (and I am sure not wanting a repeat of me), it came as a complete shock when Mom discovered she was expecting a 3rd child. David was born in 1966 and she shared that when she brought him home, he slept through the night that first night. She was pretty sure this was because she spent so many hours of her 3rd pregnancy fearful of another me. David was her easiest baby although he made up for that during his teen years. Again, not my stories to tell.🤐
At some point in those earlier days of marriage, Mom joined Sweet Adelines, a singing group that would not only bring her the joy of music, but a connection to lifelong friends. These friendships were invaluable to her and often the respite she so needed when life presented its various challenges. Mom, Anna-Jane, Barb & Laverne decided to form a quartet, and although singing is what brought them together, deep rooted friendship is what kept them together for their lifetime. I recall, as a child, laying in my bed upstairs, listening to them “practicing” down in the family room. You would hear the sound of the pitch pipe, followed by a few bars of the song, and then nothing but fits of laughter. She treasured each & every friendship she made through Sweet Adeline’s. For those still with us and for those that have gone before Mom, know that your friendship meant so much in Mom’s life.
After 22 years, the breakdown of my parents marriage was no longer salvageable and they divorced; I believe I was 15 at the time and I think this was the first time as a young adult I gave thought to what a strong person my mother was. Divorce was practically unheard of in those days, in many cases, people just adopted a hunker down & bear it kind of attitude. But not our mother.
Mom would spend the next 3 years raising 2 teens & a preteen pretty much on her own, no easy feat I am certain. When I look back on those years with Mom, I can honestly say, at least as her daughter, I have no recollection of feeling the way many teenage daughters feel about their mother at that time. She was fun and hardworking, she was there for me in every sense a mom can be. There was no subject that was taboo and friends of mine were often shocked that I shared all I did with my Mom. That is not to say she knew every single bit of trouble I may have gotten into, some stories are best saved for sharing as adults, but I suspect that the relationship shared with my mom at that time, set a tone for how deeply our relationship would grow over the years. I knew I could talk to her about anything, even if she didn’t see things my way. She listened, she gave advice where she thought it was needed, but at the same time she gave me the space to fail & to grow.
In Mom’s early 40’s, through a strange but beautiful love story, she would meet the love of her life, my stepfather Bill. Their story deserves to be written here in full at another time but here is the short, condensed version. Through the reconnection of a long lost childhood friend who came from England to Canada as a child during the war, mutual lives intertwined. Fate would intervene for the reunion of this friend, sending Bill to Canada to visit, splitting his time between staying with my aunt’s family & ours. Not long after he arrived, Mom later shared they felt an instant connection to one another.
When Bill returned to England, he & Mom wrote back & forth for several months, and eventually he suggested perhaps she would like to come to England for a visit, a way to get to know one another better, just the two of them, and to explore the potential of a relationship. She accepted his invitation.
I often think about her taking that leap of faith. Sitting her children down to explain feelings she thought she had for a man she had only known for a period of about 4 weeks, a man who lived almost 6000 km away, a man she somehow understood she was destined to meet.
For 3 years, they travelled back & forth across the pond and talked about how they would move forward in their life together. Standing firm about not wanting to uproot us kids, Bill left his homeland, his business and life as he knew it, moving to Canada to join my Mom and her 3 teenagers without hesitation. They married within a month of his arrival, mostly due to immigration rules at that time. It’s a strange feeling, watching your Mom become a newlywed. I don’t recall ever seeing her happier than when she & Bill married.
He was the yin to her yang. Mom loved to entertain but didn’t fancy cooking, Bill was only too happy to do the cooking while Mom entertained their guests. Bill found teenagers perplexing, Mom seemed to have that all figured out for the most part. Mom loved to head out on a shopping day with her girlfriends, Bill was quite content puttering in the basement on his own. Mom loved to decorate, Bill was happy to indulge her or build whatever she wanted. Mom was a spender, Bill was a saver. Mom could be impulsive, Bill reined her impulsivity in and patiently thought things through. Mom loved to provide respite or company to anyone she cared about, Bill was only too happy to oblige the never ending open door policy that was their home. Their love & commitment to one another kept them head over heels in love for the 24 years they were together. I am forever grateful she followed her heart & instincts in knowing this was a man who was meant to be in her life.
In 1985, Mom became a grandmother with our firstborn, Jason. As fate would have it, karma came back to bite me in the butt, gifting me a baby who, like his mother, would challenge any maternal skills I might have had. Born in the summer, thankfully because Mom worked for the school board, she was able to assist, completely understanding what I was going through. When Brian was working, she faithfully arrived every single morning for weeks, taking Jason for a walk to give me a bit of respite & time to have a shower. His crying did not faze her, she was all too familiar with this gig and knew it was only a matter of time before that phase passed, leaving us with a wee bit more wisdom as parents.
Two years later, our daughter Katheryn was born, my mother’s namesake. She was so delighted to have a granddaughter. Remember her shopping addiction? Rarely did I need to purchase clothing for our children when they were babies, for Grandma delighted in keeping them well outfitted. I recall her & my Aunt going out to visit my cousin in San Francisco where she went on a crazy shopping spree. When it came time for her departure, she described the 3 of them all laying on top of her suitcase, collapsing in fits of laughter, trying to stuff everything in, all the while concerned whether she would manage to get past security. She did, many times, outfitting the kids for months to come.
I could spend days writing about stories that involve Mom & her grandchildren, stories that will forever be tucked in my children’s hearts, but in the interest of time, let me just say that there is nothing she loved more than being a grandmother. She was so proud of the incredible, kind human beings they have become and I know she felt so privileged to have been such a large part of their lives.
In their early retirement years, Mom & Bill purchased a property in Florida, another somewhat impulse decisIon on mom’s part, but a decision they would both never regret making. As Mom emptied the stores of Clearwater & the surrounding area of the state of Florida, Bill happily fished off the local pier & prepared dinner for when she & often a pack of girlfriends, returned home. Their days down south were some of their happiest, filled with meeting new friends, and entertaining ones that came to visit. Shuffleboard, game nights, putting together a “Canadian” pub production, and just general all round shenanigans were right up Mom’s alley and Bill was always in if she was.
In the fall of 1998, my stepfather was diagnosed with cancer, and in spite of receiving treatment, he passed away just over a year later. Mom was absolutely devastated, her whole world shifted & quite honestly, I am not sure she ever fully recovered from that loss.
Mom moved 4 times in the span of less than 2 years after Bill’s death. A very dear friend of mine once said to me that it was as if Mom felt if she just kept moving, she wouldn’t be able to stand still long enough to allow the grief to settle in. I suspect she was right.
But, as time passed, another gentleman would try his best to woo her. Eventually, Hank was successful in his pursuit and for the next 8 years, she & Hank were together, enjoying each other’s company and falling in love once again. Despite several proposals from Hank, Mom never agreed to marry again. I just don’t think her heart would allow her to. To Hank’s credit, he was with my Mom during a time when her dementia really began to take hold and he stood by her in spite of how difficult that could be. I am so grateful to him for being in her life, gifting her his love & commitment when she needed it most
After Hanks death, we spiralled into what I call, the nasty years. Although I was fully aware of Mom’s decline in her cognitive ability, for the very first time, I had a front row seat to her progressing dementia. There was no longer a partner to shield me from the day to day challenges that come with this insidious disease. I am ashamed to say that I found myself not liking my Mom a whole lot during this time. Where some people soften as dementia progresses, Mom did the opposite. It was like her brain unleashed a whole bunch of anger and rage and belligerence and discontent. She was challenging and difficult but at the same time, she was suffering.
For the next 9 or so years, we were set on a path as mother & daughter to do the very best we could to navigate the disease eating at Mom’s brain and to facilitate a life that would keep her safe. I won’t dwell on all of that time, for it does not represent who Mom was for the better part of her life, but it is important to recognize that it is part of her story. In the end, through many highs & lows, dementia taught me to dig very deep into myself, to find a patience & a compassion I didn’t even know existed.
There are countless stories to tell of Mom’s life, of friends & family, of adventures & getaways, of silliness & frivolity, all overflowing with a sense of fun and of course love. I treasure every memory she created both for me & the people in her life she held so close to her heart. I encourage you to share your stories with your families & friends, leaving behind a treasure trove of tales that will be remembered by those who remain, or those who may come in the future.
When I received the call that Mom was failing, she & I spent her last 4 days of life together. We spent countless hours in a funny kind of staring contest. I reminded her over & over who I was & how far I had come from being that horrible crying baby she once knew. She may have cracked a smile at that comment. At times I sang old Sweet Adeline songs to her, at times I sat recalling the stories of her life, at times I simply held her. I share this with you because, in those most difficult of days, something magical happened. As I sat gazing into my mothers beautiful blue-grey eyes, at some point, the nasty years all but vanished and the memories of the woman I have so dearly loved, all came flooding back to me. I absolutely believe she somehow sensed I was there, smiling back at me with those beautiful eyes, letting me know how very grateful she was to have me there at her side.
Mom, I am so grateful to have had you as my mother, my teacher, my protector & my friend. You taught me to be brave, especially when things get tough, you taught me to always be my own person, to love my family with every fiber of my being, to be the kind of friend who shows up always, and to rise in the face of even the most difficult of circumstances. You will forever be in my heart, guiding me with your love.
I can’t imagine life without you in it, but knowing that Bill is most likely arm wrestling Hank out of the way to get to you, wherever you are, brings me comfort in knowing that you are together once again.
I love you so much Mom.
Your daughter for always,