The time we have with our loved ones is never enough. And, despite what anyone says, one is never ready for the loss of a loved one. I didn’t expect to lose my mother this soon or this quickly. This does not feel real. I keep waiting to wake up.
My mother was a teacher for over 40 years. She had already begun her teaching career in Guyana when she emigrated to Canada in the early 1960s. In 1964, she taught her first class, Grade 5, at Leroux School in Lasalle. In 1965, she married my father Desmond. They had me in 1967, and my sister two-and-a-half years later. In 1969, she transferred to the newly opened Laurendeau-Dunton Elementary School (now known as Lasalle Elementary) where she was a beloved Grade 3 teacher until her retirement in 2003. My parents both taught at Laurendeau-Dunton. They travelled back and forth together, every day, for over 30 years. They even retired together. They were married for almost 49 years when my father passed away in July 2014.
She loved her family and friends. Her brothers and sisters were very special to her. Her friends were precious. They loved her as much as she loved them.
She was a voracious reader. She read on average, a book or 2 per week if not more. She had book swaps with her friends.
She always had a kind word and a big smile for everyone. Even if she was upset, she never spoke harshly to or about anyone. I will miss that smile.
She loved being a part of Acappella Sounds Chorus. She joined them in 1999. She practiced her songs and loved to sing. She made some wonderful friends there.
She was deeply religious. She carried a rosary and a little bottle of holy water in her purse at all times…and she wasn’t afraid to use it! She would whip it out and splash it on new cars, new apartments, and people to bring blessings. She should have had a holster for it! She would roll her eyes and call me a heathen when I would yell, “It burns!!” if she got a little drop of holy water on me.
I loved making her laugh…it was one of my favourite things to do. Her laugh was one of my favourite sounds. She also cracked me up. The funniest part is that she wasn’t even trying to be funny. Her expressions, reactions and delivery were hilarious.
We were always on the hunt for the perfect purse. I told her that the perfect bag was out there…we just had to find it. I did find it…it’s called a Birkin Bag by Hermes and prices start at $15k. “That’s just stupid” she quipped. I agreed, but that stupidly priced purse was so beautiful.
She loved tennis. She loved tennis as much as my father loved golf…that should tell you something. She was #TeamSerena all the way! She watched all the big events on TV and every summer she and a few of her friends made the trek to Jarry Park for the Rogers Cup. On more than one occasion I had offered take her to watch it in Toronto. She always politely declined as she wanted to go with her tennis-loving friends. I don’t blame her.
There was the time when she wrote a letter to a relationship advice columnist about me…and it was published in the Montreal Gazette!! I used to read the column regularly and actually read the letter not realizing it was written by my mother about me. At the time I was so embarrassed. When I got past the embarrassment, I realized what a sweet and loving gesture it was.
It was she who took me out my first time driving when I got my learner’s permit. She was so patient with me. If she was scared, she didn’t show it…unlike our dog Sheba who jumped out of the car window as I pulled into the driveway of our house. Incidentally, Candy and I were in the car when Dad taught Mom how to drive in the early 70s. We went to an empty parking lot in Lasalle. I remember Candy and I rolling around in the back seat…it was fun! We didn’t realize how much danger we were in!!
My mother also had some quirks: She HATED flying. So much so that when, Candy and Dan announced that they were planning a destination wedding, she said to me, “That’s so nice! Too bad I can’t go”. I told her that even if I had to shoot her with a tranquilizer dart and drag her on the plane, she was going. Of course she wasn’t going to miss the wedding. By all accounts (I wasn’t on the same flight as I flew out of Toronto) she was cool as a cucumber on that flight. Although I suspect she may have broken Tammy’s hand from holding it so tightly.
She wouldn’t eat chicken. Loved eggs but wouldn’t eat chicken. Candy and I would tease her and say that she had been attacked by a chicken as a child. Same with pork. Wouldn’t touch “pork” but loved bacon and ham. I often asked her if she realized that the pork, the bacon, and the ham were all from the same animal. I would also make a point to tell her that eggs were on their way to becoming chickens…pre-chickens if you will.
Mom was a Canadian citizen and had been in Canada for over 50 years but she had an irrational fear of being deported. She would become rather nervous when having to cross the border into the States. In 1994, a few months away from my wedding we decided to go to Plattsburgh, NY to shop. I was driving, Candy was in the passenger seat, and my mother and my friend Linda were in the back. All was fine until we were in line at the Champlain border crossing. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw mom sweating bullets, eyes darting back and forth. You’d think we had contraband in the car with us. When it was our turn, I gave the border guard my identification and answered his questions. He peered into the car and asked the others their citizenship. In the rearview mirror, I’m watching my mother freak out in the back seat. Candy replied, “Canadian”, Linda replied, “Canadian”. When it was my mother’s turn, she replied “CANAYJUN” with this tricked out accent I had never heard before. The guard wished us a good day and sent us on our way. We drove off in silence when Candy broke the silence with, “Mom, if you’re so worried about getting deported, you might want to tone down that accent”. We all burst out laughing.
Over the course of my life, I’d rarely seen my mother lose her mind except for two times that were 100% my fault:
1. When I was little I had short, cropped hair. I looked like a little boy. I wanted long hair. I was jealous of Candy’s hair because it was pretty and much longer than mine. When I was about 5, I told Candy (who was about 3) that we were going to play hairdresser. She was game. I brought her to the basement to my salon. I told her not to tell mom then proceeded to hack her hair off. I don’t know how or why I thought I was going to get away with that one. Candy, excited that I was playing with her, happily gathered up her hair and went upstairs. I heard her say, “Mommy look!” and heard my mother scream. That was my cue to hide. I ran into the furnace room and hid behind the hot water tank. My mother came running down to the basement to find me. If I were smarter at the time, I would have let her find me right away rather than let her spend 10 minutes trying to find me. By the time she saw my little feet peeking out from under the water tank, she was livid. I got a sound spanking for that one.
2. I was about 8 years old, Candy about 6. When we were little and misbehaved, the routine was that Mom would stop the nonsense that we were doing then send us to our room. We would wait there until she came to punish us. Punishment was usually a light, ceremonial spank on the bum with a slipper that didn’t hurt but we dry-cried anyway…that was the routine. (for those of you unaware, a dry-cry is crying without tears and it’s totally fake). One time, after again being sent to our room to await punishment, bored with the usual routine, I decided to go off-script. I shared the new routine with Candy: “When Mom spanks us, don’t cry.” Candy, the ever-trusting younger sister agreed. Mom came into the room a few minutes later. As per the old routine, after a brief lecture from Mom, I was up first. She gave me the expected light spank. At the spur of the moment I decided to go rogue once again, instead of not crying, I threw my head back and let out a “HAHAHAHA!”. Well. Again, I hadn’t thought things through. That moment marked the first time that I ever saw someone’s head explode. A surprise to me, Mom also decided to go off-script and spanked me for real!! No ceremonial light slipper-spank on the bum…this was a wind-up PAF, PAF, PAF!!! I cried real tears. Mom turned to my little sister who stood there wide-eyed. Candy, no fool, started crying real tears without my mother even touching her.
My mother was gentle, kind and generous. When I was a teenager, we were sitting in the kitchen together when the phone rang. I answered it. A woman, asked to speak with my mother. I handed her the phone. I could only hear my mother’s side of the conversation:
“Hello?…Yes…what’s your name?…Ok…it’s ok…don’t cry….it’s ok…where can I reach you…”. When she got off the phone, I asked who was on the phone. My mother did not know this woman who was a friend, of a friend, of a friend and was going through a hard time. She had called my mother, a complete stranger, for help. My mother sent her $100 no questions asked. The skeptic in me asked, “what if it’s a scam??”. I never forgot what my mother said to me: “If I can help, I will.” Simple as that.
Another time, Mom, Candy, and I were walking through the tunnel of a downtown Montreal metro station. There was a man sitting on the floor of the tunnel banging on a toy piano for money. As we walked past the man, I remember looking up at my mother. Her facial expression had changed, she looked sad. She stopped walking, dug through her purse, walked back to the man and dropped some money into his bucket. “He’s doing the best he can.” She said to us.
That is how she moved through the world.
I have no regrets about my life and relationship with my mother. We had our ups and downs like any parent/child, mother/daughter relationship. Both my parents were of the generation and mindset that parents and children cannot and should not be friends. It didn’t mean that they didn’t love us, they did with everything, it just meant that their job was to raise us to be decent human beings. When they got us to adulthood, then we can be friends they said. Becoming friends with them as an adult was a gift. As an adult and especially after I moved to Toronto, I cherished and enjoyed spending time with them and talking to them. I will miss that so much.
Not only did I love my mother, I liked her too. A few years ago I asked my mother if it was weird that I considered her one of my best friends. She said, “not weird at all”. She liked that. Up until a few months ago, I spent more time on the phone with her than anyone else on the planet. We spoke at least twice a day, practically every day, for literally 30 years. Half an hour was a “quick call” but most times we talked for at least an hour. We often joked about how we got our money’s worth with our phone plans.
She was the one person who knew me better than anyone. I told her everything. She was never too busy to talk with me. She was my biggest supporter and defender. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself, and never doubted me even when I doubted myself. She also never minced words if she thought I did or was doing something stupid. No matter what, she was supportive and loved me. She could be annoyed, disappointed, or irritated with me but she always loved me.
She’d taught me so much, yet I still had so much to learn from her.
I’ll end this with a few lines of a verse from a song that embodies everything that my mother means to me:
…I’m grateful for each day you gave me
Maybe I don’t know that much
But I know this much is true
I was blessed because I was loved by you
I love you Mom. Rest in peace.