More Room for What She Was Becoming A Eulogy for My Mother
Eulogy for My Mother Single Mother, Independent Woman, Dedicated Nurse
She Needed More Room for What She Was Becoming
My mother died on October 22nd. Due to Covid restrictions we held a small, intimate funeral for her which was live streamed for those unable to attend. I delivered the eulogy.
It is hard to lose someone who loves you. Someone who cares. Are we ever really ready? I wish my mom could have lived on forever. We will never stop needing her. Missing her. It seemed impossible that my mother, my with it, always contemporary, organized, intelligent, so funny, fashionable and sassy , mom still living in her modern condo, "Just got those new designer blinds, don’t they look great? Let the sun in!"…still driving that sporty car, "So I’m driving to the garage tomorrow to get the new snow tires on", the one who got up early, had her first cup of coffee, got dressed, fixed her hair, put her make up on, went out with friends, had lunch, welcomed a new neighbour to the condo complex, watched a good episode of 48 hours, had the kids over later to have a couple of those old fashion donuts and then went on to win yet another game of Skipbo.
Our mom……living, doing, being, each day. Always there for us. Never far away. The one who never, ever, really got old. Even at 91. It seemed impossible, that our mom, would die.
How could this happen? My daughter Ashley explained it this way. Nan was like a butterfly. A caterpillar spins a cocoon and stays inside changing. It grows and grows and comes a time it can’t stay inside there any longer..it has to get out, there isn’t the room for it, it needs to break free. I think that’s what happened to nan. After being inside there growing and changing for so long it was time for her to go, she needed more room for what she was becoming…
Mom lived life as she chose, independently in her condo for as long as possible, and she was part of a vibrant seniors' community and had many friends. She was Head of the Welcome Committee and welcomed newcomers to the building and even to her last days she was helping to transfer responsibility to the new person who would fill her shoes. Giving up that post was very difficult for her, but she knew it was time.
Reflecting back mom had her challenging times, born near Leamington, Ontario, during the depression years, money was scarce and life at home was difficult but as a young woman she had high standards, set goals and achieved them, managed to make her way to nursing school at St. Joseph’s in Chatham. What a proud achievement!
And on went her life.
Mom loved to dance in her younger days, something she told Jill the music therapist who worked with her on the hospice unit and she liked country western music. She met my dad at a dance, she said he looked a lot like Tyrone Power back then only better. He was from a big family, well known in the town and she spent some of her happiest days at family gatherings with my dad’s brothers and their families but the marriage unfortunately did not last. Mom had some difficult and dark days back then, trying to manage a full time job as a head nurse and care for my sister and I. Eventually we moved from the apartment where we lived with our mother and went to live with our grandparents for four years.
In time we moved back in with our mother and she tried hard to keep it all together. My mother an attractive woman, always concerned about her appearance her hair her makeup was meticulously, even obsessively neat. My sister and I knew there was something terribly wrong when she started to fall asleep in her nursing uniform…
My mother was Head of the Psychogeriatric Unit for 33 years. Many of her geriatric patients lived out their later lives and died in hospital. Mom made sure she kept the staff and the ward together. But there were serious troubles at home. Mom worked late most nights and always took her work home with her, sitting at the kitchen table, draining the coffee pot, chain smoking export A’s late into the night. One day she just stopped talking. She went to her bedroom, turned off the lights and shut the door. "What’s the use?" We heard her cry out.
But there’s no doubt even through there were times of great stress at home, challenges she overcame, our mom was an amazing nurse and caregiver who always put her patients needs first. When staff members who had worked with her learned my mom was very ill with lung cancer they wrote encouraging comments and shared recollections and I read each one of these to my mother at the bedside when she was at the hospice unit in those last days and she absolutely loved hearing them.
I’m going to share these musings with you and your Mom. She was the ultimate professional and had great empathy for the patients and insisted on nothing but the best care and in her own quiet way, she cared about her staff too. I personally saw that side of her.
The one head nurse I was honoured to work with. Her professionalism was who she was and what you loved about her.
We worked hard but had great leadership. I always remember the reminders she wrote on her hand.
I remember mom’s reminders she wrote on her hand, an "x" on each knuckle and often the palm of her hand looked like a tick tack toe board. Sometimes she would have so many marks on her hand she needed yet another mark to remind her not to forget what all the marks meant.
Yes my mom, always planning, writing up those to do notes, instructions sometimes, descriptive, detailed, step by step easy- to – understand…sometimes…well… We all know Mom was very neat and exacting to the letter. Her odd hand writing was in curious contrast to this, not that it wasn’t neat. It was a kind of carefully crafted ancient hieroglyphic of sharp right leaning determined fine strokes a script that appeared to suggest something important pressingly urgent and necessary. But for those who encountered it on notes or cards it was strange, baffling and utterly undecipherable. It was the same ancient writing that appeared on the grocery list she gave me for two more loaves of white bread or a box of instant scalped potatoes and another jar of Bick’s dill pickles, you see I was one of the only living beings on earth who could actually read it. We delivered those groceries at precisely the time she expected them.
Our mom was also known for taking great care with everything whether it was feather dusting a figurine or protecting her precious hair style from the weather.
Like everything else, mom’s hair mattered. She coloured for years then let it go natural grey white which looked great. The style she got at the hairdressers had to be perfect and had to last at least a week. Mom put hair top priority. Went to the same hair dresser Sal for over 50 years every Friday at 1:00. So to keep everything right and in place looking like the day she got it done she wore what the family called, mom’s swamp hat. She would scoop the big bonnet thing up from deep down in her purse, carefully unfold the long accordion like folds and like magic the great transparent swamp hat would emerge and inflate to be cast expertly over her head, a pleated plastic crinkled tent settling lightly around her doo then tethered down with ties rendering the space dry, secure and weatherproof, a covering no known thing or element on earth could ever penetrate , blow off or skitter under. Hair beneath coifed like the very day it was done, perfect in rain, wind or sleet but mom out of the swamp walking across the parking lots on the way to the store wearing her billowing swamp hat would have the children running. She was surely a frightening sight!
So I’ll share with you a little story now that will tell you a lot about mom. Mom loved her sporty cars and she kept driving as long as she could. So when she was 89 and, as I said, mom had to get to the hairdresser every Friday at 1:00, a fact that was non negotiable, no matter what the weather conditions, so on this day, after a big heavy snowfall the night before, and a rain before that had frozen to ice beneath the snow , on a day when few would venture out to battle the hazardous road conditions, mom sets out happily to get her hair done.
So driving, slowly she said, adjusting for the conditions, down that snow covered road she decides at the light to turn around and double back for a clearer better road, and in deciding so, doesn’t see the light has turned red, and broadsides a van turning at the light. No one was hurt, but mom ends up with an order to appear in court.
So mom who had watched many a criminal investigation show knew what she was up against. She sits for hours at the dining room table preparing, gets down to studying the laws, reviews the scene, draws diagrams, practices her arguments and counter arguments and figures she can show them that she knows her stuff, which she clearly does.
So when the day for her court appearance comes mom dressed in a peach coloured suit and with her hair done, tells them she set out she went north on Wonderland Road and we’re in the court and I whisper up to mom in the box at the front. "It was south! South mom! " And the judge points an accusing finger at me at me and says, "You! quiet in the court!" Mom confident and poised and clearly well rehearsed is not discouraged, offers an expert argument for why the accident happened, the light was still green and she had been careful, she didn’t see the van, could it have been going too fast? But the question arises, when you knew the weather was so bad why did you drive that day at all?
She didn’t tell them, but of course we know that her hair needed to be done. It had been a week! So mom gets a careless driving charge, loses six demerit points and has to take her driving test again. No way but the highway. Except mom worked her way around that curve…she took her driving test in the quaint little town of Hanover, Ontario. A place where not too long ago they gave up their horses for cars. She knows the place well. Country roads for miles. Test was a breeze. Mom got back her licence, paid the higher insurance premiums and kept on driving down the road.
Mom always loved to play her favourite game, Skipbo with all the family members. I didn’t play even when she tried to encourage me but carefully recorded all the action on video and in pictures. These games went on even during Covid at the kitchen table at her condo, regular games with the kids on Saturday nights.
The last Skipbo game took place with her grandchildren in her room at the hospice.
Mom was a very competitive player and she hated to lose. She seldom did. The object of the game Skipbo is to use up all the cards, your are given. You pick more from the pile in the centre, play those cards carefully and the one who plays all the cards first wins. So with mom over her life she was dealt many cards, she was dealt some tough cards and many good ones and she knew how to handle all of them. In her last days when the time came for her final game with great care and planning she played all the cards in her hand and like she often did… left the game a winner.
Yes, Mom had throughout her life been a professional caregiver, she was a nurse and she cared for her patients and worked hard to provide the very best for them as they neared the end of their lives. She cared for us when we were growing up as a single parent. But one of the great lessons I learned from her was the strength that comes in surrendering oneself to be cared for, to be vulnerable, not as an act of weakness but of great humility and strength, to be able to accept care with dignity and grace.
Independence was everything for my very capable mother. She was used to living on her own, had done so for fifty years, made all of her own decisions and looked after herself. But when my determined, strong and very independent mother began to weaken physically from the disease, lost all strength in her body and could not stand or move without assistance, she would wait a while then finally buzz for help to come to her (she really hated to bother them) and the young nurses would come to raise her up so she might circle her arms around them to be lifted and transferred to the chair. Afterward she then would look up and say softly, " thank you ma’am" clearly appreciating every act of care she herself received .
I would like to close with these words from the book, The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran:
Farewell to you and the youth I have spent with you. It was but yesterday we met in a dream You have sung to me in my aloneness and I of your longings have built a tower in the sky But now our sleep has fled and our dream is over and it is no longer dawn The noontide is upon us and our half waking has turned to fuller day, and we must part If in the twilight of memory we should meet once more, we shall speak again together and you shall sing to me a deeper song And if our hands should meet in another dream we shall build another/ tower in the sky. Thank you mom for all that you were and all that you are still/ in us. You are not gone. Every time I look to the sky I will see you there. You are free now, still becoming and where you belong.