Born on September 6, 1934, mom was seventh in a line of 13 brothers and sisters. Life wasn’t exactly easy, particularly given that her own mother was bedridden much of the time due to asthma. When her mom passed away in 1948, she was the oldest daughter still living home and thus became the pseudo-mother to her younger siblings. And so at the tender age of 14, she began her life long role of serving her family.
Three years later, at age 17, she met and married my father. Two years after that, my older brother was born and I followed a year later. By the time she was finished. mom had given birth to six boys, including Brian, who has Down’s Syndrome. Thrust into a much more challenging and demanding role, especially considering our father worked long hours as a police officer, which meant that mom did much of the child rearing by herself, she was like part drill sergeant and part mother bear. She served with ferocity and you didn’t mess with her.
Mom took care of everything inside the house. She did the cooking, the laundry, the cleaning and prepared school lunches. She did much of the disciplining. She helped us with our home work where she could, took us to the doctor and dentist, did the grocery shopping and paid all the bills. She also attended as many of our hockey games as she could.
Mom’s favourite way of demonstrating her love was in the kitchen. This was her domain. This was where she was at her best and where her role as server was most evident … and most visibly appreciated. She loved to cook and she especially loved to bake. She baked the most delicious pies, cookies and cakes. Her most valued specialties however were date squares, brownies and butter tarts. Although we each had our preferences, we would literally fight over these gems. You just didn’t want to be last in line when the plate was being passed around.
Mom’s baking was so treasured that even spitting on them didn’t guarantee that someone wouldn’t snatch them from your plate when your attention was diverted. We even used mom’s baking to mess with our brother Brian. Whenever he would get up from the table someone would hide his dessert, which meant when he got back to the table someone was going to get a slap up the back of the head … followed, of course, by a hug!
And you didn’t dare insult mom’s baking, even inadvertently, because to do so meant getting cut off for weeks or even months at a time.
One of my fondest childhood memories is of the summer mom spent weeks baking so that two of my brothers and I could go door-to-door in our neighbourhood until we had sold enough of her goodies to buy our new (used) bikes. You never saw three more excited boys!
A few years ago, mom took a nasty fall and broke her ankle. Not long after that, she took another bad fall and hurt her back. Shortly after that, arthritis in her right knee got to be too much and she began using a walker. Undeterred, she continued to serve in the kitchen. Despite the awkwardness of the walker, she wouldn’t accept help. “Hey mom, what would you like me to do?” “Sit down!” “Okay mom!”
But then three years ago, mom’s sister Eleanor, passed away. Mom and Eleanor were very close and she was deeply affected by the loss. Soon after that, she developed drop foot in her left leg (something that is common with back injuries) and thereafter mom was confined to bed and wheelchair. As a result, her role changed. She was no longer the server. Instead, she became the servee.
One might think mom would have relished this role, but she didn’t. She said she wasn’t used to being taken care of, and it bothered her, especially when personal service workers started coming to the house.
A short time later, things got worse when she was diagnosed with probable ALS. The doctors weren’t 100% certain, but she had many ALS symptoms.
Then last summer came what was likely the final straw. Mom took a nasty fall and broke her leg. She spent six weeks in the hospital and when she returned home was permanently confined to bed. To compound matters, in December, her younger sister Marg passed away. After that, her health began to noticeably decline.
We may never know what led to the rapid deterioration in mom’s health, particularly in the last two weeks of her life. It may have been the disease or it may have been the loss of the will to live. This can happen to people who are beset with trauma and loss and who feel that they no longer have a purpose.
Whatever it was, our mom was born to serve and she served awesomely!
We miss you mom!