Thursday 30 August 2018

The Last Two Weeks. Where To Begin?

I was up at our cottage with my husband on the morning of August 16th when the phone rang. It was my sister. "Mom died!" She was crying and then I was too. I thought it was a mistake. Or a joke. My mother is (was) 96, but she wasn't the sort of person to die, she just wasn't. I'd called her the day before and laughed because she told me about her plan to compose 'an original song' for Nick's 30th birthday party this past Saturday. And her plan included a performance, never mind the fact that she couldn't hold a tune. 

We celebrated Nicholas' 30th birthday on Saturday, August 25th at our local Liverpool Football Club Supporter's pub (Nick has been a diehard fan since high school). It was a great celebration made even more delicious by the fact that Nick has survived all these years despite gloomy predictions by doctors AND Liverpool won their match against Brighton 1-0. 

The following Monday, August 27th, our family said goodbye to my mother, Marjorie Carol Thomson Higginson (nee McKeown).  

We even included a display of some of Mom's favourite 'bad' habits.

Everyone who spoke at Mom's funeral had something different to say - we all had unique and wonderful relationships with her. These were my words. 

My mother was a true original. She wasn’t like other kids’ Moms.  When I was in kindergarten, I walked to school - alone.  All my little friends were dropped off by their parents, but Mom just woke me up, left a bowl of cereal at the end of my bed (who doesn't love breakfast in bed?) and after we both got dressed, she left for work and we parted ways at the front door.  Mom was the only woman in our neighborhood who was employed outside the home.  She had no interest whatsoever in cooking ("Here, eat this peanut butter sandwich so you won't be hungry anymore").  My Mom was the original independent, hard-nosed, who-cares-what-the-neighbors-think feminist.

Mom's moral compass was embedded in her DNA - she didn't learn right from wrong at university - she never went.  After the depression, only her brothers had that privilege.  But Mom always had a job; usually as a secretary at our school.  She always took jobs that allowed her to have her own car and to be home with us during holidays.

Growing up, I watched with a mixture of fascination, mortification and eventually pride as Mom would become exorcised over some perceived unfairness that my sister or I suffered at school.  On my first day of grade one, it was a hot and humid day. After school, I let it slip to my parents how during class, I had put up my hand to ask for a drink of water. The teacher said no, that I could wait till recess. Mom was the secretary at my school and she was livid. She made sure that my first day at that school was also my last. The principal (who also happened to be the parish priest) came knocking on our door at home and pleaded with Mom to put me back into his school.  He might as well have been talking to a post.

Once, I remember that my Dad made the mistake of telling Mom (who was dressed in her pyjamas at the time) not to have her morning coffee and cigarette on our front porch.  "I don't want the neighbours to be looking over here", he said.  That was Mom's cue to dance around a birch seedling in our front lawn, may-pole style.   My sister and I screeched with laughter and Dad just shook his head.

Mom loved us and she doted on her grandchildren. When Nick and Natalie were small, Mom knew I was exhausted, so she invited us on a holiday to her rental property in Florida.   Even though Natalie was only three, Mom 'taught' her how to play tennis, letting me sleep for the first two days of our holiday.

Then when the children were a little older, Mom came to visit in Ottawa to help out around the house.  One day I arrived home from a therapy appointment with Nicholas to find my mother outside on ladder, cigarette dangling from her lips, washing the windows.  She was well over 70 at the time.  "Mom!  What are you doing?!  Get down from there!", I shouted in alarm.  "Well, the windows aren't going to wash themselves, they're dirty.  And where's your ironing?  I'll do that when I'm finished.  You go lie down. Now."  That was Mom - direct, unapologetic, funny and slightly outrageous.

What did I learn from my mother?  I learned resilience, kindness, loyalty and a passion for justice. Mom, you were one of a kind and I will always love you.

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