Truly one of the strongest and kindest person's I've met. She was always there for someone who needed a hand, an ear or just a meal to fill their belly. Her resolve in life was almost legendary, to be sure, and when she wanted to do something it got done. She will be missed greatly and talked about at many a gathering.
"I’ll NEVER be like you!"
I cringe to think of how many times I hollered and hissed those words at my mother when I was growing up, inevitably followed by the slamming of my bedroom door.
As any two people living under the same roof have experienced (whether spouses, siblings, or parent/child), relationships often hit rough patches; my mother and I were no exception.
I’m the youngest of five children, born to my parents late in life - Surprise…you’re pregnant. Back in the late sixties, (mom was almost forty) was not thought of as "hip" or "Hollywood" to be with child. In fact, it was considered dangerous and unwise for both mother and fetus.
But mom always wanted a big family. She had already suffered the loss of two children (one stillborn and one miscarriage) so despite warnings of possible "abnormalities or Downs Syndrome" she went ahead and bore me life – I was small and healthy and her last one.
This relationship would be special.
Life chugged on and since I was the baby of the family, my older siblings either doted on me or completely ignored me; depending on their mood (or how much of a nuisance I was being).
However, my second oldest brother, Michael, was different. To my three-year-old eyes, he was everything – big brother, playmate, fun guy. We’d play games or I’d follow him around. Just being in his world was good enough for me.
But then tragedy struck.
Mike was killed instantly on his way home by a drunk driver and just like that, my best friend was gone.
Our family was in shock, Mom in particular; another child lost…another child to bury. The family shut down and each went into their own private mourning, trying to process this terrible twist in their lives.
All except me…"where’s Mikey? When is he coming back?" I would constantly ask.
My siblings and father retreated, not wanting to deal with a toddler’s persistent questions; it was too fresh and just hurt too much. So my mom fielded my borage of queries despite the heartache.
As I grew older we talked more about him and Mom admitted to me that I was actually the one that helped her through his death. The questions and replay of Michael and my relationship helped my mom heal in a way no one else could provide. She could still remember the good times, without feeling guilty about bringing that horrible day back to everyone else’s mind.
Three years later, life was still moving on as my siblings went off to college, got jobs, and found spouses.
Our once big family was being whittled down. It was just me, my brother and parents left at home. Things were definitely quieter until mom found the lump. It was in her left breast and long before cancer and the pink ribbon were becoming a household topic.
I was only six, but I knew something wasn’t right; the long, quiet whispered conversations, my mom not quite her usual doting self. The time soon came when she went into the hospital for a mastectomy.
Still being "the baby," I wasn’t told of the surgery or the complications it may entail. Mommy wasn’t feeling well but would be home soon, was all the information I was given.
When she eventually did come home, I could see the difference in her right away. Her once happy eyes had turned dull and her usual vim and vigor was now a slow and guarded, painful pace. What I didn’t understand or see hidden behind her blouses was all the swelling, stitches, and constant discomfort. What I was never forced to face was the mental and emotional trauma this radical operation had taken on her.
She remained tough and strong during this ordeal and despite everything she had been (and would continue) to go through, she was still always there for me and the family.
It was only when I entered my teens that my mom opened up to me about those long, painful days gone by, but they weren’t over yet. I was about to inadvertently cause her more stress.
When I was around eight, I had started feeling ill all the time; tired, upset stomachs, aches, and pains. I was put in the hospital and tested for the usual childhood diseases. Through it all my mom was always there right beside my bed, thinking…am I going to lose yet another child?
She would comfort, console and try to make the hospital experience the best it possibly could be. She even brought me her wonderful home-cooked meals while she choked back the stuff they brought up on the trays. She told me it was "really good."
I was finally diagnosed with rheumatic fever and sent home with a prescription for antibiotics and bed rest. Of course, Mom was concerned but once again went into Super-Mom-Mode. I was pampered, catered to, and once again shielded from the constant worry and concern my mother was carrying.
I think my first realization of her true strength came when my father suddenly died of a heart attack.
I was twelve, Mom was fifty-two, and we were left to survive on our own. Mom had never learned how to drive, pay bills, or even write a cheque. So while she was taking care of funeral arrangements, she also had to learn how to begin living a whole new life.
We pulled up stakes from our big, country home to a smaller more manageable dwelling in the city. My mother handled these changes like she’d been doing it for a living all these years. I, on the other hand, was becoming a typical pre-teen – sullen, surly, and self-centered. I blamed her for the upheaval in our lives at that time, but she was tough and did her best to raise me, while still dealing with her own loss.
We eventually settled in – Mom learned how to manage the financial side of life and I went about growing up. Things were not always easy, but we had each other and leaned on our relationship to see us through. Little did we know the lid was about to blow off the pot of life once again.
As I approached my eighteenth birthday, I was diagnosed with acute kidney failure. We were both shocked and scared, but Mom handled this with more strength and determination than I could muster. She constantly told me not to let this disease get the best of me and to move on with my life – that which doesn’t kill you will make you stronger became her motto.
And I believed her.
From the pain of transplant and eventual rejection to learning to live with this disease, my mother’s words and strength have been a driving force in me.
I’m now in my fifties and haven’t let dialysis three times a week keep me from doing anything.
Would I be the same person today if I wasn’t shown strength, courage, and determination through the worst of circumstances?
I don’t think so. I was (and still am) truly blessed to have such a great mom, even if I didn’t always know or appreciate that fact growing up.
At the time of this writing, my mother was in her eighties and still lived alone in the same house we moved into after my father passed.
I have learned and drawn so much from this woman over the years that those words hollered in frustration long ago are now just a memory.
There were still days I wanted to shout at my mom but the words have changed.
"I AM like you!" I would yell
"You ARE the strongest woman I know!"