Today would have been my mother’s birthday.
I don’t expect I could ever forget it, but just in case it’s in all of my online calendars and it’s in my Blackberry.
When she passed away in 2009, there had been many times in my life where it looked like the last time. I almost convinced myself in September of 2009 that despite all of the medical professionals saying it was really the end this time, they would be mistaken one last time.
My mother was a fighter. Nothing came easily for her.
There are many different ways to fight for what is right in life and I learned a lot of those different ways from her. I also learned patience, humour and charity. She was born within spitting distance of some very tough times and she constantly reminded us to be grateful for everything we had.
With my mother’s passing, I lost not only my last parent, but also a direct connection to some of most important pieces of history that she and my father lived through. My children would also lose the direct connection to history.
In September 2009, I wrote about my losing my mother. She was the first and most impressive single mom I ever knew. Here’s what I wrote:
I had thought I would be sending a message this week about what a great job I did in the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on Sunday.
It is with sadness and hope that I am writing, instead, to tell you about my mother who passed away on Thursday, September 23, 2009. My mother, Ruth, was 80. She was born in London on July 12, 1929. To a particularly virulent type of Protestant, July 12th is known as Orangemen’s Day, as my father reminded us on my mom’s birthday every year.
My mother had a very tough life. She was born just before the Great Crash which preceded the Great Depression. As hard as the economic times may seem to us today, much of what I know about the agony of the Great Depression came from my mother. She would tell of men coming to the back door of her house and asking if there were odd jobs. Her father, whom she admired greatly, would offer them food at a time when feeding his family was difficult. Both of my parents lived through the Depression and it made both of them conscious of waste. My mother always seemed to be able to offer others more than she would take herself.
No story about my mother would be complete without mentioning her father, Adam. I never met Adam, my grandfather, but the stories about him give me a vivid picture of a man with compassion, enormous generosity, peacefulness, a strong work ethic and a dry sense of humour. Mom inherited those and worked hard to pass on those traits. Adam must have passed on a sense of doing what it takes to get by and of jumping in to get the job done because Mom embodied those and we ended up with those too.
Mom and Dad’s marriage was a very difficult one. During the marriage Mom gave birth to 8 children, 3 of whom were stillborn and one, Danny, who died after a very brief life of 6 weeks. I cannot imagine the pain and sadness that resulted.
At a certain point in the late 1960’s my mother made a decision that no woman made lightly at that time: her marriage did not provide her the support she needed. Women at that time did not leave a marriage lightly or easily. Whatever a single mother has to endure today is rough enough. Before family law was reformed in the 1970’s, leaving a husband meant instant poverty and shunning by society.
Mom did it and worked hard to make sure that we children didn’t suffer. She worked as a housecleaner, factory worker, newspaper carrier and crossing guard to ensure that there was always food on the table. At one point she was working 3 jobs at once.
To me, all of this makes me think of my mother as brave and strong now. At the time, however, all I saw was something that led me to believe that she was weak. In fact, I now see it as another way my mother embodied the notion of finding a way to get the job done and cope as best as one can.
This next bit may fall into the category of speaking ill of the dead, but I see it as my mother’s greatest accomplishment.
In addition to all the work she did and all the sacrifices she made, my mother also lived with alcoholism. I can’t say when it started or how much she drank, but I can tell you that increasingly it took over Mom’s life and ours, too.
But in the early ‘80’s my mother was hospitalized as a result of the effects of alcohol on her stomach. She was close to death and had a very large portion of her stomach removed. From that time until her death last week, she lived a sober life. She battled her demons and won. Her 25 year medallion from her AA group attests to her victory, which was not won all at once, but was won every day of the rest of her life.
In AA, as everywhere, my mother made friends and showed that her determination (or stubbornness) and her humour could be an example to others. We learned it as children. To me, although it took me a long time to learn it, my mother was brave and did what needed to be done to get the job done.
My memories of my mother are more than of a heroine and conflicted person. She made peanut butter cookies (that I didn’t eat very often, because I didn’t really like them, but my brother did) and a great meatloaf. Her favourite perfume was Lily of the Valley from Avon. Every Saturday for as long as I could remember we watched Hee Haw together. I learned to love the music of Johnny Cash, Hank Snow, Hank Williams Jr., Tammy Wynette and many other country singers. She showed up to every parent teacher interview and saved every badge I ever earned in school, along with all of my report cards.
One of the things that I always found corny at the time was when she was decorating the house for Christmas in November. She would put up scores of Christmas or winter-themed candles. It’s one of those enduring memories of her life. It took hours to put them up and hours to put them away so that none of them were damaged. That provided some huge lessons in patience and getting the job done.