Monday, March 27, 2006
Twenty years ago, ten years ago...
Mum and me, Trafalgar Square, London 1976
Mum in her raccoon coat, me in my fake leather and fur ensemble and (God help me) blue suede shoes.
I've been feeling a little bit old lately. Time is flying by, and giving away my Mum's old Electrolux vacuum got me thinking about her again. On September 8, 1997, after a long, dark night, my mother died with just me and a kind nurse to ease her passage. I held my mother's hand as the nurse massaged her legs, and I told Mum I loved her, I would always love her, and that it was okay for her to go, that she didn't have to hang on for me. The breath left her one last time, and it was all far more beautiful than I expected death to be.
Next month marks ten years since Mum was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. It seems like such a long time, a whole decade, yet it also seems to have passed in the blink of an eye. Life can be so fleeting. I don't want to waste a moment of it.
Mum, May 1996. Twenty years later, and no pigeon on her head, but she's still laughing!
It was a bad week, that one in April 1996. During a wild thunderstorm, a huge Manitoba maple fell over in the yard of the house we were renting in downtown Toronto. Somehow we slept through the noise. Fortunately, the tree fell away from our house instead of onto it, but it took out a couple of garages, a couple of cars, and a telephone and hydro pole. Luckily, it was our landlady's insurance problem, not ours, but we were without phone service for a few days. I was at a phone booth when my mother, in tears, told me that recent x-rays showed shadows on her lungs. I think she knew then and there that there would be no happy ending to the story, as did I.
Until the x-rays we had all, including the GP, thought Mum just had some flu she couldn't shake. Sure, she had smoked for some 30-odd years, but it had been something like 15 years since she quit, and I figured the danger of lung cancer was past. How wrong I was.
This one is framed and sits on the shelf over my desk. Mum sewed those beads on her dress herself, and in fact I still have it.
When all was said and done and the diagnosis was made, my Mum's oncologist told me that he didn't like making guesses, but if he had to, he thought she might have six months left to live. As it turned out, she had seventeen months left. I was determined not to waste any time. One of the first things I did was sit Mum down and get her to make a wish list. During the next year and a half, we fulfilled as many of her wishes as possible. We never did get to the Oregon coast, but we had a blast in Grenada and Boston!
The other thing I did right away was book a professional photographer to shoot photos of us. In May 1996, we went out to picturesque site near Rockwood, Ontario, where we had our pictures done and laughed ourselves silly. I still treasure those photos. Soon my mother would lose her hair to chemo, but we always found something to giggle at. The photographer was so touched by my mother's situation that after I ordered my prints, she gave me all the proofs, something she never normally did for a customer. It meant a lot to me.
At least ONE of us was able to be serious for the photographer! My Mum always was an absolute English lady, unlike me, the eternal smartass. Hey, if you look carefully, we both have the same wave in our hair, to the right of our parts. How the hell do you inherit a hair wave?
I'm an only child, and my father died on September 8, 1992, five years to the day before my mother passed. Frankly, it completely freaked me out that my mother died on the same day as my Dad; what the hell was it about September 8? Exactly how sad did that day have to be for me? But I'm convinced she chose it on purpose, consciously or not.
Although my parents split up in 1972, my mother was never really able to let my father go, and until the day she died he remained the love of her life. I truly believe he was her first and only real love; they married in 1953 when my Mum was 20 and my Dad almost 23. In my eyes, she died on September 8th so that she could forever link herself in death to her beloved Jim, and ensure that I would have to remember them both together each year, which of course I do.
Sometimes I wanted to kill her, but I always loved her intensely. She had a great sense of humour and she was an incredibly talented dressmaker, as well as being artistic in many other ways.
I still miss my Mum and Dad, and I have never liked being an adult orphan. There's nothing quite like parental love, even with its occasional flaws. My parents both loved me no matter what I did, and I knew they would always be there for me, come hell or high water. Even now, when I'm sick or having troubles, I yearn for my parents. You'd think you'd get over that sort of thing by the time you're 42, but I haven't.
Sharing something that made us both smile. Probably she was amazed that I'd managed to slap on some lipstick for the photo shoot!
Nowadays I get a little jolt when I look in the mirror sometimes and see a bit of my Mum looking back. Or I'll find myself saying something only she would say, which makes me either smile or smack myself on the head: "Oh my God, I've turned into my mother!"
I'm not at all religious, but I do believe that life here on earth isn't the end of the line. (For starters, I happen to think it impossible that human beings are the smartest life form in the universe! Puh-lease, don't get me started on THAT.) I do hold onto the hope that one day I'll get to see my parents again, and we'll have a few more laughs together over a big pot of tea.
Until then, I shall continue my regularly-scheduled diatribes about doughnuts and vacuums and trampolines, all of which remind me of something my mother often said to me when I was a kid: “Sarcasm doesn't become you!” Sorry, Mum, I'm afraid I find sarcasm indispensable. But I know you love me anyway.
Jim and Phyllis Rowe, self-portrait, June 1961... I was still a twinkle in their eye, three years away! I do wish I had my mother's eyebrows. Instead I got my Dad's chin!