On the day of Mom’s memorial service in January 2008, most of my five siblings and their partners, our three nieces and I had lunch together, then took fresh flowers down to the end of the Goderich beach Cove. It was a very mild January, which meant the lake was open and we could walk out on the boulder break wall, away from anyone else that might have been visiting the beach on a midweek winter afternoon.
We huddled together in our funeral clothes, said some words and prayers, then we each took a flower or two, stepped closer to the water and tossed them in. Most of us didn’t get the chance to say goodbye, so in a sense we did it as we dropped those flowers into Lake Huron and watched them float away.
Tonight, we gathered again, this time to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Mom’s death.
Our group has grown since that first private memorial. It now includes two new partners, five more kids, and Dad. His presence alone is resounding evidence of the change that a decade has brought our family. Ten years ago, Mom and he had been divorced for a few years, and had a contentious relationship. And I wanted nothing to do with him. But here we are — Mom’s gone and I once again have a relationship with my father.
As we stood in the cold winter dusk on the Menesetung Bridge above the Maitland River facing Lake Huron, we talked about what it was like as young adults to lose our mother and mother-in-law. We were issued a notice to vacate Mom’s low-income rental unit by the end of the month, and we had two weeks to pack up the place that had been home for about 10 years. My second youngest brother, who was still a teenager, was forced to move, and never did finish high school. I had to find an apartment, buy a car, get insurance, and do all that adult stuff for the first time in my life. My sister-in-law Laura recalled someone saying to her at Mom’s funeral that losing a parent is tough at any age, and how she wanted to respond that they were wrong, that losing a parent young has to be tougher.
Losing our youngest brother 18 months later was a sort of bookend on an extended season of grief, undoubtedly the worst season in any of our lives.
A family without a mother is kind of like a rudderless boat. We’re all floating, but some of us still feel a bit lost in the ocean of life without Mom. She was the pillar of our lives, the anchor. We try to take care of each other, but we can’t do it as well as she would have. Without her advice and gentle guidance, we can only hope that we are growing into people she would have been proud of.
As much as we don’t want to get mired in sadness and grief, we also don’t want to forget. We mention her to her grandkids, because we want her legacy to live on. We mourn the fact that they will never know their Nana and she will never know them, but we tell them about her and in doing so bring her memory to life.
We think of all those happy and heartbreaking moments we’ve lived without Mom there to walk beside us. The weddings. The funerals. The babies. The graduations. The moves and renovations. The fights, the reunions.
Being a mother now myself, I can’t imagine missing out on all of those moments. A decade of moments. A lifetime of moments.
Now, back home, as I wind down this evening of memories and get ready to join my husband and baby son in bed, I look forward to what our commemorative gathering will look like ten years from now. More partners, more babies, more flowers: more love!
Photo by Peter Koopmans, taken on Menesetung Bridge overlooking the Maitland River as it flows past the Goderich salt mine and into Lake Huron