Flowers and Memories: Mom’s Tenth Deathiversary

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.

In the years that followed, we had a few other such memorial gatherings. including the one I wrote about in a post called First Deathiversary.


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

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In the last 10 years, five people have died in my mother’s-side extended family. Serious medical conditions in others have caused us time and again to consider the Great Beyond.

Now, an uncle, who happens to be one of the sweetest and humblest men I know, has been put on the heart transplant list. Thanks to medication, his heart functions. Barely.

All I ask is that you seriously consider becoming an organ donor, in the interest of my mother’s brother, his wife, his kids, and his grandson, not to mention all of us nieces and nephews and siblings and in-laws who love him.

Please. Visit beadonor.ca (Ontario) or organdonor.gov (USA). Talk to your loved ones. And consider helping to save up to 8 lives! And please… don’t take too long: my uncle is waiting!

Thank you.

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Gratitude á la First World

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This is not a promo. I repeat, this is not a promo.

I am grateful for being a Canadian, a citizen of a country where I am free to do so many things people of other countries cannot.

I am grateful for OSAP, which makes it possible for me to go to university, even though I will have debt after I graduate.

I am grateful for the technology which allows me to communicate with family and friends far and wide.

I am grateful for the chance to have a voice about things that matter, should I so choose to take it.

I am grateful for Tax-Free Savings Accounts.

I am grateful for nieces.

I am grateful for cousins.

I am grateful for freedom of speech, even though I have recently learned few things are as democratic as they sound.

I am grateful for good old-fashioned bacon and eggs.

I am grateful to be from a rural, agricultural area: farmers truly do feed cities.

I am grateful to know many truly talented people, and to be able to celebrate them in their successes.

I am grateful to have friends on at least 4 continents.

I am grateful for friends that I can have deep, thoughtful conversations with.

I am grateful for the knowledge that I will never run out of books to read.

I am grateful for the many resources I have to help me be healthy.

I am grateful for McDonald’s’ $1-off McCafe days, in competition with Tim Horton’s Roll-up-the-Rim, especially since, believe it or not, McD’s is currently the best place to go to study in my hometown!

Family Day Weekend means time spent with family, away from the computer

This weekend, I’m away from my computer, if you can believe it. It very rarely happens, and I didn’t intend for it to happen this weekend, but it did (I’m using the WordPress app on my phone right now).

And I’m glad.

This is Family Day weekend in Ontario, a relatively new long weekend in February. I have no idea why we needed another long weekend in the year, but here we are.

Funny thing is, every Family Day Weekend for me ends up being about, get this, family!!

Most of this weekend has been spent with my boyfriend’s family, and my family is hanging out tomorrow, on the actual day.

So, I apologize for neglecting to provide you with new, entertaining, informative, or thoughtful reading material today. But I don’t regret choosing my family over my blog.

Enjoy your family holiday, if it’s a holiday for you. Either way, I’ll be back on Tuesday. Cheers!

Happy Birthday Petrovski!

I am lucky enough to have four brothers, three of whom I hope to be able to hang out with for many years to come. The youngest, Mark, passed away two and a half years ago. I hope I get to hang out with him again someday, in a land far away.

Peter is the second youngest, but is a bit of an anomaly in that he was kind of also the baby of our family. Though Mark was the true youngest, he had a severe form of spastic quadriplegia, rendering him unable to speak or walk, so Peter naturally assumed the role of family comedian and mama’s boy, in a completely non-insulting sort of way. Peter, who I fondly call Petrovski, was the only one of the six of us to be born with mom’s colouring: brown hair and brown eyes. The rest of us were born blonde with blue eyes.

Little bro grew up to be taller and bigger than the rest of his brothers – strange how that happens! He also developed a healthy ability to charm pretty much anyone. That charm makes him great company. Or possibly it’s because he has good taste in music, and great fashion sense, and likes to shop that makes him good company.

Either way, I’m lucky to have him as a little brother, and today, I want to wish him a very happy 23rd birthday!

Here is Peter, with his friend Jess and his fantastic style:

Celebrating: Jaida

This past week, my second-oldest neice, Jaida, turned 6. I really can hardly believe it!

Jaida is the second of four adorable blonde girls that I love to bits and am proud to call my nieces.

She has always been petite, so much so that, when she was 1 and she stayed at our house (my mom’s house) for a week while her parents were away, and we took her to church and she walked around in the lobby, people were shocked about the baby walking around.

She is a very affectionate person, she’s sweet, but she’s also sassy. And apparently she likes race cars, my boyfriend likes to remind me. 🙂

Happy 6th, Jaida! Can’t wait for our neice-auntie birthday date!

Here she is, dressed up in my clothes, ready for a nice dinner and dance with her sisters and I:

Jaida

 

“Freedom 55”

Today I’m joining my boyfriend’s family in celebrating his mom’s “Freedom 55” birthday. Deb is a mother of three and grandmother of two, who has embraced her daughter-in-law, son-in-law, and me as part of her family. In some ways, I’m a lot like her: we love to hear people’s stories,  we love Grey’s Anatomy, we […]

Mom’s Way… to make Apple Crisp

Tonight, I bragged on Facebook about how much I love having my mom’s recipes.

For the uninitiated, my mom died of breast cancer in January of 2008. Her passing changed my life in many ways, one of them being that I had to get my own place for the first time. When my siblings and I split up my mom’s belongings, I somehow ended up with a mother lode: her recipes!

Mom wouldn’t have called herself a good cook, but she was. She had the ability to combine everyday ingredients into unforgettable dishes. Friends and family still ask me for her soup and casserole recipes.

When she found a recipe that she liked, she held onto it, adapted it to make it better, and used it over and over again, so that the best of her findings were locked into our (her kids’) culinary memories. The best potato salad? Mom’s. The best homemade macaroni & cheese? Mom’s. The best broccoli soup? You guessed.

Time and again, I get inspired to try to re-create one of those memorable recipes. I dive into books and boxes and folders of recipes, looking until I find what I’m looking for. Someday I’ll organize them so I can easily locate the one I’m looking for, but until then, when I find the recipe I need, I feel like I’ve hit the jackpot.

Tonight, I wanted to make apple crisp for my boyfriend. He’s a lucky man to get introduced to all of mom’s recipes! The last time I tried to make him this dish, I winged it and it wasn’t as good as I remembered, so I knew I had to find mom’s recipe.

apple crisp

It was in the file folder where all of her most recently-used recipes are. Jackpot!!

Sharing my excitement on Facebook led to a request for the recipe. And why not? So here it is.

I should note that this recipe actually came to my mom, Doreen, from her sister, my aunt Hazel, from whom a lot of mom’s best baking recipes came.

Well, enjoy!

Recipe:

Fruit Mix:

  • 4 cups apples (peeled & sliced)
  • 1/2 cup sugar

Topping: (double this if you’re using a 9 x 13″ pan)

  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 1 cup rolled oats (Mom used large flake oats)
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/3 cup melted butter

Directions:

  • Combine apples and sugar in a buttered pan (9 x 9″)
  • Combine topping ingredients, mix until crumbly
  • Sprinkle over apples
  • Bake at 370 (F) for 30 minutes or until apples are tender

Makes 6 servings.

 

“LOVE YOUR MAMA”

The A&W sign was referring to the Mama Burger, of course, but I thought it appropriate that I would see this message in lights today, January 13th, the day when I remember just how much I still (and always will) love my Mama.

Three years ago this morning, my amazing mother left this world for a better one. At least, that’s what I believe. Mom would never have expected me to stand outside in the middle of winter to take a moment of silence in her memory, but it has become a little ritual I treasure.

It was a not-so-snowy day in January, 2008, that my siblings and I trekked out to the end of the rock breakwater at the Cove in Goderich to have a private memorial together before the funeral. We each held a flower, which we took turns tossing into the open lake. It was beautiful and nostalgic. We read some meaningful prayers and poems, and took lots of pictures. For me, it was the beginning of an annual tradition.

One year later, on the coldest day of the year, my siblings and I gathered for dinner, then trekked out to the Maitland Bridge, under which flowed the only open water we could find. What a difference a year makes! Once again, we spoke a little, then dropped cut flowers into the river, where they would be carried into the lake.

Last year, only a few of us managed to get together. This time, we wrote little notes to Mom, put them inside plastic containers, and attempted to break the ice to get them into the lake, but wound up mostly just shattering our containers and scattering our notes. Still, we remembered our mama, who left us too young. There were flowers then, too.

Today, I’m the only sibling “in” Goderich, and I didn’t make any plans ahead of time that I could invite my siblings to, so it was only my boyfriend Johnathan and I. We walked out on the pier, my hand holding tightly to 6 stems of yellow mums, and Johnathan’s hand holding tight to mine.

We broke the think layer of ice with a nearby rock, and then stood back to ponder. And cry. And sob. Then I dropped the 6 stems one by one, imagining that they represented each of my mother’s children, and Johnathan held me and we cried some more.

It’s amazing to have a partner that loves you so much he will stand with you on a freezing winter day out in the cold and hold you as you sob, and even cry with you, for a person he never met.

I don’t think my mother ever had that kind of love on earth, and I ache to think that she didn’t get to meet Johnathan or see how well I am loved.

Still, I learned today that she was satisfied with her life when she came to the end of it, at peace with how she was leaving her family and her friends.

I also learned today that she accepted the otherworldly task of embracing and taking care of a friend’s baby who had died at birth, once they were in “the great beyond” together. I know she has plenty of babies to embrace in Heaven, and now also her father and brother Dean.

I wish she could hug me, though…

Missin’ you, Mama

I think my mom would have been amused to find her former favourite mechanic schlepping plates and making lattes as co-owner of one of the local cafes.

She would have cried when she heard my song on the Noted CD.

She would be surprised to find that I now like the uniquely-patterned couch and armchair I inherited from her. Birds being one of my least favourite creatrues, I was never very appreciative of the brown, red, taupe, pink and beige pheasants that gallivant on said furniture. Now, however, since I built my living room and dining room around the pattern and colour scheme, I have grown to enjoy it. She’d feel right at home, I think!

This fall, Mom and I might have been students together: She had planned to go back to school for a second degree, hoping to find a way to professionally use her intelligence, wisdom, and hard-earned life experience.

Though her death forced me to get my own apartment and enabled me to buy my Trixie Toyota, if she were still with us she would have been excited to no longer have to share her car with me (or find coffee stains on the upholstery), and I imagine her coming over for coffee every now and then… something I always wished for.

I think she would have enjoyed the memorial we had for Mark. It seemed like she was there in spirit, anyway, and that the event was honouring her life as well as Mark’s. I wonder what she might have done differently, or what her ideas might have been. Still, I have no doubt that she would have been proud of us, proud of how we chose to celebrate Mark’s life.

I’m missin’ you today, Mama. I’m so glad Mark is with you now, but I wish I still had you, too….