Monday Miscellany

  • I have just done my sorting through the gift closet, and I’ve managed to do a reasonable job of buying stocking stuffers for most people.
  • I think I may become a bit like my mother next year. Until I was in my late teens, my mother used to buy things for her stocking. (My mother was horrible about lots of gift like things, but no 14 year old can be trusted to buy stocking gifts.)
  • I will be kind and not make Mr. Spit wrap them.
  • It’s funny, because it’s not so much about what I want in my stocking so much as a connection to my mum.
Posted in Feats of Wonder | Leave a comment

Oh Wise Internets

I have thought about it all week – I’m just not comfortable with recording something as intimate as a funeral.

I will compromise – a few photo’s of the credence table with her ashes and some momento’s on it, I’ll happily grab a few service cards and mail them along with my eulogy, and that seems enough.

It seems to me we have a consensus in society already, you come to the funeral if you are able and it is feasible. You send flowers or a donation and a card if you are not.

I have been thinking a lot about the ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ of death. Thinking about what I think matters and how to balance the bounds of good comportment with a need to be kind and respectful of others to mourn as well.

This seemed to be a reasonable compromise. Hopefully they appreciate it, but I have to tell you, I’m not all that fussed if they don’t.

Thanks for your thoughts – they were helpful.

Posted in The language of families | 2 Comments

Tell me, Oh Wise Internets

I have been asked to first videotape and then when I said no to that, to post pictures of my mother’s funeral, for those who can’t make it.

This seems to me, to be a sort of public indecency.

What do you think?

Posted in Interruption. | 10 Comments

Now and Then

Last night, in the bath tub, I did what I always do on the anniversary of Gabriel’s death. I looked at his photo’s and I allowed myself some time to remember and weep. The first photo of me holding him, as I sang him a lullaby. Gabe in Owen’s arms, as he called our family and they spoke to him. Gabe being baptized. Gabriel, as my mother bathed and dressed and swaddled him. Gabriel in his grandmother’s arms.

All at once I was filled with a sense of outrage. How can I be a woman who has outlived her mother and her son? I suppose it is natural to outlive your parents, but in the great order of how things are supposed to be, it seems to me that we outlive our parents who are our past, our history, and we reconcile this by handing our history to our children. The past becomes the future in this way.

And then there is me, living in the now. With my parents gone, I have lost my past. I am now an orphan. While I am not alone and very much surrounded by people who love me, some fundamental part of my past, the secrets of my childhood, they are gone.

And those things I would like to pass on, I have no easy place to put them. I nurture my nieces and nephews, hold on to friends and the family I have left, but it is not so simple. It is not straightforward. I must consciously say “I would like to teach you this, I would like to know that in the future, when I leave the world, it will not be gone. I think this matters.”

I usually try, in the post after Gabe’s birthday, to talk about how I survived the day, to reflect on how much I loved my son and how thankful I am that I am still alive. I am still all of those things. It has been 7 years, I see the progress of grief, how things change. It’s just that this year in particular I am aware of how there is so little past and no sure future and there is only now.


Posted in Gabriel, The language of families | 2 Comments

Always With Me

Gradually my memory of him, of the way he smelled, the feel of him in my arms has slipped away from me. You wouldn’t think a mother could forget this, and yet to see me, you wouldn’t think of me as a mother either.

If there is a theme of 7 years, it is the theme of memory. What we remember and what we forget and how we manage this – how we allow ourselves to live in this world, when the very heart of us is in the next.

Quietly, without realizing it, my memory of Gabe has adjusted. Without ever being here he has grown up in my mind. That morning this September when I thought about sending him to first grade, the moments when I see a red haired child and my heart absolutely clenches. It contracts, on well, nothing. It cannot clench on anything, it has been so very long since he was here. It’s like closing your fist against sand, you can’t hold it.

And still, I tell you that it can’t be nothing. This is 7 years. At 10:26 tonight he came, and some time before 11 he slipped away, cradled in my arms. If the weight, the feel and smell of him are gone, the feelings, the pain and the sorrow – for today at least – they are still very much here. The feelings of that day, and every day since then, they weigh on me. My heart clenches on the memory of a life that was never fully lived.

That clench of my heart means something. Even if there is nothing real to clench against, there is still something: feeling and maybe memory.  When all the memory fades, when I cannot close my eyes and see his face; if a time comes that I do not remember the sorrow or the abiding love, when I cannot remember the marvel of looking over every inch of him, amazed at what Owen and I had created, when I cannot remember those things, I will remember this –

That I loved him. That he was mine. Carried underneath my heart, loved from the moment we knew of him. That he is not here and I wish he was.

And when I cannot see his face anymore, it will not matter. In every way that matters, he is always with me.Gabriel


Happy Birthday little boy. I miss you still.


Dear friends and loved ones,

With great joy and heartbreak, we wish to announce: at 10:26 PM on December 10, 2007, Gabriel Anton was born into the hands of Cathy, his midwife, sang to in the arms of his mother, rocked in the arms of his father, bathed in the arms of his grandmother, and baptized in the arms of Regula, his Parish Priest.

At just after 11 PM, he was carried to Heaven in the arms of the Angels, where we will meet him again one day. At 520 grams (1 pound 2.4 ounces), and 33 cm (13 inches) he was wee, with 10 fingers and toes, and a full head of hair. He was a perfect, but very tiny baby.

For where your treasure is, there also will be your heart. Luke 12:34


Posted in Gabriel | 9 Comments


I came back into the office today for the first time since Tuesday. I brought with me a sweater I knit for my mother’s birthday about 5 years ago. It is hanging off my chair. It is both practical – my office with the bank of windows, gets cold, but more than that, for now at least, it still smells like my mother.

Last night, as I lay in bed, thinking of the funeral and the hymns and the readings and the food, it occurred to me, these are the things I would call my mother for. I am more than capable of managing this. I opened up my book of Alternative Services, I chose the readings and I know where in the service we require hymns, and I have chosen them. I have thought about who is coming and who should do the readings and I have written the obituary. It’s just that I can hear the conversations – “Fruit tray and veggie tray? Here I am Lord, even though it’s not in Common Praise? What do you think of the obituary wording?”

This morning I came into the office, with my to do list and people started hugging me. In their eyes I could see the sorrow – not so much my sorrow, but thinking of the mortality of their own parents’ and they hug me fiercely and long.

I do not know what to do.

I appreciate the sentiment. It fills me with a strange sense of wonder that I am so cared for. I think of that sweater, of the days in my mind that I have started to call “better days”. They were not good days, my mother’s love was always tied in strings and conditions and condemnation, but they were better. There were limits on what she could offer me, I am realizing. She tied herself and her heart into knots and there was only ever going to be so much give. Still, there were days when she came by for coffee and put groceries in my fridge. Days when there was some semblance of normal care and concern. Days when I could almost imagine that she loved me as a normal mother would, that I might be good enough for her.

Those better days, and the last three years collide and clash and simply just hurt. I am more than capable of planning my mother’s funeral. I am strong enough to bear days of unceasing hardness. It sometimes has felt in the last days as if this was the thing she raised me for. To keep my head when everyone around me lost theirs, to be graceful and polite and do what has to be done.

I thank people for condolences, pulling out stock answers “that I’m managing, thank you for your concern, your sympathy and your care”. I do not tell them that it is not like they imagine, that my mother wrote me out of her life, that I did not hope for reconciliation, that I did not believe it possible, that I have grieved the loss of a mother most of my life, long had I been aware that our relationship was not normal or healthy and could not ever hope to be.

When I saw her not quite a month ago, and we tried to talk she kept telling me “it is what it is”. There was nothing I could do with that statement. There is no room for reconciliation, even mutual understanding. I went away, knowing I had done what I could. I came back to help her die, knowing that I could do that for her too.

I’m sorry too. I do these things for her, for her memory, because I feel them to be right, knowing there was nothing she could do for me, would do for me.

Just once I should have liked to have heard that she loved me unconditionally, that there was nothing I could do that would separate myself from that love, that she was proud and pleased with me.

And I lean back in my chair, the sweater I knit around my shoulders, and I think I have done all I can do.

It is good and right to do your duty. It’s just not enough to stop from feeling lost and alone.

Posted in The language of families | Leave a comment

Keeping Time

I have been packing up my mother’s apartment and making arrangements. It’s a strange thing. When everything fell apart 3 years ago, it seems she lost everything. I want to cry and rage at what seems such a forsaken existence. She must have been so sad, so overwhelmed and all she had to do was ask for help, and her pride simply wouldn’t let her.

I recognize some things – utterly arbitrary things. The coffee canister from my childhood. Her perfume. A blazer she has owned since I was a little girl. The groceries in the cupboards are the same as mine, her pots lived in the same place as mine. I pack away camisoles and am surprised that we own some of the same ones. I look at her watch and compare it to mine. I recognize her handwriting, so similar to mine.

Yet, as I try and sort through the mess she has left, as I talk to her family for the first time in my life, I am at a loss. I do not know how to reconcile this woman who lived mere blocks from the kids and so far from me. I look at the things in the apartment, at the trappings of her life and I don’t know the person who owned them. I talk to her family and find out more about how she reinvented her life after she moved out west 45 years ago, and there is so little truth in what she told me that every single time I have enquired after something, I am told that it didn’t happen and I don’t know quite what to tell them.

Her property manager didn’t know I existed. He thought she had no children. She told the hospital staff that I was a lawyer in Toronto. She told her next door neighbour that there was a trust fund for her grandson and some stole it for her, and I am left bewildered. The kindest of people think that perhaps my mother had some dementia, and all I can do is tell you that five weeks ago she was as lucid as I have ever known her. She was just utterly dishonest.

She has been seeing someone for some time now. She waited for him to come before she died. She did not recognize me, but said good bye to her best friend. I found the good bye letter she wrote the man, and no record of my existence at all.

And here I am, sorting all of it out, doing what must be done. Trying to give her some grace and dignity in death. I’m looking at the watch on my desk, the one that she set 10 minutes fast, and there are all these touch points, moments where I think that I begin to understand and find some common ground and then I realize, there can be no understanding this.

I had not been angry with my mother before her death. I find myself lost and utterly enraged now.

Posted in The language of families | 6 Comments

She Comes Sailing on the Wind

For 24 hours I sat and watched a heart. It was a strange thing, to watch the heart of someone who simply could not love you.

We pulled the tubes at about 2pm. My god mother came at 4 pm, and when she left at 7 pm, we pulled the oxygen. From there it is a long and last journey.

Through the long and dark hours of the night, I sat by her bed, holding her hand. She was never alone. If I wasn’t with her, the nurse was. If I felt unequal to the task, alone, frightened, overwhelmed, I could do what she taught me.  Dig a bit deeper, square your shoulders and face up to the task before you without flinching and an iron determination to see it done, doing it was well as you possibly can.

Realizing in the dark of the night, when you feel utterly alone, that everything you need is already within you. When you are doing what you know you should, every thing you do is enough. I taught myself that there are things you do on your own, for your own sake. I stayed so that she would not be alone, not because she wanted me, but because I wanted to know I had done it.

I watched her heart. I watched as she stopped breathing, slipping from this world to the next through a door that I did not see open, but was there all the same. It was the easiest and most natural of things. She was here and then she was not.

I find myself praying that the world she is now in is easier. Kinder. Gentler. That there is peace and respite, that it is a world where sorrow and pain are not.

Goodbye mum. I loved you all the same.Cheryl&MumInIndia

She comes sailing on the wind,
her wings flashing in the sun;
on a journey just begun,
she flies on.
And in the passage of her flight,
her song rings out through the night,
full of laughter, full of light,
she flies on.

Posted in The language of families | 11 Comments

The Last Watch

In the end, it’s just her and I. In a darkened ICU room, as the sun sets.

I reach over every so often to soothe her – she is restless, but mostly now I just sit beside the bed, rubbing her hand.

We journeyed so long, so far, both together and apart. Her illness took her to places that I couldn’t fathom and couldn’t go. But, this. I can do this. This is your last job as a daughter, the last fealty you owe someone, whatever you thought of them.

We have ended treatment, removed tubes. I am waiting for people to come and say goodbye, I have made phone calls, the chaplain and I read the prayers for the dying, and now I sit and watch.

She opens her eyes, stares at me, but she does not recognize me.  The journey has already started. I am simply here to bear witness. She taught me that no one is ever born alone, and no one should die alone. I will stay watching the very last of journey’s, until she is at the end. I will send my prayers for peace and a lack of pain. I pray that she is not frightened. That some part of her knows she is not alone. That she will not be alone for a moment. I will be here, and then in the words of my faith, that glorious company of angels will sing her home.



Posted in The language of families | 8 Comments

Can Come to any Good

7 years ago today I went into the hospital for what might have been called a routine test based on a minor concern.

My blood pressure was a bit high.

If I remember anything, when I think back, I remember being worried, but convinced that this was merely a bump in the road. Things would be fine, I thought. We would laugh about this. I asked for one of the fetal monitoring strips to put in the bun’s baby book.

I really did think it would be all right.

I didn’t think he would die. I didn’t have any idea that I might die.

People tell me now, in the middle of difficult situations, that things will work out, that things will be ok. Mostly I just want to smack them. What arrogance, what presumption. Things will be all right because you wish them to be?

The situation will – one way or another – end. Nothing carries on forever. But to say that it will be ok?

7 years later, as I remember, as I think back, I know this to be true: never again will I automatically assume that things will be fine, simply because someone tells me they will be. Never again will I tell someone that things will be fine, that things will work out as they should. Never again will I hold platitudes in the face of uncertainty.

Things will end. All things. Sometimes they will end well and safely and I will never take that for granted. Sometimes they will end badly. And I will keep living.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
WH Auden, Funeral Blues

Posted in Baby Loss, Gabriel | 4 Comments