By Tracy G Cassels
I woke up this morning and thought to myself that I didn’t like the word “skort”. That was the highlight of my morning thought process. I finished packing, got my daughter up, and got us ready for our trip back to Toronto. We were going for a yearly visit before my daughter turned two to avoid paying a full fare for her. We got to the airport early and she made a friend right away by the gate. His name was James and he was 2 ½ years old. They chased each other, they fell down (intentionally) and helped each other up, they tickled each other, and I had a more profound though that I wish us adults could be more open to meeting new people as my daughter and James were. We sat on a plane with a wonderful couple next to us returning from a wedding in India who interacted with my daughter and made me feel better about being squashed in one seat with a child way too big to share with me. We did, however, have a bitch of a stewardess, but I’ll ignore her for my own sanity. We landed, got our luggage and caught a cab. My daughter didn’t want to get in because she wanted a red car – you see, red is her favourite colour at the moment and she wants EVERYTHING red. But she got in and we headed back. She ate muffin and grapes and we looked at buildings and she even liked the driver so much that when we talked about going driving again, she said he should come with us. We arrived at my dad’s where we were staying (really his partner’s as he moved in with her) and we pulled into the driveway. My daughter, trying to get down from the seat herself, fell and hit her head (she was upset, but fine). We walked up to the door and rang the doorbell.
It opened. My dad’s girlfriend immediately tried to take my daughter from me. She was not going for it and I grabbed her back, explaining that everyone is still new to her so we need to be conscientious of that. My dad said he needed to talk to me in the living room. I had no freaking idea what was going on. This was officially the weirdest welcome I’d ever had coming back to Toronto. And then my dad opened his mouth, and for everything, I wish I could go back and make that never happen. Because at that moment, all he managed to do was shatter me. He told me that last night – LAST FUCKING NIGHT – my mother had died. My brother found her this morning and they decided it best to wait until I arrived to tell me (something I am grateful for as I don’t know how I’d have handled a plane ride with my daughter and that news).
I haven’t been home in a year. And I thought I’d see her again. Especially as we planned the birthday party for my daughter that was to take place on her actual birthday. I didn’t call back after her last call. I emailed, but I was so busy with unimportant shit that I didn’t call back. I didn’t say I love you. I didn’t say goodbye. Yes, I did say those things our last call, but she called again, and I wasn’t there. I emailed a week ago telling her I was looking forward to seeing her new place (she just moved) and this was her reply:
Glad you can make it here. I think you will like it, and like I’ve said, the park is right here! And so is the Davisville subway - 5 mins max!
See you next week.
That’s the very last communication I had with my mom because I was too fucking busy to call during the day. I assumed I had more time. But I didn’t. That’s all I have. An email and a visit where I get to plan a funeral instead of a party.
Over a week has passed since my mother died. Currently, I’m in New Jersey visiting my grandmother, who has now outlived both her children. My brother, sister, and I scattered my mother’s ashes yesterday where we knew she would want to be. It was short, brief, and heart crushing. I find myself having so many things I want to share with her about things that are happening. Talk to her about my grandmother, my daughter, my siblings, our visit to NJ… The list goes on and yet – she’s not there. I had brought with me a download of Jim Gaffigan’s newest stand up because of the Home Birth section in it, knowing my mother would love it. I had it in my mind that we’d watch it at her place either before or after taking my daughter to the park my mom was so excited about (and which, incidentally, is freaking awesome and my daughter loves). She’ll never see it, nor can I watch it with her. I have to catch myself because I am consistently about to say, “We have to tell mom…” to remember we can’t.
Over the past week we’ve had a service for her, which was widely attended – a testament to how many people she touched and how many people loved her – and a birthday party. We knew my mom would want us to continue with the party for my daughter, but I have to admit it was hard. It was on my mother’s birthday, the one she should have been there for. We had an obituary put in the paper which ran on her birthday and tons of emails from friends of hers from university that we’d never met, but who loved her and knew of us because our mother was so very proud of us. We learned cause of death – a brain hemorrhage due to high blood pressure – and that my mother really had quit drinking excessively (though she still had some wine on occasion) two years ago. With no help (yes, she had ovaries of steel). Drinking played no part in her death. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t believed her the last time we spoke of it, but I am glad I didn’t push it because maybe then she might have thought there was a chance I did believe her. I also had to clean up the bit of blood that was on the floor and bed of my mother’s apartment, something I never envisioned in my life. I sat staring at various cleaning supplies, unsure which was best on hardwood floors, finally settling on dish soap, which luckily did work. It has, in short, been a week that has taxed and drained me in ways I’ve never experienced.
What I have taken comfort in is the fact that my mother was so very happy at the end. She had just moved and loved her new place. To see her big recliner on her balcony, overlooking parks and trees made me happy to imagine her sitting there day or night, possibly knitting or just enjoying the view. I know she knew we were excited to come, and I know she was looking forward to our visit as well. The last people she saw and spoke to were people who loved her, and though the conversations may have been mundane, they were the mundane that comes from loving and knowing people. In one way, I suppose there’s a comfort in knowing that she simply lived her life, happy at that time, until the end.
The next few months will be drawn out with myriad, seemingly mundane things to do. Cleaning and emptying the apartment, dealing with finances, making sure my 19-year-old sister has funds for school and living, canceling services, and so much more. I’ll be flying back and forth between Vancouver and Toronto. My dissertation will go on hold and I’ll postpone my graduation a semester. EP will continue, but at the slower pace that had been expected anyway because of school. I have to admit that having my daughter helps not only because I am so thankful to my mother every day that I’m with her because it’s through her that I am parenting as I am and have always valued the role of mother, but also because she helps me smile and laugh when I honestly didn’t think I would be. I hope that somewhere in this time the pain will lessen a bit, that I won’t find myself crying alone at night, and that I can start to simply remember the good times (as there were many) and feel happy, not sad.
I love you and miss you terribly mom. And I always will.