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My eulogy

Several people have written asking me to post what I said about my mother last Friday, at her memorial. Friends know that though she was wonderful, Mum was also difficult, and we had a wonderful, difficult relationship. But I loved her very much, and last Friday was not the time to dwell on anything negative. 
We are not here to mourn but to celebrate. Because my mother
had a fantastic life, well-lived. And also, she had so many health problems,
it’s a miracle, and a testament to her strength and grit, that she lived so
long. My father used to say that so many bits of her had been removed or
replaced that he didn’t know this new wife and wanted his old wife back.
My mother was a woman of great joy and many loves. When I
thought about this memorial event, I decided to share with you a few of the
things she loved most, and so I made a list – because one of the things my
mother loved most was lists.
Here are some – not all, by any means – of my mother’s great
loves:
  1. MEN.
    My mother loved men. Young men old gay straight. Starting at 4 years old,
    walking around the Potterspury schoolyard holding hands with a boy called
    Teddy Leach, also 4. The sad story is that after years of separation,
    Teddy Leach came back during the war to visit his childhood sweetheart. He
    knocked on the door; she opened. Their faces fell. She was six feet tall.
    He was five foot two.
My mother was famous for what my grandmother Marion called
“her come hither look.” Once when my parents were travelling, they had to sit
separately on the plane. Mum sat down next to a stranger. A few hours later, after much conversation, he turned to her as the plane was landing and cried, “Leave him, Sylvia! Leave him and come
with me.” My dad sitting a few rows back, and the man’s wife and children
waiting at the airport! Amazing.
Just two months before Mum died, she was in a double room in hospital, where the woman in the next bed had a husband who was handsome, and, more importantly,
British. I was sitting by Mum’s bed, watching her sleep, when the door opened
and he entered. Like a submarine, her periscope came up; she surfaced and
followed his every step, with her intense blue gaze, across the room.
But of all men, my mother loved one man – my father. Despite
some years of discord early in the marriage, there was a huge and primal
connection between the two. She entertained for him, travelled with him, and
held him in her arms as he died. Theirs was a great love story.
  1. MUSIC.
    Music was one of my parents’ most powerful bonds. Mum was extremely
    musical. Her father Percy was the village organist and choirmaster, and
    Sylvia, Dorothy and Margaret sang in his choir. Mum played the piano and
    the recorder beautifully, and in her forties, she took cello lessons so
    she could play in my father’s string quartet. She didn’t just love
    classical music, she also loved the Beatles and Sting and many others.
    After her death I discovered this sheet of paper, on which, in barely
    legible wobbly writing, she’d taken notes while listening to one of our
    favourite radio shows, Randy Bachman’s Vinyl Tap. “I’m gonna wait till the
    midnight hour,” she’d written, in a list of songs and singers. “Wilson
    Picket.” She never stopped learning, wanting to discover.
3.   
HOMES. Houses and gardens. My mother was a wonderful
homemaker, in the proudest sense of that word – she made a home for her
children, her husband, her friends. Her task was especially challenging because
my father had absolutely no practical skills. Mum cooked and baked, she made
jams and pies, she gardened, she sewed and knitted. She was the first person I
knew to buy an old Victorian wreck of a house and renovate it, as she did on
Stewart Street in 1966. She furnished our houses, she fixed things, she bought
antiques and art. Right to the end – her condo here was both comfortable and
elegant. And even in an apartment, without her own garden, she found one – Bob
and Leona’s huge community garden on Poulin, where she made a big patch her
own.
4.   
ANIMALS. Birds, beasts. A lifelong passion, from the cats and
dogs of Potterspury, through our own pet cats and dogs, especially the
dachshund Brunie and beagle Tippoes, and finally the bichon frise Farley, in
Edmonton. Farley wasn’t even her dog, he was the next door neighbour’s, but he
and my mother adored each other. Bev, his owner, told me that Farley had a
sixth sense when Sylvia was returning after a trip, and even before the cab
pulled into the driveway, he was barking like crazy to be let out. The minute
they met, he’d hurl himself into her arms, she’d take him inside and give him
“bikkies” and water in special china dishes, and they’d tell each other about
their time apart.
5.   
ART. She was an artist herself, with a huge talent and a
lifelong passion for watercolour, oils, pastels, sculpture – and the work of
other artists. Last spring, Mum was determined to see the special Van Gogh
exhibit at the National Gallery here; we just couldn’t see how that was
possible – she was so weak, barely able to walk. But when she found out that I,
coming to visit her, had bought a ticket to see it, she insisted on going too.
I said no, impossible, but Mike said, let’s make it happen. Even though we had
no ticket for her. 
And so began an excursion organized like a commando raid. By
some miracle, Mike managed to get her to the gallery just as I, newly arrived
from Montreal, got to the head of the pre-paid ticket line. I begged the woman
to sell us a ticket for Mum. With my mother’s baby blues burning into her, she
did, and I pushed my mother in her walker past the enormous line-up for
tickets, right into Van Gogh. That was her last big outing, and she loved every
minute.
6.   
FRIENDS AND FAMILY. All of us here, I’m sure, were the recipients
of her kindness and generosity. After her death, we received many emails full
of appreciation and love. Several donations have been made in Mum’s name to the
Ottawa Heart Institute and to the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Mike and I
are extremely lucky to have inherited a great appreciation of beauty, music and
art, of home and friends and family, from our parents.
Before closing, I’d like, on behalf of my mother, to pay
tribute. First, to the health care system of Canada, which served her so well for
so long. Thank you, taxpayers of Canada. Thank you, Tommy Douglas.
To Nancy Bell, Mum’s caregiver, who kept her company this
last year and brought her special treats.
To Mum’s grandchildren Anna and Sam, who visited, sent notes
and photographs and called her faithfully and often, even knowing that
sometimes, once Mum was on the phone, it was not easy to get her off, which can
really make a dent in your cellphone plan.
To Mum’s newer grandson Jake, who brought her much delight,
and to Mike’s partner, beautiful Emilie, who is so welcome in this family, and
who has brought us the pleasure of the French language. And to great-grandson
Eli, who was awaited with such impatience and greeted with such joy.
Most of all – to two people. To my brother Michael, who
looked after Sylvia for years with incredible patience and love. This past year
alone, day after day, nearly every day of the week, he came to visit her in
hospital and made sure she was comfortably settled in her various residences. I
salute him as a marvel of loving kindness, and also as the primary organizer of
this event. We should all have someone as caring as Michael there at the end of
our lives.
And, last, to sister Do, aka Chumeroo, who was there when my
mother was born, when she met her husband, when that husband died, and all the
last years of Mum’s life. It was Do Mum called at three o’clock in the morning
– over and over and over again – when her heart was fibrillating and she was
waiting for the ambulance. One time, Mum was actually inside the ambulance on a
stretcher, and she made the medic guys wait, saying, “You can’t go yet, my
sister isn’t here.” Do arrived, Mum beamed, and off they went, to spend six
hours, 10, 12 hours in Emerg. Do was always there, by Mum’s side. The two of
them called each other every morning to make sure they’d lived through the
night. They laughed often, remembering their childhood eight decades ago. They
played a vicious game of Scrabble. Do was Mum’s lifelong and most loyal
companion. I cannot thank her enough.
Or you, for coming here tonight to remember and honour my
mother. Many thanks.

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98 Responses to “My eulogy”

  1. Jason Allen says:

    This is a stunning eulogy, Beth. Thanks for sharing it here.

  2. beth says:

    Looking forward to seeing you soon, Jasoni.

  3. Wonderfully written, Beth. Thank you for sharing.

  4. beth says:

    Thank you for writing, Kathy.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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