Tuesday, June 9, 2015

She Died Three Months Ago Today

There has never been anyone like our mother Jean.  She loved poppies, flamingos, and Mick Jagger. We've always known this about her but we only recently asked her why.  Her response says a lot about who she was, "They're just so improbable."
Her stories about her childhood are full of mischievous times spent with her three brothers and her sister, as well as her cousins.  From her mother she inherited a strong sense of fun, from her father a love of learning.  As her children we knew family relationships were important to her and she taught us to make them important too.
It was not easy to be a single mother to four children, but she always told us that we were her greatest joy, a joy that increased with grandchildren.  In her words, "I never got to hang out with the cool kids, so I had to grow my own."  She made an effort to show us we were loved.  Just last week, she told Blake he was her favourite --something she said about each of us on occasion. She didn't just keep the things we made for her, she displayed them proudly--whether the fillings Blake learned how to do at Dentistry camp, or Annie's toilet paper tube angel that went on top of the tree every year.
Another special thing she did was share her love of music.  Her taste was eclectic--from the Monkees, to Rogers and Hammerstein, to Joni Mitchell, to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, to Gordon Lightfoot to Rita MacNeil to the Rolling Stones, and our lullabies were chosen from among these artists.  Any moment could trigger a song. We were frequently woken by her singing Awake and Arise O Ye Slumbering Nations.  She definitely had a favourite song.  We can remember her often patting the dashboard of her car, telling the radio to "play Ruby Tuesday."  One of her pleasures was playing with the "boys in the band" which was her name for the backup music programmed into her keyboard.  Another was singing alto with the ward choir.
She was also brilliant.  In her hospital room the week before she died, her visitors were doing a crossword puzzle aloud.  Without even looking at the puzzle she knew the answers before the others understood the clues.  A regular Saturday errand sent one of us to the store for a newspaper with the New York Times Crossword Puzzle which she completed weekly.  She did logic problems for fun.  We learned from her the importance of mental exercise. In her mid thirties she got her GED and went on to obtain her Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology--a huge accomplishment for a woman raising four young children on her own.
Her sharp mind also showed in her sense of humour.  It was elusive to many.  But her laughter was always contagious.  She liked to follow up her own jokes with a good knee slap and an exclamation of "I'm such a hoot!" or, "Why don't other people find me as funny as I do?"
About five years ago, out of the blue, she started taking art classes.  She bought herself a drafting table, beautiful paper, and special paints.  When asked about it, she shared the Vincent Van Gogh quote on her studio wall, "If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced."
Mom couldn't go anywhere without bumping into someone with whom she had worked in the community from the Schizophrenia Society, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Harbour House, or LaHave Manor.  She particularly enjoyed conducting educational workshops and presentations for schools, clubs or local events.
Something we admire about her was her unwavering honesty and sense of integrity.  More than once she returned to a store to give back an overpayment of pennies.  Our whole lives, we've witnessed her quiet selfless giving.  Over the past week we've been especially touched by stories of lives affected by her kindness. She was profoundly generous.
Central to everything that she did was her faith.  She had a testimony of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, latter-day prophets, and the temple.  She loved researching Family History.  Because of her faith in eternal families she spent many hours at microfilm readers, in archives, and in cemeteries around the Maritimes and even in Ireland searching for the names, dates, and stories of deceased ancestors.  As her children we would describe her as steadfast and diligent.  In the hospital, when she could no longer do it for herself she had me read from the Book of Mormon in the morning and the Bible at night.  One of the last things she asked me to do for her was pay her tithing.
Mom's given us so much--her creativity, honesty, sense of humour, brilliance, love, and each other.  Like poppies, flamingos and Mick Jagger, she was improbable.  Goodbye Ruby Tuesday, we're gonna miss you.
*The night before our mother's funeral, my brothers and I stayed up late and wrote this eulogy.  We were right.  We miss her.

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