On my first day after arriving in my new country of Denmark we stumbled upon a Jazz festival playing tn the park. As we walked down the path my husband nudged me and whispered “hey, doesn’t that lady look like your mom”.
To say that seeing my mother on that beautiful sunny day was like a kick to the gut, or a punch in the face is such an understatement as to be obscene. I had just gulped down a pot full of boiling water. My body abandoned. The world tilted. Sound evaded. I disappeared. And then. I walked right past my mother. I didn’t stop or look back.
Because of course, the thing is, my mom is dead. And I know that she died. I remember the year of her dying. Or, rather, I remember that it took her a year to die. I am, in truth, not clear about the details of that time. There was the hospital. I can’t imagine I will ever not remember the hospital. Nurses, doctors, family. Always circling around my mother, as she remained stubbornly oblivious, then raving, then begging, then resigned. Then dead.
The timeline of her year of illness is lost. There are events to mark the passing of time that year: she entered hospital around my oldest sons’ birthday in April (I was pregnant. Did she know?); she was in a coma at my cousin’s wedding in the summer (my belly round with my growing baby); she was conscious and could almost swallow soft food at Christmas (I bought toys to give to my boys from Grandmama in the gift shop of the hospital); and she was well enough to travel to another cousin’s wedding. July 7th, 2007. The trivia that remains when the heart is overflowing. Then we learned the cruel and illusory nature of remission and how my mother’s was to be short lived.
I can’t remember where or how she was when my second son was born somewhere in that year. As an afterthought, I realize I don’t remember anything about the events surrounding my second son’s birth with any clarity either. I can not tell you his actual birthdate. Or if he cried when he was born. Or if I cried. Nor can I remember the date my mom died. My mind simply refuses to remember that time. It was the fall. He was born in the fall. She died in the fall, one year later. There is that.
And yet, some things remain horrifyingly vivid. Even after almost seven years. There was that time on the phone with my sister, standing in my mother’s kitchen, soon after we moved my mother into palliative care, and I was screaming that I didn’t know how my mother was doing today, but that she had better die in the next two weeks because my maternity leave was going to end at the end of the month and I would have to go to work, and I-can-not-take-it-if-she-isn’t-already-dead-when-I-go-back-to-work. She Has To Die. I wish… well I wish that if it can’t be that I never said that, that I never meant it with all my heart, I wish that at least I didn’t have to remember it quite so clearly.
I remember always tumbling over a precipice. The blood of the wounds the ragged rocks cut into my flesh. My baby grew in my womb, to the staccato of a terrified heart. Later I nourished him with milk made from the adrenaline rush of never ending hysteria. The nightmare state of trying to dial the phone and always getting the wrong numbers. For more than I year I could not remember a phone number. The PIN number for my bank card. My address. There was simply too much in my brain, and something had to go.
I remember crawling into my mother’s hospital bed with my baby and nursing him to sleep. I remember that the nurse came in, and then she left us. What was she thinking? I remember family and friends circling around my sister and I and holding us in their love. I remember laughter. The incredible number of people from my mother’s life who took the time to come and visit her – even when she wasn’t conscious. She was never, ever alone in her torment.
At first I remembered that my mom had died every day. And then as time went by, the between-the-remembering-time became more frequent. And it would sometimes be a week or more between the remembering. Then something would happen, usually with the boys, or at school, and I would go to pick up the phone to tell my mom about it and then I would once again remember. My mom died. A year ago. My mom died three years ago. My son, who was a baby when she died, (he slept in my friends arms through the funeral), has grown up during those years. He is almost eight years old. I hardly ever try to phone my mom anymore. Not because I remember that she has died more now, or better, but simply because I am out of the habit of sharing the moments of my daily life with my mother.
And so it was that on that day, exhausted from jet lag, and floating in the cloud of moving to a new country, seeing my mom-not-mom changed everything for me. Because in that moment, I went from remembering that my mom has died, to knowing my mom is dead. Somehow my remembering changed from the process of dying to the state of being dead. It may seem like such an obvious thing, and such a long time coming, but the mind and heart do what they will. And for me, it has taken seven years before the shock of knowing that my mom is dead has settled to stay in my heart.
I think this is the part where I am to draw some conclusion, a life lesson, something that I have taken away from my experience that can be generalized, summarized, shared. But I have nothing. This is it. It is not in my nature to find inspiration in suffering – my own or others. I rage. I rant. I remember. I know. I know what I remember.
Happy Deathaversary Mommy. I love you.
LEMAY, Yvonne (formerly Tschofen) Born in Trochu, Alberta, June 5, 1940, Yvonne died of cancer in Edmonton surrounded by loved ones on September 16, 2007. She will be remembered for her dedication to her family, friends and community, her generosity and sense of humour, and her profound compassion. A devoted teacher, with a passion for her subject matter and genuine love for all her students, Yvonne touched countless lives teaching English and Mathematics at O’Leary, St. Joseph, St. Mary, College Saint Jean, J.H. Picard, Archbishop McDonald, and Louis St. Laurent schools in Edmonton for 38 years, from 1960 to 1999. Her commitment to her community led her to serve as a board member and chair of the board of the Western Catholic Reporter (1999-2003), a member of the University of Alberta Senate (1998-2004), and a member of the executive of the Federation des Aines Franco-Albertains. Her greatest love, however, was her family. She is mourned by her daughters Monique Tschofen and Kirsten Tschofen Pelletier, her grandsons Max Kronby, Eli Pelletier and Ezra Pelletier, her sons-in-law Matthew Kronby and Heath Pelletier, and her friend Larry Arthurs. She will also be deeply missed by her extended family who gave her so much joy, including her sister, Helene Kalbfleisch, her sisters-in law Marilyn Lemay, Maxine Lemay, Lidia Lemay, Helen Lemay, Robin Lemay, Elaine Tschofen and Liesel Cleveland, her brothers Rene Lemay, Bernard Lemay and Georges Lemay, her brothers-in-law Dale Kalbfleisch, Wilfrid Tschofen and Kurt Cleveland, and her many nieces and nephews-Paul, Natasha, Tania, Marc, Robert, Michelle, Nicolle, Colette, Daniel, Andre, Denise, Michael, Aline, Christopher, Tara, John, Paul, Cory, Carla-and their families, as well as by the father of her daughters, Detmar Tschofen. She is predeceased by her brother Marc Lemay, her brother Dennis Lemay, her mother Yvonne Lemay and her father Ambroise Lemay. The family is most grateful for the compassion and care provided by the staff of the University of Alberta Hospital, the Glenrose, the Cross Cancer, Norwood, and unit 9Y at the General Hospital, and for all the family and friends who have showered her with their love, laughed with her, and helped her.