May 8th 2011: It was Mother’s Day a year ago when my mother last visited Ontario. I went to see her down in Niagara at her sister’s house, to take her out to lunch. It was a cold May, everybody in ski jackets and toques against the chill wind. The Burlington Skyway was rocking in the gale as I crossed it.
When I arrived, we had tea to warm up, and my mother presented me with her grandmother’s silver teapot. My wife and I were going to celebrate our twenty-fifth anniversary in June, and as that is the Silver Anniversary, my mother was contributing the last piece of family silver she’d held on to, bringing it with her in her luggage from the Maritimes.
We went to Port Dalhousie for lunch. Mum ate well, but she complained of being tired and not eating as well as she used to it. I pooh-poohed her concerns, suggesting she had an intestinal infection or something that was slowing her down.
No, she insisted, she was tired all the time, and wasn’t sleeping well. She felt it was something more serious, something that begins with a “C”.
I was horrified. To me, your 50s and 60s are the cancer years. If you get past that age unscathed, I thought, you’re home free until you fall apart from old age. My mother, however, knew better.
After lunch, we visited her parents’ grave in the little local cemetery. Mum placed a bunch of lilacs here for her mother. She said “The whole back of this stone is blank. I don’t want to be buried anywhere, but when I’m gone, I want my name and dates carved on the back of this stone”. I thought she was being morbid.
Within two weeks she had the results of a scan which had been taken before she left. Cervical cancer, usually a young woman’s disease, had spread throughout her abdomen.
I’ve described the journey my mother took to her end in these pages, and I won’t go over it again now, but this is the time of the year I miss my mother the most. The Forsythia is in full bloom – call mum! There’s a hawk eating a starling in the garden – call mum! The False Pear Tree is bursting with white blossoms like a colossal ice cream cone – call mum!
Six months later, a small group of her family and friends dedicated the carving on the back of that stone, and we planted a lilac. I don’t know if it survived the winter, but I’ll be down there soon to check on it.
Now I speak to my mother in my dreams, not on the phone, and I think of her every day, not just on Mother’s Day.