We’ve all lost someone who we are sure is a mistake of nature to have died. A friend, a relative or, a celebrity: John Candy. Robin Williams. Princess Diana. Why? Why would they die early? They who never hurt anyone, but, who only did good things and helped people or who made people laugh. Why were they taken from us? It just is not fair.
Uncle Ted was that person for us. Ted was married to my husband, Dean’s eldest sister Lanna. They got married in the seventies and built their bungalow from scratch on a dead-end street in a small city in Newfoundland. They had three children and raised them with the utmost care and attention. There are now several grand-children who will never be held, played with or read to by Poppy Ted.
When I met Ted, I knew instantly that he was one of those truly good people. With his clear, gentle eyes and sweet smile. Always helpful. Always offering quiet advice. Always chuckling at my lame jokes. Always taking Leo and going off for a good play, running around outside playing shoot ’em up games, flying Buzz around, or reading books or squished up into Leo’s play cubby building Lego. I would sometimes forget how much time had gone by. Leo would be so well amused, there was no need for mommy. One time, on a day we were expecting Ted and Lanna to arrive anytime, I over heard a conversation between two six-year olds: Leo and his buddy, Kevin from next door. Kevin was asking would Leo be able to play after lunch.
Leo’s response: Can’t. Uncle Ted is coming.
Kevin: ‘So? Do you want to play?’
‘Oh no, I’ll be playing with Uncle Ted.’
‘He PLAYS with you? asked an incredulous Kevin.
‘Like, anything you want?’
‘Yeah. Anything I want,’ answered a dreamy Leo.
‘Wow!’ said Kevin.
Some other wonderful things that Ted would do. He would shovel driveways and mow the grass of the elderly in his neighbourhood. He may be out there for hours after a snow fall – come in for a bite to eat and a cup of decaf tea and then right back at it. There were scores of examples of Ted’s kindnesses, acts of forgiveness and incredible selflessness. We’ve heard the saying What would Jesus do?
What would TED do?
In military college, there were four cadets tragically killed. Over reading break, four of them went off to fly a Cessna. One of them already having his pilot’s licence. We never saw them again. It was a very small school. We all knew each other. We knew each other sometimes better than we wanted to know each other. We were struck dumb with the news of our missing classmates. We lived in this big old four-story building which was just like a Residence Dorm. Someone hooked up a major sound system outside the dorm and we all went to the windows of the south side of the building and held lighted candles while one cadet blasted Brothers In Arms by Dire Straits.
Everyone was wailing.
It was a powerful display of our misery for the loss of our classmates. I remember feeling completely helpless and very angry. Again, the question of why? Now that I am a mom, I could not fathom how any parent could survive a call about the death of their child. Imagine receiving that call, having raised your child and sent he or she off to college. Tragic.
When Mom was in her mid-fifties, she began, slowly, to lose her mind. Mom had always had a memory that would put anyone to shame. She could remember all the details. Who was born where, what time and how long each labour was. Birthdays of relatives and friends. The location of each pin in our house. Phone numbers and important details of her seven children’s lives. I remember calling home from Comox when I was posted out there and the dawning realization that Mom was losing her memory. She just could not answer my questions the way she would normally. She was almost stuttering and saying things like: I must be nertz! Mom did lose her memory. It didn’t go overnight though. It went slowly over the next fifteen or so years, until she was just a shell of herself. Sarah McLachlan sings a song called Mary. One time it was playing on the radio around the time that mom was getting more and more ill. Hearing it and the lyrics:
Down to the water’s edge
And there she hangs her head
To find herself faded
A shadow of what she once was
had me weeping and moaning at the early loss of such a great person. Another time, Dean and I were watching a movie in our basement apartment on a rainy day the months before we moved to the Arctic. There was a scene of an older woman in a nursing home who resembled mom in her looks, as well as in her dementia.
I began to cry.
I laid back on our bed and pulled my knees up toward my chest and rolled on my spine side to side. The sobbing came from deep in my centre with loud heaving moans that I could not stop. It was primordial. The feeling of loss was profound. I would have been embarrassed by this raw show of emotion but then I realized that I was grieving for the loss of my mom before she was even dead. That awful fucking disease had taken her long before her time. I missed her very badly. Mom was a good person. Everyone who knew her knew it. At her funeral, Mark sang his song that had grown men weeping with tears streaming down their faces.
Our special mother through all those years. Who gave us hugs and dried our tears. To help us out in every way. Always knowing just what to say.
A harder worker you could not find. Heart of gold and open mind. Thinking of others before herself. Even when she was ill of health.
But when Mom had the time to spare. Her special talents she would share. She swam the lake with graceful strokes. And sang us all the songs she wrote.
She would go on a painting spree. Paint the rocks white at number three. Paint the porch at number one. While singing her song, Please Mister Sun.
A gourmet meal was made from scratch. Pickerel, pike or small-mouth bass. Homemade soup and sugar pie. Crumbled fruit of any kind.
Even with the crosses she had to bear. Her strength and hope were always there. To get us through another day. In our hearts she’ll always stay.
So thank you Mom from all of us. For the care and love you gave so much. You truly are our guiding light. That will shine forever day and night.
We know you’ve finally been released. And now you’ll always rest in peace. AS you look down at us from heaven. Farewell for now, your loving seven. Copyright Dec 2001
Theory of loss? Could it be that it is not the event that is meant to teach us a lesson, but in the reaction to the event and in the love that is shown in support of the grieving? * In fact my sister Eva reminded me of it because I had been tearfully telling her about the tragic loss of a lovely 22 year old young man here in my neighbourhood. I was asking, ‘Why? Why should such a wonderful young person die?’ Eva reminded me. Perhaps it is just that simple.
* I just saw this idea portrayed in a television program called ‘Call the Midwife’.