26 December 2009


I wanted to write a letter to Mum to talk to her about some of the things I remember with fondness and appreciation. This is by no means an exhaustive list, or even necessarily a list of the most important things; I keep discovering each day new ways in which I miss her and new ways to remember her with a smile on my face, even as tears threaten to well up in my eyes.
Dear Mum,

I’m writing to you to thank you and to tell you about some of the ways you have permanently impacted my life.

First of all, thanks for having me. As the second child of a two-child family married to the first child of a two-child family, it certainly couldn’t have been very expected that you would have five children. As child number four, I should be particularly grateful for that one. But when I think about this question, the thing that most pops out in my mind is the recurring conversation among us kids discussing the responsibility of people to limit themselves to replacing themselves by having at most two children. This conversation almost inevitably evoked an almost tearful response from you: “I can’t imagine what I would do without any of you.” Your attachment to all of us, in very different and individual ways, is something that I miss already.

Thanks for making sure that we did things together as a family. I know so many people who have little connection to their siblings, or who haven’t spoken to them for many years out of anger or disinterest. We are not like that. As diverse as we are as individuals – and as bossy and domineering, too, I am compelled to admit – we actually get along, and we enjoy spending time together. All of our meetings have times when you wouldn’t be able to fit a word in edgewise as we all try to share our own experiences and points of view with each other, and they all have moments of laughter, even in the saddest of times.

Thanks for being, with Dad, among the most open-minded, tolerant and even accepting parents of teens and young adults I have ever seen. I remember the time during the 1970s that my older sisters moved in with, or otherwise shared space with, their boyfriends. Other families lived this experience as a rupture and a tragedy, but you made sure they had enough dishes and towels.

There was very concrete application of this to my own experiences, too. After all of the horror stories I had heard from others about coming out to hostile families and all of the disaster scenarios I played out in my own head during the years (yes, years) I reflected on coming out to you, I got love back. “How could you be so silly as to thing this would matter to us? You’re our son and we love you.” And later, when we had a moment face-to-face, you anguished about all the times over the years you must surely have offended me without realizing it. This is the kind of acceptance that made me know that I should not hesitate to share and seek support from you when I was diagnosed with HIV. I got the same love and support in return.

You were always upset when your gathered children reminisced about the various punishments we received as children. I hope that you took some comfort from my words when I told you that we wouldn’t be talking and laughing about it if we had been abused and scarred. No, I remember most the image of a mother who, helpless with laughter, was unable to keep two of us from having a little raw cookie dough as we acted in tag-team.

I also remember the Mum who seemed to know how to do everything, skills developed through years of just scraping by when we were all young and you and Dad were moving your young family all over rural BC, or skills born of your own creativity and practicality. Art, sewing, cooking (especially baking!), canning…there was no apparent end to the things you were able to do and to encourage us to do. And then there was the English grammar. As frustrating as it might have been for a child to be corrected, I think that all of us owe our grammatical reflexes to your interventions. If I ever feel I need clarity on which construction to use, it is your voice I hear in my head and it always will be.

And in the same vein of practicality, let me thank you for your clarity about your final arrangements.

First, the distaste for euphemism. I’m proud to say that we respected that approach in your obituary – you were the only one on that page of the Kamloops Daily News on the first day of publication who actually “died.” The others passed away or passed on.

Second, the reaction to religion after you had lived with the hypocrisy of small town churches early on in your marriage. One of my favourite anecdotes – and one that I only recently heard – is the one about your being visited by the priest in hospital. He had come to ‘console you about your loss.’ “I think you have the wrong room,” you said. He beat a hasty retreat.

Finally with respect to your remains. Cremation without frills or ceremony, and your desire to have your ashes go somewhere you would have been afraid to go in life. We have a pretty good plan for that, I think. And we can all hear you remind us that those ashes are not you. You are living in our heads now.

Love, Ken

(I will try to get better versions of some of these photos and replace them as I am able.)


Anonymous said...

Ken - what a beautiful reflection on your mother. She sounds like a wonderful woman. I am left teary-eyed.

Lubin said...

Just beautiful Ken...

Everything is said.

Katie said...

Such a beautiful Mum Ken, everyone should be so lucky.

Brandy Monteith said...

Thank you, Ken, for putting into words what I also feel about Mum. I love you lots!

Ahmar said...

that was a lovely and touching tribute - thanks for sharing.

David McHep C said...

That made me teary eyed. My Mom didn't mind us discussing punishment. She would even bring it up sometimes. I think because she never hit us. If us siblings got into a fight she'd make one of us sit on the sofa and one in the chair. Then she would go into the kitchen and listen for us to start talking with each other. As soon as she heard this she'd come back to the living room and say, "OK, you two can go outside now." My sisters and I get along with each other well too. Like you, I feel because my Mom always made sure we played board games together and always had us inviting our friends over to our house so always hung out together. It is nice to hear stories from others who got along with their families especially with knowing so many who had terrible lives at the hands of parents. Thanks for the stories. David