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Coping with my Mum’s Passing

So it’s Sunday afternoon, and I’m almost through the “official” duties with regards to my Mom’s passing.

I flew to Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon, about 32 hours after she passed (her passing time was at 1:20 am, Tuesday, March 9, 2004). I was able to make some final arrangements in Vancouver for my job and for some other work I had made commitments to.

The flight was horrible. I was on my own, and two things happened around me that kind of upset me. I was flying on a 767 with the 2 – 3 – 2 economy seating configuration, and I was in the aisle seat on the left side of the three seats in the middle. No one sat to my right, but a person occupied the other aisle seat in the middle row.

On my left, a couple in the left-window row made out pretty much the entire flight. At one point, they were facing each other, with a blanket between them. Normally, I’d snicker and such, but it really got me down. On my right was a very unfriendly woman who seemed to hate the world based on her interactions. I tried to ignore her.

I landed in Ottawa, no one was there to meet me (by design – it was 11:45pm when I landed, and we all had busy days the next morning). I went to the car rental booth (National), where the woman (Dawn) knows me by now. A few trips ago, she asked me why I was coming to Ottawa so often, and I told her that my Mom was very ill, and that I was spending as much time as I could here. This trip she said “hi again stranger – visiting your Mom again?” and I kind of broke down a bit… not very manly, I know. I recovered a bit, and said it was my last trip for a while. She got the drift.

The car reserved for me was a way too happy Royal Blue Neon. I took one look at the almost NEON like colour and went “ulp”. Dawn said – let’s walk and see what’s available. My eye strayed to a Grand Cherokee in a hunter / dull metallic green colour. I also knew that I’d be transporting as many as four or five other people. So I said “how much more would it cost me to get the Jeep”. Dawn said “I’ll work it so it’s only an extra $7 a day, does that work for you?” (I found out subsequently that normally, the SUV is an extra $21 a day over my very low $23.50 a day for an economy car”.

I don’t like big SUVs normally, and would never own a big SUV, but for this trip, this occasion, and the duties I had, it seemed appropriate. Somber colour, comfortable ride, ability to transport up to seven people. I thanked her and took it.

Thursday, the tough stuff really started. My Mom was interred at Kelly Funeral Home on Somerset for her wake and her church service – it was in the Kelly Chapel. My Mom had planned her funeral – to the letter. She had written down all the instructions, and we tried our best to follow them. She wanted a closed casket funeral, but also wanted the immediate family to have a private viewing of the open casket. That happened between 1 and 2 pm. I got there at noon, first one there, and my brothers arrived with their spouses at about 12:30. My Dad and his g/f arrived shortly after. (long story – my Mom and Dad separated some five years ago, but have remained friends, and my Dad and his g/f Christine really helped out my Mom in her last year+)

At about 12:50, our group, the sons, the husband, and the spouses / g/f / partners went in to view my Mom and how she lay. She was done up like an Egyptian princess! (her wishes)… a vibrant red scarf covered her visible body save for her hands and face. White lace fringed her face. She looked so peaceful, young, and beautiful. I wept, but felt at peace.

You may be wondering where Jeanette was. She flew out Thursday afternoon, and I was to pick her up at 4:30, so she could be part of the evening viewing, the Friday mass, and would leave Saturday evening. But when we were there viewing my Mom, a person was definitely missing. My Mom and Jeanette have a special relationship that transcends anything Jeanette and I may have had. My Mom often called Jeanette “the daughter she never had”. On my last visit to Ottawa, when I arrived and went to my Mom’s bedside, she was overjoyed, and in good spirits, with lots of good words. But when Jeanette arrived the next day, and I brought her to see my Mom, my Mom kept saying over and over again “good, now my whole family is here”. That’s what Jeanette meant to my Mom. So when we were viewing my Mom in all her beauty in her last repose, a person was definitely missing.

The afternoon public viewing saw a lot of people come by. I was reintroduced to a lot of cousins and relatives I haven’t seen in decades, which was nice. I found myself in the strange position at times of being the consoler, or the comforter for some of my Mom’s relatives and friends. They would arrive, pay their respects at the casket, view the flowers, sign the book, and remain composed. But once they saw me, or approached me, (or I would approach them), some would break down, feeling extreme sorrow for my situation or the situation of my brothers and father.

Somehow, this felt “good”… or at least serene. I was the shoulder they cried on. I can’t explain it, other than to say it was good for me.

I left the afternoon wake at 4:00pm to pick up Jeanette from the airport, and much to my regret, I missed a couple of old friends who dropped by. One, John Lahaie (sorry John if I got the spelling wrong – email me dude!!!!) is a fellow I haven’t seen for over a decade, but he read about my loss here, and on his own initiative read the Obits, saw the notice, and dropped by. He called me on my cell phone, and let me tell you John, it was a MAJOR comfort for me. Make sure you email me, k?

Two other old HS friends, Catherine and Jessica also read the notice, recognized my name, and dropped by while I was out. I really want to thank you both for offering your condolences in person, even though I was not there 🙁

I picked up Jeanette from the airport, and it was a tender reception. Jeanette and I are working on our friendship, and I’ve come to realise that she is my best friend, the best friend I’ll probably ever have. I don’t want to get into this very much right now, but for the longest time, I didn’t treat her with the same respect she treated me. During this ordeal, she’s been my foundation and rock, and I honestly don’t know how I would have come through this so far without her.

We went out for dinner with my brother James and his partner Helene, then went back for the evening wake. More old friends of mine dropped by – Chris Ottagan heard about it from another friend who could not make it. Brady, an old university buddy (sorry Brad, I forgot your last name – email me!) also dropped by after reading the obit. Hamid from Morala Trading paid his respects, which I really appreciated.

And the hall was packed all evening, a testament to how many friends my Mom had. It did my heart good to see how many lives she touched. I have no idea on the numbers, but if I had to guess, there were several hundred that evening.

Friday, we had the mass and ceremony in the small chapel at Kelly’s. At some point Thursday, the decision was made to open the casket once more so that two people could view my Mom one last time – Jeanette, and my Mom’s best friend, Claire. Jeanette got her chance to say her goodbyes, and I am so happy she had the opportunity to see my Mom one last time. I hope she is too.

The chapel was filled to capacity. In fact, the entire hallway outside the chapel was packed with people who could not fit inside the room. Again, there were probably 125 to 150 people there. I sat in the front row with Jeanette, my Dad and Christine. My brothers James and Michael sat in the row behind me with their partners Helene and Jennifer.

It was a touching ceremony, capped off by two poignant events – my Mom had a great friend for ten years, a fellow by the name of Brad (very young guy too), who gave an emotional, funny, and sad talk. I found out then that my Mom’s sense of planning had been thorough. She gave Brad very specific instructions about what to do after she passed… with regards to her three sons. She wrote down something, and picked out a specific song that she asked Brad to give to us once she was gone. The song, Brad said, exhibited exactly how my Mom felt about us, and in some ways, was her voice to us once she was gone. It was how she wanted us to remember her in sad and good times.

My brothers have listened to the song. I haven’t yet. I haven’t opened the CD that Brad gave me, and I won’t until I get back to Vancouver. I’ve asked Jeanette to be with me and listen with me once I do. I’m not ready yet, but I soon will be.

Brad also read some messages my Mom had for us – at one point while she was in the hospice, she asked him to sit next to her and to pull out some paper and a pen, and she dictated some notes to him. He read them. I openly wept, but I also had a smile on my face… “that’s my Mom”, I thought.

Jeanette was such a comfort during this time, but she too was going through a difficult time of losing a dearly loved one.

With the mass over, we filed out of the chapel, following my Mom. My Dad, me, my brother James, my brother Michael, then the spouses / partners. We walked by the dozens and dozens of people in the hallway who couldn’t get in the chapel. Then my brothers, my Dad, my uncle Bobby, and my cousin Shawn (my Mom’s “fourth son” – Shawn grew up with me and my brothers, living in the house next door to us for many years) were the pallbearers, carrying my Mom to the hearse limo.

We had a long procession to Beechwood Cemetery, where she was cremated. The path went by Parliament Hill, poignant because my Mom worked on the Hill for a variety of MPs for almost three decades. Even in the middle of Ottawa mid-day traffic, people paused and let our procession go; people even waved somberly at the lead cars. My SUV was the first car after the two limos and hearse that carried the Kelly Funeral home folks, my Dad and Christine, my brother Mike and Jennifer, and a couple of my uncles.

At Beechwood, there was a final ceremony, the saying of prayers, and the final goodbye. We kissed the casket, cried a bucket, and left.

Saturday was a day of reflection, and an attempt to clear one’s head. In the afternoon, Jeanette and I went to visit James and Helene and we went out to have a Quebec staple, “poutine” at one of the more famous places in Hull, Quebec for it. Then we hit a mall in Gatineau, which Jeanette enjoyed muchly – she has a fascination for the French language. A dinner with my Dad and Christine, then I drove Jeanette to the airport for her flight back to Vancouver.

She’s taken off so much time to visit my Mom in the last few months that her business has suffered a lot, though you’ll never hear her talk about that. She felt that she should honour my Mom one more time, and she need to mourn and be part of the process, and of course, she was there to support me, something I’ll be eternally grateful for. She is, first and foremost, my greatest friend and I can’t thank her enough for the support she’s given me.

Today is another day of pause. My Dad suggested that me and my brothers go to his place this evening to watch, of all things, Wrestlemania XX. Some of my Dad’s friends are coming by as well. At first I thought it was inappropriate, but the more I think about it, I think it will be very good to have a release for four hours or more, and to spend some fun times with my Bros’.

Tomorrow, one more duty. We will take my Mom’s remains in an urn and drive up to her preplanned grave to inter her in the ground. That will be tough. Jeanette won’t be with me physically, but I will bring her little frog with me, and of course, we’ll talk on the phone tomorrow as well. She had some very good words for me before she left on the flight, and I will remember them tomorrow.

Tuesday, one final duty. A portion of my Mom’s ashes are coming back with me to Vancouver, so I will accept a small vial and transport it with me back on a morning flight. In a month or so, I will arrange a small ceremony with some of my Mom’s Vancouver friends. (My Mom worked for a Vancouver MP for almost 20 years, and has a lot of friends out in Vancouver). I don’t know what we’ll do yet, but something special, maybe at Spanish Banks, so I can visit her from time to time.

Last, but certainly not least, I want to express my sincere thanks to everyone who has commented here, sent me an email, given me a call, or even remembered my Mom and my family (and me) in their prayers. The amazing amount of support and care I’ve gotten from the online community – literally hundreds of you through,,, and – has been a major source of comfort and solace for me in this difficult time. Every time I check email, there’s been new messages of comfort, support and thoughts, and each and every time I read them, I don’t feel alone through this.

I have a lot of love and care for all of you, and my family and I thank you all.



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