Wednesday, May 06, 2009

In Honour of Mother's Day

I read a great article today in the Globe & Mail and it made me think of my mum. Not that I don't think of her every single day actually, but it seemed especially poignant today. Soon we'll be celebrating Mother's Day and a month after that, my family will be honouring my mum on the 6th anniversary of her death. Mother's Day is always bittersweet for me now, so in honour of my mum, and Mother's Day, I am posting the eulogy I wrote for her because it shares so much of how much I love her and what an incredible force she still is in my life...and it is the one piece of writing that I am most proud of.


June 2003

“To Thine Ownself Be True”. It’s a Shakespearean quote that my mum inscribed in a diary she gave me for my birthday one year when I was a young girl, probably close to Rae’s age. It is but one of thousands of great lessons that my mum taught me while growing up that has stuck with me right up until today.

My mother, first and foremost, was always true to herself. The hardest part of that was that it was very difficult for the rest of us to live with her truths and her honesty all the time.

My mum was a very private person and she didn’t like anybody knowing her business. Because of that, I’ve struggled with exactly what I want to share with you all about my mum. So, I’m going to go with what she told me, which is To Thine Ownself Be True. Here’s my truth Mum…

There is no possible way that I can sum up my mum in a few words, especially in just the few days since she has passed. In 33 years, I was not able to figure out my mother entirely, and I don’t think anybody ever did, not even my dad whom loved her and lived with her for almost 40 years. Although I can certainly say that he knew her best.

Simply put, she was an exceptionally complicated person in every facet of her life.

One truth about my mum is that she was a very sad woman. She survived a terrible childhood, a word that’s hard to attribute to her early years, because it certainly left its scars on her. It was a pain and a sadness that she was never entirely able to leave behind and it did cloud her ability to see and recognize the love and happiness that she had herself created and which surrounded her.

Another truth about my mother is that she was never a victim and abhorred people that made excuses for their lives or their actions. She would never allow the misery that she lived through to define herself in the least.

Although many women work to define themselves through their selves as opposed to their relationships to others, not surprisingly, my mother was different. She was proudly a mother, a grandmother and a wife. From the age of 12, she worked so hard, yet, no matter the work or the job that she had, it was not the work that defined her. It was merely a means to an end, a way to take care of her family. Her whole reason for living was her family. We were all that really, ever mattered to her.

When I was 21 years old and I called my mother from
Vancouver to tell her I was pregnant, one of the first things out of her mouth was, “you’re not getting married are you?”…she was so terrified of me marrying he wrong man, but being an unwed mother didn’t phase her one bit. It was one of the proudest days of her life that day when she realized she was going to be a grandmother and I’ll never forget the look on hers and my father’s face, both with their hands on my belly watching their grandchild move about, eager to be born. Once my sister and I were grown, it was what she was living for. It was no coincidence that both my sister and I brought our daughters home so that we could be around our mother in the early uncertain days of raising a newborn. She gave me so much confidence in handling and raising my little girl and she was there to allay my fears, support me and encourage me with raising Rae every step of the way. I am so grateful for her influence at that point in my life.

My mother had such a huge capacity of loving. I often said that she would have been happy had she had a dozen children. Yet, it was loving that much that terrified her. My mother spent so much of her life waiting for the worse to happen, that in her final years, she was in a constant state of preparing herself for disappointment and anguish. Well, prophets are held by their prophecies and yes, often the demise of her happiness was often brought about by her own doing. This is perhaps the saddest part of my mother’s story.

Still, there is so much more to my mother than her sadness and her pain.

She was an amazingly loyal person. Fiercely loyal to those she loved and equally loyal to her convictions. The saying, “you don’t want to mess with the Schulman women” was truly instigated and perpetuated by my mother. I always said that it was the women that married into the Schulman family that defined the name. I am so proud to carry this name, the name that she gave me.

My mother was also one of the most courageous women I’ve ever known. She was courageous enough to leave behind a life in
England and Wales, which was all she knew, to start a new life with a man on an entirely different continent, whom she had met when she was only 16. She was courageous enough to keep trying to have a second baby, me, when all the doctors told her that either she would die or the baby would die if she tried carrying it to term. She knew better. She often did. These are just a tiny sampling of the ways in which my mother was a courageous woman.

My mother was very wise too…I remember when I was a young girl and getting bullied at school. To take care of the situation, my mum told me to go to the biggest blabbermouth in school and tell her that I was taking karate lessons, but ssshhh…it was a big secret! Without a doubt, it worked…the bullies backed off and my school life improved. It was one in a multitude of ways that demonstrates how creative and crafty she really was. She was always looking at ways to protect my sister and me from pain. When she couldn’t, she felt as if she had failed us in some way, although of course, she hadn’t.

My mother was also one to be direct and straightforward. An example of this was a time when my new best friend in grade 7 was visiting me at my home and was wearing makeup. My mother looked right at her and said, Tracy, you look like a tart!” and proceeded to march her into the bathroom and scrub her face. I was of course mortified, but it was many years later that Tracy shared with me that she loved and respected my mother for doing that for her and that she would always be grateful for my mother’s caring and directness with her.

I can liken my mother’s capacity for greatness and kindness and love to that of what a woman goes through when she’s pregnant. When I was pregnant, carrying Rae took a terrible toll on my teeth. All the extra calcium in my body was given to Rae so that my body didn’t have enough left to do for itself. This analogy is much the same way that I look at my mother. The very best in my mother, all her love was given to my sister and me, and then to our daughters, and I feel that near the end, she didn’t have enough love left to do for herself when she needed it most.

There is so much I wanted for my mum. I wanted to have the magic hug that would make everything better. I wanted to have her at my home and be a diva, sitting on the back porch, enjoying our garden that she won’t see again. I wanted her to know that it was okay to be frail and need help. I wanted her to know how much her family loved and needed her for more years than she was able to give us. I wanted her to know that we were willing to help her with her pain. I wanted her to know that although she was difficult to like, we all loved her deeply nonetheless. I wanted her to know that we were never laughing at her, but with her.

My closest friend said to me that for all of my mother’s foibles, the best in her is reflected in my sister Debra, my niece Madeleine, my daughter Rae and myself. I need to thank Tanya for that reminder. For here we are, both of her daughters with two beautiful girls of our own. We are happy, healthy, productive, spiritual women and are both enjoying a good life. All that I am, all that we are we owe to our mum. She taught us to have strength in our convictions and to believe in ourselves. That is all that I know about this life and I owe it all to her.

It was painful and frustrating for me to watch my mother steadily decline over the last number of years. I remember saying in frustration to my husband Victor, “I wish my mother would pass on and stop the pain and be at peace.” It was my husband that reminded me that in fact, my greatest wish for my mother was for her to heal herself. And of course, that really was my greatest wish. Not this. Not yet. Not now.

Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda are some familiar phrases running through my head these last days. Those and of course, regrets, regrets, regrets. So many of my own. Yet, I’m sure that for every one of my own regrets, my mother had 10 of her own.

I am grateful to have known my mother in this lifetime. I’ve learned so much from her, both in what not to do as well as in how to live my life to its most honest degree.

My wish for my mother has changed now. My mother loved to dance. Mostly she loved to dance with my father, which brings me to a passage from Kahlil Gibran’s writings on Death.

“For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is it to cease breathing but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing. And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb. And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.”
I cry now for never being able to see my mum healthy again. I cry for her not being able to find her serenity here. I cry selfishly because I wish she were still here. I cry for the loss that we have now and will carry with us for always. I also cry for the relief that she must now have as a release from her pain.

I love you Mummy. I miss you. I know that you are proud of your family and I promise you that I will always work to continue to make you proud. I hope that you have finally found your peace and Rae and I say that if we ever get a chance to talk to you again through John Edwards, please give someone else a chance to talk too, it’s only a one hour show.