Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A Mother's Last Gift to her Daughter-in-law

I thought the days of finding things that Mom sent years ago were over, but yesterday afternoon here at home I found this card; a card Mom sent for Kie's birthday on April 30, 2008.

In 2008 Mom was already 8 years into her struggles with Alzheimer's disease. Even now I'm astonished to discover that Mom was able remember Kie's birthday let alone sit down and write a short note. Mom must have been having one of her rare good moments the day she prepared this card.

In April 2008 Mom was also struggling with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma and was about to commence her chemo sessions. Not surprising, Mom didn't remember my birthday two weeks later and she was too ill to attend David's and Winnie's wedding on that May 17th.

Anyway, my purpose today is to record these details for an unknown date in the future. My wish is for Kie to discover and read this page later; so that she will know and remember that Mom truly thought Kie was someone very special.

Mom and Kie on November 06, 1981. Four days after this scene was recorded Mom became a grandmother.

Life is a gift from God and the lives of those who God places into our lives are precious too. We should truly cherish each day we are given, because in time, all shall be taken from us.

Deo Gratias.

The Oddblock Station Agent

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Kimberly’s Memories of Grandma

(These words were written by Kimberly and spoken by her at Grandma's memorial service on April 02, 2016.)

Kimberly and Kiera visiting Grandma

When I close my eyes and picture Grandma, I find myself lounging in the backyard in the middle of summer. I feel the cool breeze blowing through the pear tree, I smell the warm scent of tomato plants, and I hear the cicadas’ buzz echoing in the air. I check for red raspberries on the bush next to the front gate, eat a couple and the seeds get stuck in my back molars.

Grandma comes out of the back door from the kitchen wearing a delicate white blouse etched with eyelets and a soft button down blue skirt with apron tied around her waist. Her permed silver hair is brushed up to the side and the sun reflects off one lens of her glasses. She sits down on a lounge chair, immediately pops back up, and asks, “Can I get  anyone a cold drink?”

We play cards for hours; Mexican rummy and cribbage. We talk about everything and nothing and end up on a very silly topic where we laugh hysterically, and can’t stop. Grandpa comes out the back door after his nap and lights a cigarette.

“What’s so funny?” He asks as he sits  down on the edge of the brown painted picnic table.

It’s quite an ordinary day but among the most cherished moments of my childhood.

Every summer, I looked forward to going to Montreal. Grandpa would always say, “I hope you don’t get too bored while you’re here.”

But I was never bored with Grandma. Grandma was my favourite person in the world. She didn’t entertain me while I visited her, she didn't  need to; she let me into her life and brought me along everywhere she went. Though we were generations apart, we were best friends.
Grandma and Grandpa with Kimberly, David and Aislyn

Sitting at her kitchen table, she would tell me her stories of growing up in Milan during the war and what life was like before electricity. She brought her father, Grandpa George to life by mimicking his Scottish accent, and speaking of how hard he worked on the farm. She spoke of her mother, Grandma Helen, a former teacher, talented piano player and hard-working housewife who prepared dinner at lunch time and supper at dinner time. This always made me laugh when I was little because I had no concept of farming life. She said Grandma Helen had a strict schedule of housework but would ditch it at the drop of a hat the second Grandpa George decided they should do something spontaneous.

Grandma confessed she was somewhat lonely when she was a girl as there were no other kids her age to play with in Milan. Not wanting to pester her older sister Shirley by being a tag­-along brat, she taught herself some French so she could befriend the French kids; one of whom she said she got into trouble with when they thought it was a good idea to ‘paint’ the side of a white house with mud from handfuls of dug up sod.

Through many stories of friendships throughout her life, I saw how Grandma would always look for the good in people, even if they weren’t well-liked. She had a heart for people who were different, outcast, lonely or unpopular and she sought to be their friend.

Grandma loved her family. She married Grandpa at 18 and smiled secretively when I asked how he proposed to her. I never found out the details to that story for some reason!

Grandma with Kimberly and David
Grandma spoke of settling in Pierrefonds and recalled how grateful she was to have with Auntie Jean and Uncle Rod nearby throughout the years, and how supportive and thoughtful they always were.

She talked about how Joanne was such a kind and smart kid and that Alyssa was just like her. She laughed that Luka drank empty beer cans at New Year’s dinner as a toddle and chuckled at how Louis kept him in line.

I liked hearing stories of my dad and uncle Ted getting into trouble as kids and how poor Auntie Kathy and Uncle Alan were the innocent victims of their many pranks. Grandma loved her children for each of their unique qualities.

She loved my mom like a daughter and her tried to keep Tabasco in the house for her at all times. She relentlessly pursued David's affection even though he was a tough nut to crack.

She loved Uncle Bill like a son, and wished she could whistle as well as he did. When Liam and Aislyn were born Grandma’s heart multiplied with super grandma skills. She really enjoyed going to Kingston to babysit them over the years.

Great-Grandma holding Kiera
She welcomed Winnie and Sharl to the family with an open heart and I will never forget how bringing Kiera to the nursing home caused Grandma to smile like the sun. She would have loved Jonah and Audrey just as much, and I pray that a piece of her spirit will find its way to David and Winnie’s new baby.

We spent a lot of the time in her kitchen sharing stories and cooking meals. Grandma taught me how to use a knife and how to roll out a perfect pie crust for quiche, tourtiere or lemon meringue pie. When our work was done, she’d let me make a mess with soap bubbles in the sink. Grandma had the ability to whip up a meal out of nothing.

One time Grandma and Grandpa took us to Auntie Ruth’s cottage in North Hatley, and with very few groceries and basic pantry items, she managed to make an entire dinner complete with poor man’s pudding for dessert. Dave and I thought she was a magician.

I was always happy to spend my time with Grandma. I followed her everywhere... and many times we would end up here, at Westminster church. This church was a huge part of Grandma’s life and over many summers, her friends became my friends. Grandma and her friends from this church showed me what it looked like to love the community. I accompanied grandma to visit sick people. One time a few of us brought lunch over to someone who had recently lost her husband and we stayed and hung out with her all afternoon.

Another summer, a new minister moved into town and Grandma brought me to help her and her friends clean the house from top to bottom to get it move­-in ready for the minister and his wife. I also helped out with the strawberry socials, and I learned how to make fancy cucumber sandwiches. Grandma and her church friends were an inspiration to me, because they were so dedicated to making this church a meaningful place that selflessly served the needs of others. These ladies were the backbone of the church; they were the hardworking, practical, and loving hands and feet of Jesus.

Grandma loved Jesus, and she shared this love with me with a childlike spirit. One time I told her I watched Jesus Christ Superstar at school and she said to me, “I saw that musical too and loved it. Believe me if Jesus came to town preaching like that, I would drop everything and run to follow him.”

Grandma’s faith was unshakeable and she told me that when the time came, I should try not to be too sad at her funeral because she would be dancing in heaven. At the time, the thought disturbed me, but these words have brought me so much comfort in the past couple weeks.

Grandma was truly a special person to so many of us. She was a special person to me. I will always cherish the values she taught me with her life, and I will always have her with me in my heart... and one day, Grandma, I will dance with you in Heaven. 


Grandma with Kimberly and David

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Eulogy for Mom

Carol Morrison, August 13, 1934 - March 19, 2016


Before starting I wish to thank you for being here for us. Some of you have travelled far to be here for us.

I also wish to thank you, the people of Westminster for your help and kindness toward my parents, not just for today but through those decades that have gone by.

There’s a story in the Bible about Jesus when he healed ten men who had leprosy; he told them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” and as they went they saw they were healed. Only one of the ten, a Samaritan, turned back to thank Jesus, and Jesus asked, “Were not ten cleansed? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” (from Luke 17:11-19)

Mom, Carol as she was known to most, always made a point of thanking people, always doing so with genuine gratitude and never out of a sense of duty. This was one particular trait that she taught the four us and repeatedly reminded us about, even when we were adults.

If you knew Carol well, then you will know she would be far more interested in knowing whether or not the four of us remembered to thank all of you rather than in anything I would have to say about her life.

I’ve heard that Westminster faces an uncertain future, so as I stand here I realize this may be my last opportunity to thank all of you.

I am privileged to see my former Sunday school teacher here. When Ted and I were confused teenagers, Dan cared about us and in later years he lead Bible studies for many of us.

My own children Kimberly and David were at one time in Mary Lou’s room on Sunday mornings; that room downstairs was always called Mary Lou’s room… maybe it still is.

Each of you have worked away quietly, often behind the scenes and un-noticed, always doing so for others.

Thank you.

A glimpse at Mom's life

The Bible tells us, “The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.”
 (Psalm 90:10)

Toil and trouble we all know well, but a death in the family and a funeral service brutally remind us of another stark reality; that our time here is very short, and our years pass away very quickly.

March 16, 2016. Kimberly gently holding Grandma's hand
Two weeks have gone by since Mom quietly slipped away from us to return to the Lord God, source of all life. We mourn Mom’s passing. Each of us in our own way look back on her life, and in the end, all that we hold now are those memories of Mom together with a hope in the Lord that we shall see her again. We truly hope and yearn for this. Our souls and very being cry out to God for his reassurance in a day of resurrection.

As to the question of resurrection, Jesus clearly addressed this subject. The Bible tells us the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and to this Jesus answered, “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
(Matthew 22:29)

My wish today was that Ted, Kathy and Alan would be able to stand up here also and share their own personal recollections of Mom from their unique perspectives about Mom and her life, but I understand that they can’t.

Mom was born here at home
Therefore the challenge is not to omit something that should be remembered and shared here and the heartache would be saying something that should have been forgotten and left unsaid; so again to Ted, Kathy and Alan, I ask for your forgiveness for my failures in this respect.

Mom, who was known to others all her life as Carol, was born Frances Carol MacDonald on August 19, 1934, in her parents’ home in Milan, Quebec. Mom had only one sister; Shirley, who was almost ten years older.

Mom grew up on the family farm in a small wilderness village during the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930’s but she never spoke about those times as being hard. Supermarkets did not exist there. Food was grown and preserved to last through to the next growing season. Mom collected fresh eggs from the barn in the mornings and thought nothing of chasing fussy hens out of their nests in pursuit of those warm cackle-berries.

Visiting Milan during winter 1958. Mom with her parents and Ted.
Winters were brutal and her home heated only by a wood stove. To place her growing-up years in perspective, Milan did not have electricity until 1948, so Mom grew up in a home that had no electricity. Mom kept some of those old glass kerosene lanterns which she used decades later during that famous ice storm here.

Mom, I have one question I never thought to ask and don’t know the answer to: Did you ever milk the cows?

Mom could best be described as the typical rural Canadian for her generation. She went to a one room school during the war years, learned well what was taught and had her own dreams for her future. She often said that she had wanted to be a nurse.

After high school and like many young adults of her time in pursuit their dreams, Mom left her tiny home town of Milan. For a short time she worked as a candy-striper at a Hospital in Sherbrooke. Not long afterward though, Mom had migrated to Montreal and found employment at Bell Canada; that is until her career change into motherhood.

Mom married young… she was 18… Although Dad was 10 years older, they saw 60 years of marriage until death separated them.

In 1954 Mom became a young mother… before she was 20. Ted followed fifteen months later… Kathy in 1960… and then Alan arrived in 1963.

Mom and Dad just married, celebrating in Milan Quebec, on June 20, 1953.

After Mom was married, she spent as much time as possible visiting and staying with her parents in Milan. The four of us know this well because Milan was our second home. The 50’s 60’s 70’s and 80’s were really good years for Mom.

Mom's 51st birthday... at her favourite picnic table
Mom’s life in Pierrefonds often mirrored the way of life in the home she grew up in. The living room couch and floor were always available for unexpected guests, and just in case, Mom always had prepared home-made foods in the freezer ready serve any unexpected guests. Over those decades her home sheltered many visitors… some complete strangers.

On hot summer afternoons when those rare quiet moments came along when she was not too busy Mom loved to sit outside and read in the shade under the trees in her back yard. More likely though, she was chatting away with visitors or preparing to move dinner outside to eat at her favourite picnic table.

God’s Fifth Commandment is this, “Honour your father and your mother, that you may be long in the land that the Lord your God gives you.”
 (Exodus 20:12)

Mom believed God’s word and took this to heart. When declining health eventually afflicted her parents, Mom arranged for them to live with her and she cared for them in whatever way she was able to. Mom knew firsthand the heartache of watching Alzheimer’s disease afflict loved ones, not only her father but others of her parents’ generation

The two diseases she absolutely did not want to suffer from she was afflicted with nonetheless… Alzheimer’s and cancer.

After the resurrection Jesus said to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.”
 (John 21:18)

When you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.

Mom surely did not want to go where she did… and when we look at Mom’s life in what she believed… in how she lived… and in what she did… we may well ask God why? And question the inequalities and unfairness of life.

The Bible speaks to us about the inequalities of life, “There is a vanity which takes place on earth, that there are righteous men to whom it happens according to the wicked, and there are wicked men to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous.” 
(Ecclesiastes 8:14”)

16 is one fifth of 80… 16 years was one fifth of Mom’s life time.

Dad helping Mom into a wheel chair
I don’t understand why Mom had to struggle and suffer through Alzheimer’s these last 16 years. Dad didn’t understand… and I’m sure Ted, Kathy and Alan don’t understand it either. But in spite of the apparent unfairness, God’s goodness was always present. God provided… faithfully provided Mom with everything she needed when she needed it; such as Dad living a long life to provide an income and Alan living at home to provide needed care.

Decades earlier while driving home after visiting her own Mother in the Wales Home Mom more than once told me that if she was ever afflicted with dementia and became like her father, she said for us to place her in a home and not feel guilty about doing it. All she wanted was for that place to be clean.

Mom, just so you know, Dad and Alan did everything they could to look after you at home, and even though years earlier you had told us what to do when such a time came, sending you to the Lakeshore General Hospital on August 14, 2008 broke their hearts.

Carol and Shirley together in summer 1989
One memorable time when Mom’s faith in God and her early struggles with Alzheimer’s came together was 2001. Mom had bought a ticket to fly out to Vancouver to visit her sister Shirley. Nothing unusual about that except that 9/11 intervened between the time he bought her ticket and her flight. Mom’s flight had been booked on a flight about two weeks after that event. Of course almost everyone tried to talk her out of making that visit but she refused to consider not going.

Mom said, “Either I step off the plane in Vancouver and see Shirley, or I step off the plane and meet Jesus.”

And off she went... that was the last time she was able to visit her sister.

Mom was very humble and she disliked pretentiousness. Perhaps this is why Mom often befriended people who were considered outcasts and the friendless; age differences were never an issue for Mom either, be it those friendships or her own marriage.

During the decades, Mom repeatedly experienced the heartache of watching her closest friends either move away or pass away. Ethel Dick who lived on the next street; Isabel Mutch who was like a sister; Margot Sukha who was married to someone of a different colour; Betty Stewart because she was Betty… and others too, but these names mentioned came to mind.

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Mom was active in the church, this particular congregation most of her life. First as a member, then as a Sunday school teacher, then with just about everything else at one time or another, and then later still as an elder.

Mom’s involvement with church activities eventually resulted in forming relationships with members of the Chinese Presbyterian Church. Mom was the one who arranged to introduce two young Chinese ladies to each other. They were both newly arrived immigrants to Canada and did not know each other before. That April 1980 meeting in Mom’s home formed a special friendship that has continued for more than 35 years.

Those struggles with the onset of Alzheimer’s eventually forced Mom to end her responsibilities here in this church. Always mindful of others, Mom was fearful of either forgetting something important to do or inadvertently repeating something that should not be said.

Mom was a person who was able to see both sides of an argument without taking sides. She often said, “It takes two to fight.”

When Ted, Kathy, Alan and I fought about something, Mom never took sides, whether or not one of us really was justifiably right. Mom was exactly the same way when we would get into fights with the neighbourhood kids, she would never take sides… and that really irked me at times. Years later in my parents’ home I recall arguing with Kie but Mom refused to take sides. In looking back… is not seeing both sides of a dispute without taking sides what a peacemaker is?

The Bible tells us, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” 
 (Matthew 5:9)

In the early 1980’s Mom was able to fulfill one of her dreams of youth; she returned to school, attending John Abbott College as a student. She really enjoyed choosing and studying subjects that had always interested her, and she successfully completed her program too. Mom’s brief claim to fame as a student was having her picture appear in the Montreal Gazette when the paper ran an article about older adults going back to studies… because Mom the student was also a grandmother.

Grandma busy playing games in the dining room
Grandma with Kimberly & David

Mom always hid her tears from us; she was very good at it too. Mom almost never appeared in front of us in tears, but when she was alone she must have shed many tears because of things the four of us did and said that hurt her. 

Mom in her kitchen cooking up something... where she was often found.

One evening in the mid 1960’s, Mom together with a small group of ladies from this church met with a group of ladies from the Chinese Presbyterian Church for a dinner in Chinatown. That evening may have been Mom’s first time visiting Chinatown… anyway, Mom came home with a pair of chopsticks.

The following morning at breakfast Mom was excitedly telling us about her rare dinner out. Mom rarely ate out and she was trying to show us how the chopsticks worked. I barely listened with typical child-like disinterest, just anxious to finish eating and rush out to join my friends. Mom never said another word but the hurt was written on her face. Although that pair of chopsticks was around for many years, she never said a word about them again. Mom, my regret is never having apologized to you… not even many years later. I am truly sorry.

This small card has a 1974 calendar on the back. Mom gave this to me in October 1973 while she was driving me to Windsor Station in downtown Montreal. That day I was leaving home and moving to Vancouver. Of course at the station Mom was in tears and very upset as we said good-bye.

Anyway, Mom did something very unusual for her. She raced to the station at Dorval to meet the train. Unexpectedly seeing her on the platform and thinking something was wrong I went to the door to find out. Mom was recomposed and just wanted me to know that I had her blessing to go… Mom, I have always been grateful you did that.

This calendar expired December 31, 1974 but the Bible verse on the front has never expired.

“Do not fear; for I am with you: be not dismayed; for I am your God; I will strengthen you; yes I will help you; yes I will uphold you with the right hand of my righteousness.”
 (Isaiah 41:10)

Ted, Kathy and Alan, these words are Mom’s message and blessing for the four of us; words of assurance to carry us through life.

Mom never wished for us to be successful… only to be happy… to be content with our lot in life… and to be grateful for what God has given us. Mom, you must have studied the book of Ecclesiastes.

Summer 1981. Kie and Mom in North Hatley
Mom, I remember one particular afternoon here in Pierrefonds, a few years after the onset of your battle with Alzheimer’s, you were having one of your better afternoons when those clear moments were becoming less frequent. Anyway, we were talking in the kitchen and you became very insistent in wanting me to know your thoughts about something you thought was important… something you wanted to tell me while you were still able to tell me. You told me that Kie was someone very special to you and you were grateful that she had chosen me. Mom, thank you for your words that afternoon; they were from your heart.

We know that you are now present with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and you have at last met Jesus whom you have wanted to meet.

November 04, 2015, the last really good image of Mom

After this service is over, we are almost expecting to see you at the doors back there to greet everyone as we leave here, or to hear you ask someone who you know who is from Scotland, “De ma na tha sibh?”

When we meet again in the next life I am hoping you are there to greet us… so we can answer as you taught, “O tha, gle mhath gu dearbh.”

Mom and Dad together during their last visit in Rangeley, Maine.

With Dad’s passing, we became fatherless, but Mom… even though we are no longer young, with your passing the four of us have now become orphans.

Left to right: Ted, Dan Don, Alan and Kathy following Mom's memorial service on April 02, 2016.

"Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat, nor about your body, what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing."
(Luke 12:22-23)

 The Oddblock Station Agent

Addendum March 19, 2018

Two years have passed since Mom passed away and those of us who remain behind, remember.

What makes this year's memorial sadder is that Ted passed away just two days ago. Ted is barely seen on the far right in the following image.

Over the years Mom took quite a few pictures but she was rarely in the pictures. This was one of the exceptions.

Although Mom wrote 1989 on the back of the picture, the scene recorded was our family dinner and celebration on New Year's Day at Uncle Rod's & Aunt Jean's home

Left to right: David, Mom, Bill, Dad (Partly visible) and Ted.

deo gratias