I wrote this column three years ago … tomorrow, it will be 24 years since Mary Theresa Donovan left me the lone survivor of my crazy little nuclear family.
I’ve done a little editing, and added and removed some pictures.
I wish I could say that time heals all wounds. I know from experience that time softens the corners, but losing those you loved changes you, makes you different. A little more appreciative, perhaps, of those that remain, but always, always, vulnerable to those things that remind you of your loss. Some silly memories will make you smile; others will fill your eyes with tears.
I could, and probably should, write a book about her life, with it’s ups and downs, and the gallant courage she always showed. I am grateful for having had her as my mother.
It’s been 24 years since I lost my mum, and still there are days when I think, “Oh, I must tell Mum! She’d get such a kick out of hearing about that!” Then I remember that she’s gone, and it hurts all over again.
But I am lucky. I had a terrific mother, who was funny and smart and strong and she loved me, despite my failings. Even when I was at my most hateful, a rebel without a clue, Mum encouraged me and found the good in my mutinous soul.
My mother was just always there, usually chasing after me. I wasn’t a clingy kid. You’d more likely find me way up at the top of a tree, or posing beside the mannequins on a revolving display stand, than hanging off her skirt. I was the kind of kid that kiddy leashes were made for; darting madly into crowds, racing towards excitement. I wasn’t a brat – that would not have been tolerated – but I wasn’t easy.
My sister Jodi and I got into scrapes all the time. Once, we thought it would be lovely to bring home lilacs for Mum. So we helped ourselves to armfuls of the flowers, oblivious to the fact that they belonged to a private school. When the caretaker spotted us and started yelling, we ran, with the flowers leaving a trail of petals behind us, up the street and up the stairs of our apartment building. Thrusting the shredded lilacs into my mum’s arms I said, “Hide us! He’s coming!”
How she kept a straight face when the caretaker arrived, having followed the trail right to our door, I’ll never know. As he ranted and raved about the desecration of the school’s trees, she calmly told him that her girls couldn’t have done it; they’d been home and in their rooms all night. Of course, we were scolded later, but also warned that, if we were going to pursue a life of crime, it might be an idea to hide our getaway route a little better.
Jodi developed juvenile diabetes at 12. Always frail, she now became angry at the world. Heading into her teenage years with the stigma of twice daily injections and a restricted diet, she seethed with rage, flailing out at the rest of us for being healthy. My mum was a tower of strength, keeping her in line with love and laughter. Jodi and I thrived on Mum’s ability to put a funny spin on even the worst tragedies. Our humor was dark at times, but there was always laughter, and always music.
I left Montreal in 1976, and within a year, both Jodi and Mum joined me in Toronto. For a while, we all lived in the same apartment building at 100 Roehampton, just floors apart, and when my Grandmother and Aunt Pat moved to Toronto as well, they took an apartment in the building behind ours. Our strength came not just from laughter, but from proximity.
When I was singing full time, Mum couldn’t have been more supportive. She wouldn’t let me lift a finger in the house, lest I break a nail, or be too tired to perform that night. She lived through the joy and heartbreak of my first two marriages, the birth of my daughter Cara, and later, Cara’s son Carter, and never passed judgment on the way I chose to live my life.
After suffering a double stroke that left her partially paralyzed, she fought to re-learn how to walk, and eventually was able to triumphantly show me her first baby steps. When my sister died, Mum and I were devastated, and it was only through sharing each other’s strength that we were able to carry on. And still we laughed, and joked, sometimes through our tears.
My friends adored my mother, and loved to spend time with her. We’d have regular Rummoli nights, where she’d display her cutthroat gambling techniques, wiping out her opponents and winning all the pennies we used as chips. Mum drew people to her, and her friends spanned all age groups. No one was immune to her charms.
Mum adored Christmas. She would transform our humble home into a winter wonderland, with her collection of heirloom and newfound ornaments. She’d make sure anyone who dropped by was treated to a holiday they would never forget, and always had a few small presents tucked away so that no one was empty handed when the gifts were unwrapped. After her stroke, she was unable to decorate with her previous flair, but we compromised with a tiny artificial tree and a selection of her favorite foods to enjoy on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day, she would spend with Aunt Pat and Gram.(Me, Gram, Mum, Cara in front)
My grandmother, bless her, died on April Fools day, in 1992, and my mother finally gave up her own struggle 8 days later. I had just come home from bartending, about 3 a.m., when two policemen arrived at the door. Apparently they had been given the wrong phone number, and had been unable to reach me earlier. They told me that mum had had another stroke, and a heart attack, and was in critical condition. I cabbed it to Sunnybrooke. She was on the operating table, but they let me in for a moment to see her. As I stroked her hair, and assured her that I was there, she murmured, “don’t let them bring me back, I can’t face it again.”
As horrible as that was to hear, I understood. Going through rehab had nearly broken her spirit, and even those tiny steps relearnt had strained her. I told the doctors what she had said, but they were adamant that she was too young and would be strong enough to make it through.
I was brought to a waiting room, where I pulled out the book I had in my purse. Ironically, it was an Ashleigh Brilliant book of funny sayings and drawings, called “I May Not Be Totally Perfect, But Parts of Me Are Excellent.” I had bought it for Mum, but I paged through it, to relieve the tension, and find a laugh as I tried to send healing thoughts to her.
Although the door and windows were closed, I suddenly felt a soft breeze against my cheek. Tears rolled down my face, but I smiled, and said, “Bye, Mum.” A few moments later, a doctor entered the room to tell me that she had died, but I already knew that she was gone. She was only 64 years old.
A lot of odd things happened in the days following her death. Music boxes would start to play; strange, mystical items would suddenly appear. My aunts told me of dreams they had had about her, laughing and dancing, a young carefree girl once again. I knew she was somehow letting me know that all was well, and that I mustn’t let my grief consume me. She was wise and wonderful that way. (Aunt Anne, Mum, Aunt Pat and Gram)
All these years later, I still miss her. Despite being a mother and grandmother myself, I will always be Terry’s little girl in my heart. And I too will always remember her laughing and dancing. Her indomitable spirit gave me the strength and courage to reach for the stars, for even if I failed, she’d always be there to help me up again. And that’s really all a child can ask for in a mother.
= RT =
(first published Mother’s Day, 2013) https://bobsegarini.wordpress.com/2013/05/12/roxanne-tellier-you-and-me-against-the-world/)