Saturday morning my darling friend Deborah who lives in Montreal called me. Well, she called Friday. and i called her back and left a voicemail, and then i called my mom, because Deb was on her way to Red Deer (her home town and mine). Her mom was in the hospital “and it doesn’t look good. Can I ask your mom if I can stay in the guest suite in her condo?”
Of course she can.
I didn’t hear from her, so this morning I sent her a text message. Sometimes these alienating electronic devices can be handy. I said, “i hope you’re okay. I’m sending love. Call when you want to.”
She received the text about a half hour after her mother died. Her lovely, spirited mother. “She waited for me, Erin. I know she did. I held her hand and I said, ‘we’re here, Mom, we all love you, and we want you to be at peace.’ And she relaxed, I could feel it.”
We are at that age now, my friend and me. We need each other more than ever. We’re all pretty resilient, yea? We needed our parents and now they need us, and it’s a scary gift to be able to be good to them. Mom told Deborah, she said, “Erin was very good to me when we were in Maui.” and Deb said, “Of course, there’s no other way she should have been.”
Christine, Deborah’s mom, she was an athlete, and she was a writer and she was a musician and she was a nurse. She had newspaper clippings, pictures of her playing ball when she was a young woman, her softball team somewhere in Southern Saskatchewan. She raised three children on her own, and she always wanted to write her life story. She lost her sight before she could finish it, but I think she got a good start on it. I hope so. She had a sharp sense of humour and an unmistakable Prairie accent (though people do often mistake Prairie accents for just about anything else). She was fierce and hard to get along with sometimes, she had a temper, according to her daughter–but don’t we all have conflicts with our mothers. Is that because women give up so much to become mothers? Is it because we can’t understand how complicated and urgent it is to love someone to whom you gave life? Unless we become mothers ourselves, I guess.
I don’t know.
Mom called me tonight and said Deborah had called and was going to come over tomorrow, “don’t worry about cooking for me or anything,” she said, “all I need is a hug from you and I’ll be okay.”
How many more? Well. All of us. There are no easy bits to life, really, are there? Sometimes there are moments of peace and ease. But there is always conflict and upheaval and change and life and death.
I’m sick again today, kinda run down and wrestling with a sinus infection, so i’m not really firing on all three cylinders, but i wanted to…I don’t know. Acknowledge Christine. And the friendship between me and her daughter. She’s the friend i went to my high school reunion with, I wrote about her in “Haunting”, in, when was it? July. if you want to look it up, it’s still there.
Deborah went to visit her mom a couple of times while we were in Red Deer, and the day she left was one of those times. I picked her up at her mom’s place, a nursing home on the north side of town. We had tea together in the cafeteria-style kitchen. Christine was blind by then, but took me to get a cup of tea, and introduced me to a man who also lives there, and found the sugar and milk for me to use.
“Mom can get around almost as if she can see–she’s good in here,” said Deborah to me. And she said to her mom, “come to Montreal in August, Mama. You can come with your friend, and the airline people will be happy to help you. The children would love to see you.”
Christine lit up. Then shook her head, “I don’t know, I haven’t gone so far since I’ve lost my vision. I’m afraid.”
“Afraid is a good sign,” I said, “whenever I’m afraid of doing something, and then I do it, it’s pretty much as cool and fine as it was frightening.”
She laughed, and agreed that that had been her experience too. And agreed to go.
And when she went, everyone along the way treated her well, she had a wonderful time. It had been years since she had seen her grandchildren and they enjoyed each other very much.
Now Deborah has no reason to go to Red Deer.
Deb and her younger brothers gathered ’round their mom one last time, and gathered around each other. There is so much to do, such furious activity after a death. Cleaning and sorting and reading your mothers writing and feeling shy because “am I supposed to read this? But who else will, now?” this life of a woman from the prairies, this big life of hope and promise and disappointment and suffering and grace–the material is contained in a box. Photo albums, a sheaf of paper, notes scribbled on napkins. But carries on, too, that life, in the hearts and memories of these three grown children and in the grandchildren who knew her only a little.
Deborah’s partner and children came from Montreal. My mom fell in love with them. Every time I talk to her, she tells me how polite and smart Deborah’s children were, how much she enjoyed Deb and her husband, even though it was such a sad time.
Today (which is a week after i started this post), they took Christine’s ashes to Banff. She is in the mountains now. singing no doubt.
Life goes on. The circle closes and opens and closes again. Perfect. Awful. Radiant. Life.