“Children are the anchor that holds a mother to life” – Sophocles
Today, June 15, is my mothers 90th birthday and she is surrounded by family except me. I am 400 miles away but I am there in spirit. A couple of my siblings flew out from Ontario and a couple from Alberta however between the nieces, nephews, grandchildren and some great-grand children attending Kelowna means she will be surrounded by love today.
My physical absence is very reflective of our life long relationship. I have often stated I grew up with thirty mothers due to hospital staff but this is my birth mother, the one who brought me into the world and the mother that pushed a doctor in 1953 to look past the flu into identifying my polio. This is the mother who carried the weight of my childhood hospitalization with a concern hidden behind a smile and today she turns 90. Not a bad celebration to be having.
Mom had six kids with one being a polio survivor. In the 50’s and 60’s six kids kept a person busy. She always had a garden, made her own bread, did her own canning and pickling but always found time, on Wednesday’s, to come visit me in the hospital. This was a period in medical history when hospital visitation restriction included parents. Polio kids were isolated, in part, out of fear of the polio and, in part, to allow life to go on in the hospital. Parents were allowed to visit Wednesday from 2:30 to 3:30 and Sunday’s from 1:30 to 3:30. Dad would be working and my siblings would be in school so every Wednesday mom would take the Killarney bus to come and visit so much of our time together was spend with just the two of us.
It was only after I moved to Kelowna in 2012 that mom told me she would never miss a visit because of a guilt she had carried around for most of her life. It was actually quite dramatic and initially I was a little worried over this “serious talk” we had to have. She sat me down to tell me the guilt she had carried because it had taken her three weeks before she could come to see me following my initial polio diagnosis. She was actually “happy to get that off my chest”. I had never been aware she felt that way so I reassure her no damage had been done and shared my belief regarding the dumping of guilt inducing memories even when they are over 60 years old. But back to mom’s birthday.
Time was limited so every Wednesday I would go straight from our classrooms to my bedside. From my bedside, on the 3rd floor, I had an unimpeded view of the walk from the Killarney bus stop on 17th Avenue to the front door of the hospital. I would sit there, summer or winter, sun or snow and watch my mother trudge up that walk from the bus. Sunday she would arrive in the car with my dad/siblings. Siblings weren’t allowed to visit without a pre-arranged authority so for much of my life I was simply that face up in the third floor window which was as close as I got to being part of the family. The window I am looking through today is called the Internet.
My mother has recently discovered the joy of an iPad and a Facebook account. I called her this morning on Skype to wish her happy birthday. Reaching 90, to me, is pretty pivotal and due to the dissociative nature my childhood I try to be a part of as many important moments as I can. Growing up in a hospital you miss a lot of the important moments of life and those things can be so pivotal role in our emotional development.
Mom has influence my ability to be appreciative, patience, and respect. She has been a pillar of strength when it comes to over coming her own adversity. She had her first cancer diagnosis 45 years ago and has had bouts of chemo ever since, the most recent I’m aware of was three years ago. In 1990, while camping in Saskatchewan, she got up to make the morning coffee and their fifth wheel exploded. Methane build up in the collection tanks and she wasn’t aware resulting in burns to 80% of her body. Following three weeks in Saskatoon they got her transferred back to Calgary where she spend three months plus in the burn unit.
In 1998 over a period of two weeks she lost her son-in-law to cancer, the next week it was her brother in Chilliwack (she flew out for the funereal) and within a day of getting back from that service my father succumbed to his cancer. Mom showed an amazing amount of fortitude in dealing with one crisis after another in a very short period of time, a strength I had never seen before.
The last complete family picture
A couple of years following dad’s passing mom decided to move to Kelowna where she has been ever since. She met a very nice gentleman shortly after moving there and remarried at age 76. Unfortunately dementia took John but not before ten good years as a couple.
Mom has dealt with a lot in her life and she is still going strong. I know there were a lot of activities planned for today so I am hoping the Kelowna flooding didn’t interfere with anything. Mind you 90 candles could require a water down to put out the flames. Mom I hope you had a great birthday and that you had sufficient time to get in a good visit with all of the out of town visitors. Happy birthday…