I’ve wondered since my Mom’s passing a few days ago, indeed struggled with thoughts about whether or not I should say something here about it.
Uppermost in my thoughts are what she would want; and on top of that now is the realization I’ve come to fairly recently in life that she would be well aware of whatever I might say about her, and others – especially family members now long gone – who had an important, formative role in her life.
I will not dare try to express an understanding of the after-life being a human spirit has after worldly death. That would be foolish and more than likely only diminish the wonderful truth others more attuned to such things have known and experienced first-hand.
But based on what others I know and trust have experienced, I will say I have absolute faith my Mom knows what everyone she loved in life is doing and saying – and, in my case at this moment, writing.
I also have reason to believe there is a certain passage of the spirit involved, that others who pre-deceased her a long time ago are waiting for her to join them.
In that regard I think of what Noel Sullivan told me after he approached me at the back of the warehouse we both worked in almost 50 years ago: “I have a message from your father . . . He can’t get away until you forgive him.”
After I took a few seconds to get over my surprise, I said, “Tell him I forgive him. And tell him I love him.”
My Dad’s spirit was also still in the world long enough after his death in Los Angeles in 1970 that he was able to save my sister Susan’s life. That was when, as a young girl, she lay dying in a hospital room from an infection the doctors could not bring under control. That night she felt a presence in the darkened room. She felt the presence come closer. She has told me she thought at first it must have been a nurse. Then she felt someone touch the eye where the infection had started days ago. The next morning the nurses and doctors were amazed to find the infection had stopped spreading and she was already on her way to a full recovery.
She knew it was our father’s presence and his life-saving touch she had felt.
So, yes, I know you’re here Mom, and there, with everyone you ever loved.
As I mentioned in the obituary I wrote for her, my mother faced many adversities in her long life, including serious health issues. When she was 35 and had just had serious surgery, a priest was called in to administer the Last Rites. She didn’t die after all; however, she was told she likely wouldn’t live another five years. But the doctor who said that apparently didn’t allow for her phenomenal will to live. She lived another 61 years, three months, and 22 days.
Mom had lots of interesting stories to tell.
For example, there’s the man who, having somehow heard news of Mom’s birth, traveled a long distance by train to Toronto to visit her and her mother, Clara.
On New Year’s Day, 1921, the day after Mom was born at the stroke of Midnight, he knocked on the front door of the Thompson home at 50 Melville Avenue. He asked to see Clara and the baby when Clara’s mother answered the door. Clara was upstairs sleeping and unaware of his arrival. He was not allowed in; but he left a gift, a Royal Doulton decorative plate purchased at the only store he had found open that day, a local variety.
That plate was Mom’s most precious possession her whole life.
I promise to take good care of it, Mom, and your other special things, like the songbird-embroidered panel you made with some leftover yarn in the summer of 1934.
At the age of three Mom was adopted by her maternal, Thompson grandparents.
A story that speaks volumes about Mom’s strong, determined, and loving spirit concerns her pet dog, Buster. He was a bull terrier, picked up by Mom’s grandfather, Tom Thompson, one Saturday at St. Lawrence Market.
Buster was allowed out into the back yard at 50 Melville, but never out onto the street. The Thompson family, in its post-Home Bank collapse, genteel poverty, lived a rather cloistered life. One day the front door was left briefly open. There happened to be a boy bouncing a ball on the sidewalk. Buster couldn’t resist the temptation to run out after the bouncing ball. Dogs will be dogs, after all. Unfortunately, in his excitement he knocked the boy down.
The boy ran home crying, and the dog catcher was called to get a “mean dog.” Hearing what was about to happen, Mom, about nine years old at the time, grabbed the 50-pound Buster in her arms and ran up the long flight of stairs with him. She locked herself inside a bedroom and refused to come out when told the dog catcher was at the door to take Buster away.
Mom’s grandmother, Eliza Thompson, a strong-willed, stubborn woman in her own right, came upstairs and said through the locked door, “the dog-catcher’s here, you have to bring him down.”
“Nobody’s going to take my dog!” was Mom’s firm, decisive and clearly non-negotiable response.
Her grandmother went back down and told the dog-catcher, “she won’t give up the dog;” and that was the end of it.
The day 10 years later when Mom and Dad got married, and Buster couldn’t go with her to her new, matrimonial home, he howled all day.
Just this past March Mom went to live in The Village of Riverside Glen retirement home in Guelph, Ontario where most of her immediate family lives.
She very soon made many news friends, especially when she sat down her first full day there and started playing the piano. She was an acccomplished pianist. As a child and young woman she increasingly filled the often unhappy Melville Avenue house with music, thus helping the Thompson family through difficult times.
People walking by outside on their way to work would also hear her practising every morning. Written requests for certain pieces of music started appearing through the mail slot. Mom always obliged. She knew all the old favourites, as well as classical/romantic works, and she had “the touch” as well the technique.
So, during the hard times of the Great Depression, when life was so hard for so many people, she helped her neighbours and perhaps others who heard about the songbird of Melville Avenue begin their day with joyful music.
She was a beautiful singer. A contralto, Mom became a member of the highly-regarded Leslie Bell Singers. Dr. Bell himself described her voice as a “deep well, lined with velvet.”
Mom’s ability to lift spirits was evident right up to the last days of her life. I had the pleasure of talking to her lunch-mates at Riverside Glen a few days after she passed. I had learned through my oldest daughter, Susan, that Larry and Jim were taking it hard. In less than two months they had apparently formed a close bond with her.
Larry, the younger of the two, compared Mom to his grandmother. Jim, a retired University of Guelph, physics professor, had a wonderful insight: he typed out on his computer and printed the following memorial message left at her place at their lunch table:
“Rara Avis,” Jim told me, is Latin for “rare songbird.”
She was indeed. I shared with Jim the story of why what he had written bore extraordinary witness to a very deep, spiritual connection.
I promised both Jim and Larry I would be back to see them again.
I am suddenly reminded of those last lines from Robert Frost’s great poem, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening:
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
See you later, Mom. But it might be a while yet.