Reflections on Mom’s life

by Ann McKirdy-Carson

From her own accounts, and her siblings, Mom was a child with difficult behavior. “Doris was either laughing or crying.”

In her teen years, Mom worked in a bakery. She liked the work and her abilities were respected. Was this when she became aware of her skillfulness?

Jim: “Would a girl like you marry a man like me?”

Doris: “It depends. What are you looking for in life?”

Then they shared their dreams and values. I see this as “the diamond ring” of their long and fruitful life together. Though it wasn’t without its problems.

One of Mom’s first purchases was a new cook stove. She made some cookies, but the cookie sheet was too long for her oven. That was an easy fix. When Dad arrived home there was 2” of the cookie sheet complete with a row of unbaked cookies sitting on the chopping block. She had used Dad’s good axe!!!

Despite their different approaches to work, they were a team. Mom’s ambitious projects were dependent on Dad’s fixing skills and his dedication to keeping things in working order.

Mom had notable, intuitive nursing skills. A neighbour arrived in the morning with a young child who was having a seizure. Mom quickly took the child, ran a bath and placed him, clothes and all, into the warm water. Slowly his body relaxed. He lived.

When Mom became Nicola’s foster mother, Nicola was not expected to live for long. She was hooked to devices meant to alert her caregiver should she stop breathing. Within a short time, Mom had changed Nicola’s formula to something that was not mucus producing. Nicola lived to be 27 years old.

John Murud gave us boxes of photos that he had taken of our family. Mom would get sad when she looked at past photos. The memories that surfaced for her were all the spankings she’d delivered and the times she was “cross”. I had a very different set of memories sparked by the photos. She was not able to extend the same level of understanding and compassion to herself as she did to her mother. In referring to the numerous spanking she (Doris) had received as a child, she would muse “I’d have a good cry, it would settle my nerves”. This tendency for Mom (Doris) to see herself “through dark glasses” was a predominant challenge in her last years.

Those living under Mom’s roof were conscripted into the workforce that produced an abundance of homegrown food, bounteous meals and a clean house. Her work ethic governed the household and yet I remember allowances made for my artistic, contemplative, dreamy ways. She had her own way of supporting the arts. If we were practicing our piano lesson, we were relieved from dishes duty. This literally paid forward a hundredfold. She received hundreds of hours of singing and music, from her family, in her last years.

My parents were deliberate in giving 10 percent of their income to the church. They actually gave more, because they often gave to those in need and were very generous in hospitality. It is interesting to note that we lived in abundance. I do remember that there was some worry around paying off the loan for the land. Mom often did extra jobs like selling milk or driving bus to help with the family finances.

Mom’s faith and church life were the cornerstone of her daily activities.

After I had a pituitary tumor removed by surgery, I began to search for physical and emotional healing. This brought me to some different values and beliefs than those I had been raised with. Mom was uncomfortable with the distance I was taking. She felt hurt and afraid. I was determined to follow my chosen path. The discussions that we had did not bring understanding between us. I did not learn to negotiate these subjects with her, instead, I kept my views and withheld conversation that risked misunderstanding or criticism. In writing this, I have uncovered grief that we were unable to accept each others differences. I was not open with her. We missed each others wisdom and insight in those years.

I felt the closest to Mom in the last chapter of her life. Devoid of her sharp thought and skillfulness there were only a few things that consoled her. One of them was music. She liked the hymns and spiritual songs and also the humorous songs like “She’ll be Comin’ Round the Mountain” Probably she liked it when we sang with emotion. Sometimes her eyes were pools of love and her face was open and light-filled. These moments are etched on my heart.

There were endearing moments when Mom and Dad were being cared for at home. Catherine had been planning to walk the Camino Trail for her 60th year. When Mom heard us talking about it, she wanted to go as well, We started referring to Mom’s daily walk as “Mom’s Camino Trail”. As it turned out, Catherine chose to help Naomi take care of her newborn twins in her 60th year, but we still called Mom’s walk down the lane “Mom’s Camino Trail”.

Liz and Brian pastured their horses in Angus’ field in late fall/winter. When we walked by, a black horse would come and stand by the gate. Mom liked to go over and talk to him and pet his nose. She referred to him as “my black horse” and seeing him was the highlight of her walk.

Mom often stopped and tended her roses at the beginning of her walk. One day I could hear her apologizing to her roses that they were not getting the care they should have.

Mom had a lovely sense of humor which was very under utilized. Occasionally when we were kids she would step into one of her character roles and I would find it outrageously funny. Kat Beeson would sometimes come with me on trips to McBride to see Mom. Kat and Mom had compatible humor. When Kat walked into her room, she would become more alert and at times her mood would brighten. Within minutes one of them would say something funny and they ‘d both start laughing. Kat would be in stitches.

During the past winter I became concerned that Mom was in a sad and withdrawn state. Even with music, we were loosing our connection with her. Some of us, family and friends, organized ourselves into a group and set an intention: “to bathe Doris in Love” and “that Doris experience the beauty and radiance of her soul”. We began on Valentine’s Day and prayed for her weekly until she passed. These things cannot be measured, but in that time frame, she become more peaceful and aware.

Possible the highest gift I received from Mom was the time we spent with her, in her last days. She could no longer swallow. When she was awake she was looking out towards something. She was very peaceful and she had an attentive, receptive expression on her face. She did not need pain medication. Sometimes she would reach out “to them”, I assume her dearly departed. Whenever I think of this time with her, my heart fills with warmth. By describing her emotions and actions I hope to share this gift with others.