I have this void in my life right now. My mother passed away on Oct. 27th at the age of 96. I had a habit of calling her twice a day, and visiting her four times a year. I live on the west coast of Canada, she lived in the middle. It wasn’t supposed to be like that.
I had moved out to B.C. with my husband and two children in 1979, thinking my mom and dad would follow. Who wouldn’t want to leave the frigid cold of Winnipeg winters for the nirvana found in Vancouver? Well, she didn’t.
So, for all these years, I struggled with the fact our family was scattered. There continued to be a lot of coaxing, a lot of pleading, a lot of bargaining, but she was stubborn. There were many excuses as to why it wasn’t a good idea for her and Dad to move. “Who will take care of the graves?” That was a big one. Mom had bought a family plot in Brookside cemetery on the outskirts of Winnipeg, where her three brothers were buried, a sister-in-law, her mother, mother-in-law, father-in-law, cousin and best friends. Every year, on one on my visits, we’d go out to the cemetery and meet the priest who blessed the graves. She never forgot. This past year, during many phone calls, she’d tell me we had to go on my next visit and I had to remind her that we had already gone, right after Easter.
But that wasn’t the only excuse she gave for not moving. She worried that she might die and her body wouldn’t make it back. She told me of a friend who moved west, and despite her wishes to be buried back in Winnipeg, the family buried her in Vancouver. And then, there was the time, she saw a body (in a box) being carried along on a conveyor belt in the baggage section of the airport terminal. She didn’t want that, either. And she kept insisting it would cost too much to send her body back for burial. She’d heard a quote of $20,000 and when I tried to correct that misconception, she wouldn’t let go of that figure. And then, there was the weather. “It rains all the time,” she said. “I have arthritis.”
Or the other one was, “You’re never home.” It’s true, we travel a lot, with her in Winnipeg and a daughter with family in Toronto. But I tried to tell her, I’d be home more if I wasn’t traveling to Winnipeg four times a year, and if I was elsewhere, my other daughter here in B.C. would make sure she was okay.
And the last one was, “I’d be cooking all the time, making borscht and perogis.” No one expected her to and no matter how hard I’d try to convince her, there was no convincing. She was built that way—hard working and a fantastic cook and baker. In her early years, she and dad would bring care packages to B.C. – a box full of perogis she’d made, borscht, holupchis (cabbage rolls) and anything else she could stuff in.
After my father had died in 1985, she found companionship with a man from her village in the Ukraine. It wasn’t until he died over a year ago, that she began to regret she hadn’t moved.
What she left behind is so huge, there is no measure. She gave gifts of food and money–her generosity had no bounds–but it was her love of family I’ll miss the most, always asking about each and everyone during every phone call. I was fortunate to have her as long as I did. Though there’s an emptiness now, I’ve been blessed with that love, and there is much to celebrate. I will cling to memories and weave her wonderful stories together into a book–stories of my grandmother’s journey from the time of my mother’s birth in Ukraine in 1915 until they arrived in Canada in 1929. My tentative title for her memoir is No Time For Tears. You can believe, I’ll have many while I’m writing it all out.