I keep thinking about something you said a few weeks ago, when we were curled up on your bed, chatting about music that was important to us.
It was my idea — a chance to chat about songs and artists we both enjoyed, and how we connected them to moments in time. But we both knew it was because I wanted to talk about bigger things in life, and it was easier to start with The Beatles and Supertramp and Elton John than bringing up cancer for the umpeenth time.
In any case, I was minutes from heading back to Vancouver, and you might have had a feeling that the next time we visited, it would be in a hospice instead of your home.
“Make no mistake, I have guilt,” you said.
“I don’t feel like my job is done. I wish I could have done more for you.”
Now. I know now isn’t exactly the time to be refuting your claims, point by point, as though I was 14 and we were looking over the opinion columns in the paper before I headed to school.
But I’ve been pedantically debating with you, trying to win discussions that didn’t need winning, since I was in Oshkosh B’gosh overalls, and I’m not about to stop now.
Sure, you could have done more. But what you did is staggering.
You taught me about hard work. At 27, you were suddenly a single mom paying a mortgage, with two children under four years of age, and were, by your own admission, a terrible cook.
So you worked. Worked to raise us five days a week, worked to get us through school, worked to get off social assistance, worked to become a certified hairdresser, worked to make sure our family had as much as we could, never making excuses or blaming others, showing every day the value of setting goals and trying to achieve them.
No, you never were a great cook, despite learning to make pretty awesome porkchops with mushroom gravy. Can’t win ‘em all, though.
You taught me about grace and responsibility. You were always my biggest cheerleader, always telling me how proud you were, whether it was learning to read at age 2, or winning school awards for academics and citizenship at age 12, or becoming editor of the campus newspaper at age 22.
But you also reminded — and chided, if needed — that without humility, confidence could turn into arrogance, and that mental health was just as important as ambition, that helping those less fortunate was a greater virtue than personal accomplishments ever could be.
You taught me that it was okay to be different. No, you didn’t tell me to memorize the 1993 Road Map for Greater Victoria and showcase that knowledge in every car I was in, or encourage me to simultaneously be manager/statistician of four different high school sports teams while assistant director of the school musical, or, say, challenge me to create a far-too-detailed online competition about Canada’s favourite TV thing in my spare time.
But you supported my flights of fancy, defended me when students and parents in elementary school thought I was being weird, championed me as I tried to do my best imitation of the main character in Rushmore, accepted without complaint my continual choice to pursue extracurricular activities instead of summer jobs, and never made me feel that I needed to conform to what other kids were doing, even if you probably winced when I left the house in knee-high socks and belly-button-high pants.
And when you were desperately trying to find a way to get your nerdy six-year-old son into sports because it would force him to be more extroverted, you had the bright idea of shoving the scorecard page from the Times Colonist into my hands and told me to decode it, starting a lifelong love of sports and newspapers.
And when you agreed to store a friend’s grand piano in our house, you used the opportunity to get me lessons, spurring a lifelong love of music.
And when it looked like, because of finances, I could no longer attend a high school that provided me with amazing acceptance and opportunities, you did everything in your power to make sure I could stay there, and succeeded.
And you did it between your weekly trips to jam sessions at the local pub and your backgammon games with friends. And when me and my brother moved out, you got to have the dog you always wanted to go on long walks with, and you got to have your dream trip to Africa and see the gorillas, and you still always made time for my calls, always giving both effortless advice and barbed zingers, depending on what the circumstances called for.
You did everything you could for me. Because of that, I’m the person I am today. And that’s pretty much all that matters.
No, your job is not done. And yes, pancreatic cancer is the absolute worst, and it means when our time together comes to an end in days or weeks from now, I will have to find someone else to phone first when I get offered a new job, or have a tough decision to make, or need to kill time because it’s 6 a.m. and I’ve been up all night because of the provincial election and the result isn’t known and I have to be on the radio in an hour and if I rest my brain I’ll fall asleep, and who else would I call but mom?
Going through those journeys without you to give advice, to marvel at the world, to laugh at my hubris, to tell me how proud you are?
That will be tougher than just about anything.
But I know I can do it. Because of you.
And, because I’ll be thinking of you, always.
So sorry to hear about your mother. She sounds like a wonderful, selfless person, and an awesome mom. My heart aches for you.
I am so sorry. This is a terrible disease and I pray for your family, your life will change forever but the gifts your Mom has given you will remain with you forever.My sons lost their Dad and I lost the best friend I ever had nearly Seven years ago. Praying for you. 💜💜💜
That is a beautiful letter to your Mom , Justin. I think I remember meeting her at Oaklands School. I think I may have met your Grandma , too. Best wishes for 2018.
She raised an awesome guy. You are making me cry. Thanks for this great post.
Justin, this loving, affectionate letter is such a gift not only to your Mom but to everyone including me who is probably in tears (like me) reading it. Thank you for sharing this incredible tribute to her. I know she already is so proud of you and this will only affirm why. I wish you peace and happiness at Christmas and in the New Year and hope we can hit Bells & Whistles for a beer soon!
Justin, this is beautiful…I lost my mom to cancer 19 years ago this January. This letter really hit home. I know there’s not much people can say in these situations, but please know it does get easier with time. Your mom sounds like such an amazing woman who raised an incredible human. She’s been there for you every step of the way, and I have no doubt that you will continue to feel that. Much love to you and your family.
😦 😦 😦