My mother was the toughest guy I ever met. It’s been 20 years since my brothers and sisters had our last opportunity to celebrate Mother’s Day with her, but she left behind some valuable lessons for us.
She was duking it out with leukemia at the time, and a little over a month away from slipping away from us, but she had one major goal for her time left in life; she wanted to attend her youngest child’s wedding. My brother Don and his future wife Michelle had picked June 3 for their wedding date.
My mother had spent the five previous years on the frequent flyer program at the Red Deer Regional Hospital as a patient at the mercy of leukemia and its ability to dangle carrots of improvement just before it throws people over a cliff to a lower plateau of health.
Her roller coaster ride had been an endless series of chemical cocktails and blood transfusions designed to provide a temporary barrier against an inevitable outcome. My mother was a practical woman who realized that she should take advantage of the furloughs of reasonably good health in those final years.
She managed to cram several vacations into those times when she felt well enough to travel and enjoy an abbreviated number of golden years after many decades of sacrifice as a parent. It was a real treat for us to see her make good use of her time outside of the hospital which had become a large and unpleasant part of her life.
My mother had come from small town Saskatchewan and moved to Regina as a young woman with career ambitions and little thought of life as a housewife and mother. She was an independent woman who had good looks and brains.
My father managed to convince her to marry him after he enlisted in the air force in 1939 and uprooted her to the West Coast for his training. He was injured during training and they ended up back in Regina as a young couple at the start of a 10-kid family.
They moved to Red Deer in 1946 and were already three kids into parenthood. This experience would prove valuable for the giant herd of kids to follow in her life.
The one thing that was apparent for us was that we always came ahead of her own needs in life. She was a consummate mother who sacrificed a lot for us.
She had survived a furnace explosion, gall bladder problems and pneumonia as well as the antics of 10 young anarchists dispersed over 22 years of child birth. She was John Wayne — tough with a heart of gold and the best press agent for her kids in the business.
Mother’s Day in 1989 was a rough one for all of us because we all knew it was the last one.
The only question left was my brother’s wedding and whether our mom would be there for it. Somehow she managed to get out of that hospital bed and attend the wedding. It was the last selfless act of the toughest guy I ever met and her death a few weeks later just meant her mother’s work was finally done.
Jim Sutherland is a freelance writer living in Red Deer.