Saturday, May 09, 2009

Bright, Beautiful, Faithful and True: Tribute to My Mother


This is my second Mother's Day without my mother, who died on March 31st, 2008, in my arms, in the last month of her 95th year, of colorectal cancer. Her face and body were shrunk to a fraction of their former beauty and strength, but still she died with dignity and grace. I, despite many years of emotional hardship in my relationship with this powerful figure in my life, was able to lovingly pray with her a number of times in her final months, and crawl into bed beside her to rub her back. My sister and I shall never forget the tender moments of my mother's final days, and the opportunity God gave us to show our love to the mother who was faithful and true to us in the ways she knew. Although we are relieved to not have her sometimes critical spirit and sharp tongue wound us at times, are released from receiving surprise emotional "kicks", we miss our mother, and we always will. We look back on the life of Dorothy and are able to celebrate the person that she was above and beyond the dark side that very few people saw. I shall be eternally glad that the final words God gave me to speak over my mother as I rocked her in my arms were "Good mummy. Good mummy." They came from a place deep within my spirit, and deep within God's heart living within me. My final tribute to my mother who was there for me all her days, in her way. The other final tribute to her that God gave me to give publicly at her memorial service is what I feel led to share today. It was given in Windsor, Ontario, where Mum spent so much of her life, and where I was born and grew up. After she was cremated we took her back there to be placed beside my father in a special plot near their beloved church. The friends we spoke to had not seen her in her final days, and that was how Mum wanted it to be. So I was able to honour her in her death as they had known her in her life.

Reflections about Dorothy Hallam by her daughter, Meg Wardroper

All things bright and beautiful. Dorothy loved beautiful things, whether daffodils or Davenport, petunias or pettipoint, hummingbirds or Harris tweed. She had an eye for beauty and she created beautiful things. Most of all Dorothy was beautiful, inside and out. And bright. More than that, she was faithful, and she was true. These words from our hymn, and from scripture, express the essence of Dorothy Margaret Wilson Hallam for me, her daughter, and for so many of us here, family and friends. We want to honour our dear Dorothy today with some words which will try to do justice in some small way to her spirit and her being.

We get the opportunity to do this because she can’t prevent us from doing so, and we know that since she is with us today we hope somehow she will enjoy it, the way she would enjoy a birthday, so let us celebrate her as if she were indeed at her birthday party, on her day which is just ten days from now. She is already at a party in Heaven, with my father, her brothers and sisters, her mother and father, and so many others she will know and recognize. Just a few weeks before she died Mum was talking about looking forward so much to seeing Dad, getting herself ready after waiting twenty years. What a reunion that must have been! And what a privilege it was for me and my sister and nephew to be with Mum in her final hours, to watch her pass from this world to the next, and breathe a sigh of relief that at last her pain was over.

“Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His saints.” He watched over Mum’s death, and prepared her and all of us, working out so many details of time and place, care and contact. Mum’s death began when she was still here in Windsor. She didn’t want you to know, and so it suited her to have her last days in a place where you couldn’t see her suffer, and we were blessed to be able to be there for and with her in that time. And because she was far away so many of you wrote lovely cards and letters to her and called her. Often we would read notes to her telling how much she was missed for some particular quality and she would say “I never knew”, and we would rejoice that before she died she really did hear how much she was loved and appreciated. She was overwhelmed with the little quilt made so lovingly by the group here at St. Mary’s, placed it in her room so that she could see it well, and took it to the last communion service she attended downstairs at James St. Place. And you will not be surprised to know that she made new friends in her home in Bracebridge.

I would like to read to you from the homily written by our rector, Kellina Baetz, in Bracebridge, who often saw Mum at the service in James Street Place, or, in her final months, gave her communion at her bedside.

Psalm 23 ends with the words, ‘I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” And in John’s Gospel, Jesus says He is going to prepare a place for those who trust in Him. And that place, he assures us, is with God. Meg wanted us to thank God for the place that Dorothy had to live in during her last days. And even though they weren’t easy days, I found during my visits with Dorothy that her little room did have a sense of home to it. Often, there would be family with her, praying fervently or just chatting. Lunch trays and other clues let me know that staff and caregivers had been in and out, faithfully going about their life-giving routines. And there were little touches of loving care throughout the room, such as the greeting cards draped over the blinds, reminding Dorothy of all the people who loved her. And when Dorothy smiled, it lit the whole place up.”


Dorothy’s unforgettable smile will be part of all our memories. Part of her brightness and beauty. That is how it is for one of my daughters, who visited Mum the evening before she died, spoke to her and squeezed her hand when Mum was semi-conscious. And she remembers her Grandma’s beautiful smile, given out of that semi-conscious state, just for her.

She always tried to be bright. About a month ago when I was visiting she was resting and not saying much, but when a staff member came in with a dinner tray, Mum rolled over to greet her brightly with the words “Well, what have you cooked up for me tonight?” Almost to the very end, Mum did her best to be cheerful and show others that she cared and was aware of and interested in them. And she didn’t miss a beat. Last summer on one of the rare days when Mum was able to come to the cottage, she lay on a bed out on the screen porch she loved so well, directly opposite me, where I was at the other end of the porch, behind the table. We were at least fifteen feet apart. I spilled some water and it dripped over the edge of the table. I didn’t rush to clean it up because I thought Mum couldn’t see it. Then I heard a voice from the apparently sleeping form at the other end of the porch: “What’s that dripping off the table?” I was caught. Mum was, until a few days before her death, as bright as a button and as sharp as a tack.

What bothered Mum the most about her disease was that it made her self-centered in her estimation, and a great bother to others. We didn’t see her that way, but that was how she saw herself. She had always been the one to be there for others, to make delicious meals, put on lovely parties, drive people to various places, be the one to call or write notes, host bridge parties and help lead meetings. When we talked about her being President of the WA, she tossed it off by saying that people know that teachers don’t mind getting up and making fools of themselves. I just know she was using her natural gift of leadership, bred into her through generations of family members who were in service professions and served their communities unselfishly and wisely.

She didn’t know how to be selfish or unfaithful. And she was true, true blue. Honest to the core, and of course always ready to feel she had not done enough or said the right thing. I like to think of Mum as a true Scot, a fierce warrior princess. I would like to have had her as a commander in a battle!! She would win!! And yet she was a diplomat, able to hold her tongue for years, probably in some matters forever.

Modest to a fault, all Dorothy could think of as an epitaph for her tombstone was the line, “She was useful.” My dear Mummy, this is my epitaph for you: You always were, and still are bright, beautiful, faithful and true. Thank you for being my mother, thank you for being our friend.

1 comment:

Belinda said...

Oh, Meg, I loved reading this tribute. I am hard pressed to know whether your mum's epitaph of "She was useful," is really so lacking. It doesn't sound very glamourous, and personally I love yours better, but I also think that to be "useful" is something profoundly good, especially to God. Thank you so much for sharing this here.