In awe of Mom

by trudy duivenvoorden mitic, august 2010

An elder shows the way to go the distance.

This month, a heart-warming story, perfect for telling on a balmy summer day and the first-year anniversary of my sister’s death. That day last August changed everything for my mom since she and my sister had shared a cozy home for more than 15 years.

My mom is no slouch, even now at age 85. She tends her home and garden and finds time to help others. She’s never stood out in a crowd because she finds the attention discomfiting but, like her mother before her, she’s always had a quick wit, gallons of optimism and the self-discipline of a 16th century monk. That’s probably why she managed to raise a gaggle of kids on a farm that had almost as many pets as dairy animals—a true menagerie if there ever was one. It likely also explains her determination to have us survive the hardships that befell our family, including my dad’s passing almost two decades ago.

The same constitution saw her picking up the pieces of her life after my sister’s death and struggling to arrange them into a new chapter. After a time of contemplation she announced that she still needed purpose and a connection to her community. And she would continue to live in her home, alone. “I’ll find my way,” she assured us. “I still have lots to do.”

Two months ago I received an email from an old hometown contact. “Please support our upcoming Relay for Life,” he wrote. “We’re organizing an all-night walkathon around the local track to raise money for cancer research.” I sent off a cheque and thought little more of it.

Several weeks later I was sent another email, this time announcing that the relay had raised more than $30,000. Five photos were attached, and when I opened the last one, there was my mother. Had she participated, I wondered as I reached for the phone? Surely she hadn’t been up all night?

Well, she hadn’t thought to tell me about the relay because she didn’t think it was news. “I’m fine,” she assured me. “It was for a good cause.” She’d signed up to walk with her long-time exercise group and had begun the evening by purchasing seven luminaries—one on behalf of each of us—that would burn all night in honour of my sister. I felt a lump rising in my throat.

“Don’t worry, I didn’t walk all night,” she said, explaining how she’d taken little naps in the camper my brother had parked there for the event. Yes, she had walked one particularly long shift, she allowed, having felt honour-bound to stay on the track until one of her team-mates arrived to take over. “I was a little tired then, but happy to be doing my part. It was very well organized, with food and water available. And every time you finished a lap you took a bead out of a bowl and threaded it onto your string to keep track of your distance.”

The relay lasted 12 hours and ended with a community breakfast at 7 am Then my mother went home, closed the blinds, unplugged the phone and slept until noon.

“How many laps did you walk?” I asked. My mother’s never been one to ration her steps. When winter storms keep her indoors she walks laps around her basement.

“Sixty-nine,” she replied. I was flabbergasted. The track she was on is smaller than regulation size, but by my calculations she must have walked at least 15 kilometres that night.

It’s amazing what a zest for life can accomplish. True, my mom enjoys remarkable health and a sunny disposition, but that doesn’t detract from her lifelong bent to reap from each day the fruit of its promise. In her world everyone has something to offer, a gift however small that can bring joy, purpose and fulfillment to both self and community. That’s the real engine powering society. That might be the thing to save us yet.

Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic is a writer, mother and Master Gardener. Her books include People in Transition and Ernie Coombs: Mr Dressup (both from Fitzhenry & Whiteside).

Copyright©2010 Trudy Duivenvoorden Mitic