Today is the 5 year anniversary of my mother’s passing. This is something I wrote in the months following her death. It was and is the singular greatest gift my mother ever gave me.
She loved to dance. In the living room with the music blasting so loud the neighbours once called the cops. Fresh out of the shower in her bedroom, embarrassing her kids when they saw her flail about in nothing but her underwear. In her car speeding down the highway with the radio blaring, hoping not to be caught by the police. In the bar, on New Year’s Eve, or at any party she could persuade her friends to stay until the wee hours of the morning.
And she danced on that early spring day in the late afternoon when the wind swirled outside the cold and steely blue room. A thick layer of white fluffy snow still on the window's ledge. She danced in front of her sisters and children. At that moment her spirit soared uninhibited and free.
That was how she lived her life, spirited and with verve. She was always moving, always keeping busy; she rode life’s joys and challenges with passionate vigour. She had an intensity about her that seemed to propel her forward, moving her in a direction sometimes unknown but with little hesitation.
Even in the moments following her extensive surgery she had vim in her spirit. After anxiously waiting for nine hours, she was finally wheeled past us. We eagerly ran up to her, kissed her, praised her and followed her to her room. Her children surrounded her bedside first, like little deer who flock to their wounded mother, we wanted to lick her wounds and make it all better. We were so happy to see her. And so relieved. She had made it through the massive surgery.
Hesitant to talk; we whispered in hushed tones, caressed her and told her how well she had done, how proud we were. We four fawns crouched in on our mother, soothing what we thought was a broken spirit. When she tried to talk we encouraged her to rest and reserve her energy.
Unbelievably after this evasive surgery, she looked good. The youngest of us, Clarisa stroked her cheek and commented “Mom your skin is so smooth.”
Running my fingers through her hair, I chimed in “Your hair, it is so soft. It looks like you just had it styled.”
Having fun with this and not holding back, Calvin, the oldest, knowing she had her eyebrows waxed the day before her surgery, piped up “And look at your eyebrows, they’re perfectly shaped and flawless!”
Suddenly without warning this seemingly frail women who was just wheeled out of major surgery, glared at her son with spit and vinegar in her eyes and in one vehement move raised her hand and thrust up her middle finger. Laughter broke out in the room and we all shouted out with pride “Mom is back!”
That was our mother, despite what was going on in her life, despite challenging circumstances, she never gave up. Instead, she danced her way through daunting times. First it was the cancer diagnosis. Then the realization she would endure such a major surgery. And the agonizing weeks of recovery. The chemotherapy. The spread of the cancer. The uncertainty. And the dying.
Through it all she danced, sometimes with fervent effort, sometimes with frailty. Although it may have seemed subtle at times, it was her dancing spirit that twirled and pirouetted over these hurtles. And it was no different on the day she died. When in the late afternoon she danced.
We were all in her room when the conversation turned to music. What songs she liked and how she loved to listen to them loud. “Oh she loved to dance around the family room to Boy George’s “Karma Karma Chameleon.” I said.
“And she liked that song Fishing in the Dark” Clarisa added.
“I remember it was the Shake she was listening to when the neighbours called the cops.” her sister Trisha recalled chuckling.
While we rattled off various songs, Clarisa grabbed her phone and began downloading clips of the songs. We reminisced and laughed as we listened to some of mom’s favourite songs.
The mood in the room was lighter when Clarisa piped up, “Oh she loves that song, The Highway Patrol is it? How does it go? About the guy speeding down the highway and getting caught. Something like that.”
We began a desperate search for the song. We did not know it, but it was fortuitous that we found that particular song. For what followed would be one of the most defining moments for all of us in the room on that day.
It took a few moments, but we finally found it. As Junior Brown rolled off in his thick twangy voice “If you’re driving too fast like you shouldn’t do, you can bet your boots I’m coming after you. If you want to race than get on a race track cause if you try to run away I’m gonna bring you back. I’m here to keep all the speeders driving slow. I’m just doing my job on the Highway Patrol” our mom, who had not had the strength to leave her bed for several days, opened her eyes, looked around the room, took a moment, and then with sheer determination and a small smile, lifted her bony shoulders off the bed, first one then the other, then one then the other in dance like wave.
And so she danced, lying semi propped up in her bed, her seventy pound frail body carrying the tune of an angel. She danced seven hours before she took her last breath. In that moment, she showed us what living was all about.