There is a short documentary video I remember seeing a long, long time ago of elephants, gathered together and moving their trunks amongst the bones of deceased member of their herd—rolling the bones in the dust, passing them from one to another.

November 23 is a hard day for me because it is the day my mother died in 2002.

You see, I only ever knew my mom as sick. She had severe Crohn’s Disease as well as colitis and illeitus; she developed kidney cancer, and then the breast cancer that metasticized to her lungs and bones. She was always sick.

Now, you’d never know it to see her: people (particularly business owners) in Kemptville remember Val wearing Laura Ashley dresses and Princess Diana hats. She never—NEVER—let her illness stop her from doing what she wanted: working for the Kemptville Library then as the manager of the Kemptville and District Chamber of Commerce; and spending time in her award-winning flower gardens or shopping, shopping.

Oh, and did I mention shopping?

But she was never healthy. And as a child of a sick mother, I know it has affected me, and affects me still. I idolized her strength of character, her determination, her gentleness. And I still harbour anger and resentment because of her illness and how it affected her and her family.

As the years go by, and my own family grows up, I find that I, like those elephants, need to go back to the bones once in a while. I slow down EVERY single time I drive by South Gower Cemetery to say “Hi” to Mom. I look at the determined set of Emma’s chin when she is pouty or angry or determined and I say “that’s my mom”. I look at Mal’s goofiness and funny (weird) way of looking at the world and say “Yep, that’s Mom”. I drive by Andrea’s home (where the two of us grew up) at Hallowe’en, or Christmas, or Easter and see the oodles of decorations and think, “Like mother, like daughter.”

But it’s when I sit down, with a cup of tea, my family off doing the things that they tend to do: work at the kitchen table, dance lessons, far away, editing essays for Queen’s, that I realize that most of the bones I turn over are in me. I know that my Dad and I are a lot alike in some ways, but I am my mother’s little boy in more ways than I can relate here. And while I very much miss her, every single day—like I am sure all of you who are reading this miss those who are gone from this life—I am so very thankful to God that I am Val’s son; that she is very much alive in me. 

Jesus said, “Remember” and so I will obey his commandment. I will remember his love, his gifts of strange but loving family, and a mother who, when I was having difficulty going through the candidacy process to become a minister, in her fury telephoned the United Church’s head office and demanded to speak to the Moderator.

So, if you are wondering about me … blame her. But be careful. If she had no fear in calling the head of the United Church because she believed her little boy was being picked on, imagine who she might chat up in Heaven.