THIS IS PERSONAL — words to the wise from an exemplary generation.
My mother is 81-years-old. Graceful to a fault. And very ill with cancer.
I’m the child of farmers, who worked hard and always seemed to be working. It was a rare gift to have one-on-one time with my parents. And now that my mom is at her most vulnerable, the conversations are not just poignant—can I say this?—they’re instructive.
Born during the Great Depression of the 1930s, Eleanor lost friends & family to the two terrible wars of the first half of the 20th century. The 7th child in a family of ten—and the only one to finish high school—mom’s grasp of survival and getting ahead in life is visceral. And yet she’s the antithesis of ruthless; her success has never come at someone else’s expense.
THE FACTS OF LIFE
As the hours roll by, Mom & I chat off-and-on about the mundane (food — what can and cannot be digested — the removal of the tumour left her with a much-diminished stomach) and the existential (preparing for end of life as the cancer metastasizes in her abdomen).
To my surprise, the question of Canada’s future is also weighing on her. All part of that survivalist thinking. Watching both the petroleum economy & the auto industry get hammered has caught mom’s full attention; rightly so, her grandchildren & great-grandchildren live in Alberta & Ontario. This is no time, she declares, for waffling or false hopes. At times, it’s not clear whether she’s talking about her own health or Canada’s.
Together, we watch the news sitting at the farmhouse table. General Motors Canada’s announcement —the closing of the Oshawa plant and ripple effects—triggers mom’s stern reflection on self-reliance; the need for Canadians to take responsibility for our own future. Other countries know how to compete, she says, and how to take risks. Why do Canadians expect someone else to give us jobs? A military umbrella to protect us?
“Entitlement is toxic,” she concludes.
This from a woman who gives & gives & gives without any expectation of reciprocity.
“So where to from here, Mom?” I ask, given her astute analysis of Canada’s economic situation.
“Take pride in your work,” she says for starters.
As a farm-wife, her life’s labour built a community of strong, resilient families. That’s what most everyone in the southern Ontario place I grew up in, expected of women. It was no big deal. And my mother has done this thankless task exceedingly well (even to this day). She doesn’t talk about as much as live her values: just move forward with what you’ve got in front of you on the table. And in this way—the same way—it’s how she’s living with cancer.
CERTAIN ABOUT UNCERTAINTY
Last winter, a dreary February as it was, my father passed. Lung cancer. Months before, his friend summed up the terminal diagnosis with a quip. “It’s the new way of living,” he said. Dark humour, but accurate. We’re all living with uncertainty and it’s not just cancer. Uncertainty is in the air we breathe right now.
Mom isn’t passing the buck on her disease; she’s accepting this new reality with grace and faith and pragmatism. It’s the same way she looks at the threats to Canada; don’t turn your back on self-reliance and sovereignty; don’t rely on our ‘friends’ to the south and especially their territorial ambitions as a ‘done deal’.
And staying with the idea of a manifest destiny (but not in the American way of understanding the phrase): take charge of your future — own it. And wear it proudly, come what may.
I’m watching mom do just that.