Eulogy for My MotherWritten by Patrick Lannigan - Summer 2003
Thank you all -- for coming to commemorate my mother’s life.
Before I go on to celebrate my mother and what she stood for I must share with you the reality of what life was like for my mother and the family since she was first diagnosed with cancer in October. Of course, nobody suffered more than my mother, but Dad you’re definitely second. We all shared my mother’s pain. It was like we were all on trial.
At any one point, as a family, we were in denial, we were angry, or we were depressed. And there was conflict. We disagreed with the doctor’s findings. We didn’t always agree with each other on a course of action. It was a confusing time.
In the end I felt we all put up a good fight. We did what we could do.
I have to ask myself what my mother would want for us right now.
I think she’d want us to heal ourselves and move on. She’d want us to talk with our creator and deal with her death in our own way, but also put her death behind us and live a life that she would be proud of.
I would like to thank all of you for coming here today to help us, as a family, to heal, and to celebrate my mother’s life.
So how many square dancers did I meet yesterday? Dozens? A hundred? You guys rock! What a spirit I see in you. For me, thoughts of my mother dozy-dooing alamand lefting around the dance floor makes me feel good inside. Thanks to all of you for showing up here today.
I see a few people she used to work with at CFB Borden. How she ever got up at 4AM to work those shifts, I’ll never know. Thank you for coming out.
I’m glad we have Maurice, my mother’s younger brother here today. Ella, her older sister, unfortunately couldn’t make it, but I know the news of my mothers death hit her hard. And I know that she prayed with all her will, for my mother. It was nice to meet a cousin I hadn’t met before. Mark and his wife Michelle drove up from Michigan to be here with us today. Thank you.
And what of the children in our family? Shawn, Kelsey, Sarah, Michael, Emily and Matthew, you should take comfort knowing that your grandmother is in heaven right now, looking down on us. It is time to heal yourself, and to live your life knowing that she loved you very much.
In talking to Maurice, yesterday, I asked him about the school he and my mother used to go to. He made a comment about “not being as well dressed as some of the other kids”. This touches my heart, because I know that both my mother and father’s life, as children born during the depression, wasn’t always easy.
My mother was born to Albanie and Velma Bourque in a small French community called Scoudouc, just outside of Moncton, in 1937. Just to give you an example of what life was like back then, my mother didn’t live in a house with electricity until she was 15. Imagine that, if you will. Imagine doing homework using a gas lantern. Despite this hardship, she did well in school.
In the early 50’s my grandfather had a tough choice to make. The government of New Brunswick said that they could get electricity, but only if they moved the house a mile from it’s current location. So, he did. Things then started to pick up for my grandfather. He started to work for CN, and could afford to send my mother to a business college. In true, Acadian French spirit, my mother excelled. She became the first French person to work at Eaton's in the accounting department. This was a monumental achievement at the time. Today, in New Brunswick, you pretty much have to be bilingual to get a good job, but back then the English dominated the business and government world. For a French person to be hired, they had to be top of their class. And my mother, as I understand it, was top of her class.
Before she started working at Eaton's, however, she went into Moncton to visit her cousin, and they went to a dance. The “Bunk House Boys” were playing. My dad must have been star struck by her. Despite being a relatively shy young man around women, he got up the courage to ask my mother to dance. The song was “The Tennessee Waltz”.
A love was born.
My dad feared that once she went to work at Eaton's, that she would soon meet other men and that would be the end of it. To make matters worse, my father was shipped overseas by the military for two years and their only means of communication was by mail. Their love for each other endured this absence, however, and my father and mother were married two years later when he returned to Canada.
Dad also shared something with me last week that I never knew. My grandparents always had boarders to help pay the bills. One of these boarders, was a musician and taught my mother how to play the guitar and harmonica – at the same time – just like Bob Dylan does. I would have loved to have seen that.
While my mother may have seemed shy, in many respects, she was also courageous. As most people know, when you join the military you roll the dice in terms of where you’re going to be living for the rest of your working life. My mother never complained. The first placed my mother and father lived together was Summerside, where I was born. Then they went on to live in Moncton, Goose Bay Labrador, then back to Moncton, and finally to Camp Borden.
My mother’s fear of flying was born out of our trips to Goose Bay Labrador in military propeller planes. My mother was nervous about flying to begin with, but those rickety old planes that the military flew at the time, made it worse. On one of those trips my brother Gerry looked out the window and said “look Mom the engine is on fire”. My mother refused to get on an airplane after that experience.
I love to remember my mother when she was full of life, and taking risks. In the 60’s, of course, one of those risks was wearing a mini-dress. I remember my mother getting the McCall’s pattern, and putting together that dress. She looked great. While I wouldn’t have wished the 60’s on any parent, my mom and dad made it through safely. It was around this time, that I remember hearing rock and roll records playing downstairs.
It was around this time that I remember my mother and father starting to go out regularly. While they didn’t have a great deal of money, they seemed to have this intuitive sense that they needed to work at keeping their love alive, even while they had three kids. As a child it was great for me to see my parents dating.
Like many mothers my mother took a special pride in giving us kids all she could at Christmas time. One of the things that I thought was unique to the Lannigan household, was our Christmas stockings. While other kids may have had those wimpy stockings, maybe this high, or even this high, my mother would hang her nylon stockings for us. As a kid, I thought this was great. When I woke up Christmas morning, Santa Claus had filled it to the brim with goodies. Far more than any other kid got.
Another time my mother made herself stick out from the crowd was at one of Gerry’s hockey games. The most popular coach in Moncton, at the time, was Father Mike. It seemed that some God-given divinity that allowed him to develop a winning team most every year. One year, when Gerry played for Father Mikes team, the final game was tied and went into overtime. There was a slapshot from the point and Gerry tipped it in for the winning goal. The crowd cheered. The players all ganged up on top of Gerry in celebration. But wait. Who was this 98lb woman jumping over the boards to land on the pile. It was my mother!
My youngest memory of missing my mother was when Shawn was born. At that time, we were preparing to move to Goose Bay Labrador. I remember, as a four or five year old saying “hey Dad, what’s for breakfast”. And Dad said, “hard boiled eggs”. So we sat around, sitting on the boxes that were ready to move, and ate my first bachelor breakfast. Dad, I hate to say it, but that was the first time I panicked and selfishly said to myself “Oh my God, what if Mom is in the hospital for a long long time and Dad cooks breakfast every morning”.
Perhaps the think I’ll remember my mother most for, however, is how she loved my dad. Dad, when you traveled on the road, or were at the Olympics providing security for the 1976 Olympics, she missed you dearly. On some nights I would hear her crying. She loved you very much. The 45 years you spent together is nothing less than a great testament to your love for each other.
Dad, I can’t know what it’s like to lose someone you love that much. These days, however, all I know is that I feel she is watching over me. When I’m at work and there is some V.P. trying to lure me into something I don’t believe in, I hear Mom telling me to be true to my own character and values. And thus, my mother will live on within me, and through me, for the rest of my life.
I’d like to leave you all with this quote, by Helen Keller. She said, “The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart”
IF, by the end of her life, my mother ended up touching all of your hearts ----then I ask you, what else can anyone ask for in this world, but to touch people’s hearts. Thank you, Mom.
Email Patrick Lannigan at lannigan at gmail dot com for more information
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