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Sunday, May 12, 2013


The Final Healer
by Kenna Mary McKinnon (nee MacDonald)

The relationship with one's mother is often complex and not fully appreciated until, sadly, too late, or never completely understood until we are in mature years. 

Mom and I in picnic grounds Creston, BC 2004

My mother died on August 22, 2006 at the age of 91. Her birthday was March 15, 1915. She was remembered by the nurses for her smile and her good humor. She never complained although trapped in a frail body wracked by cancer and a broken hip, released only by a long sigh as she left this life, attended by her youngest daughter, my sister Judith Holmes of Ft. Steele and her husband Wes. A dear friend, Ev Thachik of Creston, was also by mom's  bedside at the end. Ev held her hand as my mother slipped into that Great Mystery. My brother-in-law called us after the curtain had fallen. Even the nurses were crying.

A friend's mother died of leukemia. Before she died he was able to pop over from his workplace every day to visit for an hour or so in the lodge in which she stayed at the end of her life. He said this gave him the unprecedented opportunity to mend some bridges with his mom and to get to know her in a way he had not when he was younger. He is grateful for that opportunity. Sometimes the end of life is the sweetest and mellowest.

I believe there is a reason and we don't know the reason. We're not meant to know. Pain, both emotional and physical, may be the Refiner's Fire. Yet its purpose is sometimes shattered by unremitting agony relieved only by death. Death may be bittersweet. There may be relief in death. A retired physician died several years ago of painful cancer. At the end of his life while he lay in his hospital bed, his three daughters and wife sang him to heaven with hymns from his childhood. It was he who told me, "Death is the final healer". He struggled with his faith at the end. But at the end he was borne on wings of ancient song to his final resting place. Did he find a reason for his pain? Did his wife and daughters find a reason for his death? Yet sitting with their father and husband and easing his journey was a respite for him and for them. We as caregivers both give and receive.

My parents died physically in pain but their minds remained intact. Dementia is cruel, perhaps crueler than cancer, but how can we judge? All lead to the grave; from the moment of our birth we grow into death. How sad when our loved ones are no more in mind or body the persons we knew. 

Mom at Christmas 2004 on Santa's lap

The old men sitting in their hats in the Legions of the nation and talking of war; the old women with gentle hands smoothing their silver hair. Not all of us are destined to reach this fair land of retirement and the fierce desires for remaining life. My husband died at 29 when his two children were babies. Many die young. Children die. Yet we and our parents lived on, part of a swell of humanity that finds meaning and often wisdom in maturity; sometimes a decline into a situation that requires caregiving and sacrifice; sometimes a long and vibrant life and spontaneous and gentle death beyond the ages of 80 and 90.

I was 68 last October 2012. I get my OAS and my CPP; I work at home; I'm learning to swim; I have good friends; I am vibrant and healthy. When my mother was 68 she looked 45. When my mother was in her mid-80s she had a stroke. She had another stroke two years later. When my mother was 90 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She fell at 91 and broke her  hip, which her doctor was unable to set due to her frail condition; she would not have survived the anesthetic. My mother died at 91, leaving two sons, Byron MacDonald of Prince George, B.C. and Murray MacDonald of Surrey, B.C., and two daughters, my sister Judith Holmes of Ft. Steele, B.C. and myself in Edmonton, Alberta, as well as eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Mom and dad on farm 1946?

Our faded photograph of a young woman in a nursing cap before she became our mother is replete with promise and a future yet to unfold. Another photograph of our mother as a pretty young woman was sent to a soldier - a future with my father, with four children, with many more friends and a family, home, a nursing career, sadness, joy, a lifelong faith in God. Yet a future that ended in a sad bed in an extended care center (her choice), a future lit by my mother's ever present smile as my sister, the youngest child and caregiver, hovered near and a dear friend held her hand. Our mother succumbed at last to a broken hip and the ravages of cancer in a body so frail that one would not believe life could be sustained for as long as it was.

For all the hurt and misunderstandings life holds, for all the pain and unfortunate memories we may harbor, or for all the regrets we sometimes cherish in regards to this our first significant relationship, death is the final healer and the final arbiter.

Good-bye, mom. You are in our hearts.

Mom off night duty London, ON 1943



  1. Happy Mother's Day to moms past, present and future. Yours is the noblest of professions and perhaps the hardest. I thank you, Nom, for your kindness, love, protection, humor and genes. At least MOST of your genes -- I could have lived without the gift of that funny lip hair that grows so long it curls into my mouth. I've grown to accept your imperfection, having my own. I've grown to cherish your memory. I've grown to see the hardships and triumphs of your life are what made you uniquely you, and in a funny way, made me me. Thanks for everything. Thanks for ME.

  2. Judi, that's a lovely sentiment. Thanks so much for sharing. Happy Mother's Day to all who have mothers, who had mothers, who are or were mothers. I understand that in the UK, Mothering Day is in March. Happy belated Mothering Day to those friends in the UK.

  3. I'm missing my Mom today, too. It's the first Mothers' Day without her and we also lost Mom Schuh last summer. However, my daughters are now both moms and so life goes....

  4. So sorry, Eileen, I know Mother's Day is sad like Christmases and birthdays sometimes are for those of us who are left behind. Enjoy your grandchildren, dear. Did your mom ever get to know she had great grandchildren? They are in a softer, gentler place without pain or worry, Eileen. It's we who are left behind who have the pain, they are far from pain and troubles.