A Tribute to Mom

Today is my mother's birthday. She would have turned 72.

I can't begin to tell you how badly I would like to celebrate this day with her.

Because she should be here with us, the family for which she sacrificed so much. She gave up so much of herself for us.

It will be 3 years next month since Mom died of liver cancer. Three long years. The longest of my life, because they were the first ones which I had to go through without her.

Not a day goes by where I don’t think of her. That's a big cliché, I know, but you only realize how true it is when you actually live it.

Every day, I close my eyes and I can see her, sitting among us, smiling, her eyes filled with pride at seeing this beautiful, big family which she built with our father, the love of her life. I wish I could touch her, hold her in my arms, talk to her. Make her laugh. You don’t know how proud she made me when she laughed at something I said. There’s no greater reward for a kid like me than to make my mother laugh.

Today, I can still see her face when she learned that my girlfriend and I were expecting our first child. How happy she was! Of course, she already had four grandsons by then, but she was as happy as if this were the first. She was happy for me.

And her happiness filled me with happiness, too, when I realized that I had just accomplished something, that she was proud of me.

I’d love for her to still be with us, of course. To see what her kids and grandkids have become. To see her walk hand in hand with my father, just like the young newlyweds they had been over 50 years ago. To talk about my ongoing projects. To pass on a novel I’d just read so we could talk about it when she was done reading it.

To ask her for advice.

But mostly to say thanks.

How many times had I missed out on the chance to thank her?

Because, really, what more can you tell your mother than those simple words.

Thank you, Mom.

Simple words.

But, man, do we ever have trouble saying them.

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I don't know what drove her to become a mother. Maybe she just went with the times. Maybe it was the influence of her own family: she was the youngest of five children (two sisters and three brothers). By the time she met my father, she already had a few nieces and nephews.

All I know is that she want a fourth pregnancy, after a miscarriage where she lost her third child. I don’t know why, but if she hadn't, I wouldn’t be writing this right now.

You're not born as a parent. You become a mother or a father, even if you’re never quite ready for all that comes with it. You learn on the job, you make a lot of mistakes and (hopefully) you sink a few good shots.

But you do your best.

Which is what my mother did with me. She did her best, and her best was quite good, let me tell you.

Because I would never trade it for anything in the world.

I consider myself lucky to have had her in my life for some 36 years. I have a lot more good memories of her than bad ones. I could write a long list of good times we shared together.

Our trip to Hampton Beach.

My basketball games, where she sat in the stands cheering me on, even though she knew nothing about the sport.

Our Saturday morning shopping sessions.

Taking the train downtown to go to a book fair.

Christmas eve nights. Christmas mornings. Pure magic.

Unfortunately, Man often only realizes the worth of something or someone when he loses it.

When you have it, you’re happy. You take advantage of it. You don't stop to think about tomorrow.

Until it gets swept away in a heartbeat. With nobody asking for your permission. Nobody warning you that you’re going to lose it.

What’s worse, nobody tells you where it’s gone to. Because nobody knows. Growing up as a catholic, you’re told a lot of nice things about life after death, eternal life, heaven, and all that stuff.

But I really have no idea of what goes on. Nobody has come back to tell me about it.

All I know, all I feel, every hour of every day, is this gigantic hole, this emptiness inside me left by the disappearance of a wonderful woman who decided to be my mother.

I love you Mom, and I miss you more and more each and every day. I still need you.

You left much much too fast. Much much too early.

xxx Ton grand

Death seen live

On the morning of January 15th, 2013, around 8:45 a.m., my life changed.

Until then, nothing about that morning had let on that such a momentous event would take place. This was a normal morning, where our family went through its regular routine.

I had no idea that I would witness a terrible tragedy that day.

I took the bus into downtown Montreal with my 4 year-old daughter. From the bus terminal, we would walk outside, in the cold, until we made it to her daycare. This was about a 15 minute walk. Then I would walk back the same way to my office.

On the way back, I stop at a red light and waited to cross the intersection. Traffic was heavy that morning, as it always was at that corner. My headphones screwed onto my ears, I was listening to some music when it happened.

Across the street, right in my field of vision, a flat bed truck was turning the corner.

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a woman began running across the street. The light was green, but she apparently never saw the truck blocking her way as it turned. When she did see it, she spun around to get back on the sidewalk.

That’s when she tripped. Her feet got tangled up together, and she fell to the cold ground.

She never had a chance.

The truck driver never saw her. Even if he had, chances are he would have rolled right over her anyway.

She died instantly. The first police officer to arrive on the scene calmly walked out of his car, took one look at her, and brought a white sheet out of his patrol car.

I wasn’t the only witness. We all stood around looking at each other, in shock.

With shaking hands, I managed to call my boss, to tell her I would be late.

Then I phoned my girlfriend. I reassured her that both our daughter and I were fine.

*

It’s funny, but I had sometimes wondered if something special happened when a person died. This may be due to leftovers from my religious education, but I was under the impression that you could feel the person’s soul leave its dead body at the time of death. I thought it would be felt through a cold breeze, or a wave, something like that.

But there was nothing. Nothing at all.

In fact, I would say it felt rather like throwing a light switch. The light is open, you flick the switch, and tada! – darkness.

That lady died just like that.

Today, nearly 3 years after the fact, I can still see her, without even closing my eyes. It’s like a movie that gets replayed over and over again in my mind. At full speed. The details are clear. There’s no special effects, no CGI involved. Just a random event, which happens in the blink of an eye, but lasts a lifetime.

*

It took nearly two hours for the cops to take my statement. I waited, in the cold, a few feet away from the corpse. There were many people passing by, on their way to work. Some stopped, intrigued by all the police presence (there must have been 10 or 12 cars). One man tried to take a picture of the corpse with his cell phone. I told him he was out of line. This morbid curiosity, which I admit to being guilty of myself, felt out of place to me right then.

In the crowd, a familiar face appeared. Hans, who I know from our yearly fantasy baseball league. I was shocked, shaking like a baby, my eyes filled with tears. I think I scared him. He seemed really worried about me and offered to stay.

I imagine I must have been quite the sight.

I spoke briefly with a reporter from a talk radio station. Funny thing is, all I could tell him at that moment, as we stood next to the dead body of a woman, was that I had just met his wife and child at a birthday party a few days before.

There were 3 other witnesses, all men, who had stuck around. Two female witnesses had been brought by ambulance to the hospital. They were in shock. The truck driver was there, too. He was chain smoking, but he looked rather calm. We tried to comfort him by telling him that there was nothing he could do, that the woman had run into his truck for no reason. I don’t know if it helped. He would have to live with this accident for the rest of his life.

When the cops finally took my statement, they were very nice, very professionnal. He explained that I would be contacted again if needed, but that this case would probably be closed very quickly on their end. All the witnesses gave the same version of events. He even offered to have me driven to work, a gesture which I found very courteous. Cops often get bad press in Québec, but they (for the most part) do good work. Imagine what the first cop to arrive on the scene must have felt upon seeing the squashed body of that woman. Would you have liked to be in his shoes?

*

I needed to write. I needed to get it out of my system. I don’t think I will ever erase these memories from my head, but it felt good to write this out.

I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to do it. At that time, death had never been a part of my life. Except in books, movies, and the stories I wrote.

Until that day.

This woman, whose name I will probably never learn, was somebody’s daughter. She might have had siblings, a younger sister who looked up to her, perhaps. She might have been somebody’s girlfriend, wife, or even mistress. She was loved, I’m sure of that, because who isn’t? She loved, too, because who doesn’t?

Maybe somebody was waiting for her, that day. Colleagues, or a family member. Who knows? What I do know, though, is that I had the chance to see my family again that day. I had the chance to take my daughter and her brother into my arms that night, and kiss them tenderly.

But that woman never got that chance.

Because death swept by that morning. Silent, yet fast and unforgiving.

I know.

I saw it.