Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Tribute

My Tribute to my Mom delivered June 1, 2011

Anyone that knows both me and my mother and me knows how very different we are.

My mother was thoughtful, where I am more impulsive.

She was introverted, I am extroverted.

She measured her words. I am quick to speak.

She was patient. I am not.

She was neat and fastidious in her appearance in how she kept the house and I daresay in how she lived her life. I am un-neat.  As proof you can look at the inside of my purse, top of my desk or floor our our minivan.

She was keenly attuned to her emotions. I am more intuned to my analytical side.

And she was gracious. I am in need of grace.

I think it is fair to acknowledge that we had our moments as many mothers and daughters do. When I was going through adolescence my mother was starting “the change”, that combination of hormones might best be compared to a Molotov cocktail. But we survived those years unscarred and unscathed and our relationship has only grown stronger.

As I get older, I have seen that I am more like my mother than I first thought. We are both centred on our family, we love to laugh and enjoy a good meal. We are both focussed on the details, have legendary memories and we each have a creative side. We are both sensitive and we both have an overactive worry gene. In fact, I told Dad that with Mom gone, I have to worry for the both of us and he may have to give up shaving so I won’t have to worry about him cutting himself accidentally.

I think I first started to appreciate our similarities about 15 years ago and my mom was in the hospital after a hysterectomy. I was sitting beside her bed. It was a couple days after the surgery. She wasn’t in terrible pain, but she was getting her strength and her appetite back. She was resting and dozing. We had some easy conversation. Then she asked me “do you think I’ve lost weight?”

I told her “maybe a little, but once you start eating and drinking again it will come back. Those lost water pounds always come back”

She said, “no, not that. I lost my uterus. That must weigh at least 5 pounds.” I knew then that I was my mother’s daughter.

My Mom was ALL about family. Oh how she loved and cared for her children. And of course her grandchildren were very special to her -- she was a very hands-on Oma as you saw from the pictures. (I will talk about Dad later.) What I want to talk about today are some of the ways my Mom expressed her love and how that made her so special. I will also talk about some people very special to my Mom.

FOOD

Food was not just sustenance, it was how she expressed her love. Any meal was an opportunity for shared time together and style definitely counted. That meant a table cloth, pretty dishes, candles, fancy napkins and often flowers. Many of you will have experienced my Mom’s terrific meals. She was an amazing cook, baker and artisan with food. It looked good, smelled better and tasted best.

Birthday dinners were a culinary spectacle in our family. The honoured birthday person got a made to order meal. No effort was spared in the preparation of the meal. No special order was too much work. The table was always laid beautifully. Even while on chemo and her energy waned the past couple years, she made sure we had special meals. The ham and homemade scalloped potatoes was replaced with Chinese food or pizza. But we ate in the dining room on beautiful dishes.

In the spring my parents decided to list their home for sale so I came over to brainstorm on how to stage their home. This, I thought, was a working meeting. I arrived to a glass of wine waiting for me and tempura shrimp in the oven. For appetizers. The main course was Chilean sea bass served with a medley of vegetables. Dessert was strawberry cheesecake. It was like being on a cruise ship. We did not get that much done that evening.

The next week I said to Mom and Dad “I will come straight after work. Let’s have a quick meal. Like a bagel, or egg salad sandwich.” “Sure” they assured me. I said sternly “no really, this is a working visit”. I arrived to a glass of wine and spring rolls in the oven for appetizers. Dad fired up the BBQ to cook some free range grass fed chicken legs. Another medley of vegetables and another delicious dessert. The next week I I just looked forward to the glass of wine.

Food was a very important way she connected with her five grandchildren. It started by stocking goldfish crackers for any toddler snack emergencies These too were served on toddler appropriate special dishes. Each child had their own bib at Oma and Opa’s house.

And then came the thing that became synonymous with Oma. Jackson Erin Sydney Lian and Kyle, can tell you-- Smartie cookies! It is like chocolate chip cookies on steroids. They are sweeter and crunchier and there is no treat its equal in all the world. The kids all took to Oma’s meat buns or Mennonite Fleish peroski. Oma always made sure to have mac and cheese and chicken nuggets to cater to the culinary peccadillos of her grandchildren.

Mom did not ignore the grownups when the kids came along. She knew how busy life is with kids in the house. Jackson was a newborn and Mom was delivering meals, batches of meat buns and some treats to keep us going. After that, containers of soups were delivered (with full credit to Dad, her soup chef), meat buns or a meal. Always with love and concern for our well-being.

CHRISTMAS

Christmas was really something special. The official celebrations began sometime after Mom’s birthday on November 15th when the Christmas dishes came out. The special dishes epitomized the season and its celebrations. Days and days were spent tastefully decorating every nook and cranny of 4805 Meadfeild Road every year. A large red cross on the front door was lit with a spotlight that could be viewed for blocks (my Mom was no fool for marrying an engineer to set that up). The house was transformed with poinsettias, real cedar centrepieces, wreaths, candles, a manger scene and of course a magnificent tree with decorations, many of sentimental significance The atmosphere and warmth was Irmie Konrad personified.

The celebrations and traditions of Christmas included special meals. My brothers and I are all the discriminating type when it comes to matters of the heart. Which meant that by the time each of us had found someone acceptable for matrimony, we were each in our mid to late thirties. What this meant, apart from forcing my Mom to accept that even with 3 children, she may not get grandchildren out of the deal, that Christmas during our many single adult years was a 5 to 10 day family sleepover. The freezer was full with baking, the meals were planned, the puzzle was chosen and we hunkered down for days and days of family bonding.

All the decorations stayed until Epiphany when Christmas was all packed up for another year. I used to ask Mom if she hated taking down Christmas. I assumed she would because I hate taking down Christmas. And because she had about 10 times more items to put away. But she made it a ritual and it was part of the celebration, not something to just get done.

GIVING

My Mom was a giver. She thought of others first, was generous without limit. Her generous heart was shared with many whose paths she crossed. Sometimes she gave in very tangible ways.

When I was pregnant with Jackson, her first grandchild, someone told her “you can’t have too many receiving blankets” and so began the Oma blanket factory. The first step was a trip to the fabric store to pick an adorable fabric. Then came measuring and hemming the edges to precision. But what made the blankets so special was the personalized detail of crocheting the edges. I can still see Mom bending over the ironing board with a ruler and pencil marking the fabric to ensure the crocheting was evenly spaced and perfectly straight. By the time Jackson arrived I had at least 20 special receiving blankets.

Little did she know the precedent she was setting. I was well pregnant with Jackson when Doug and Lori announced that Erin was on the way and the one woman blanket brigade was pressed into service. After that there was Sydney and Lian and Kyle who each enjoyed these special baby blankets.

Sometimes my Mom’s giving was in words. When Jackson, our son was born. John and I fumbled around trying to figure out how often to change diapers and work out the feedings and figure out if that little high pitched squeak was really a burp or if there was another one coming. My hormones were of course raging and we were both tired and really felt inadequate to the task. My Mom did not give us any unsolicited advice, although we surely needed it. She told us “you are doing a great job” “you are naturals” “you have really taken to parenting”. The power of those affirmations at that time was enormous.

At her last appointment with her oncologist, Dr. Sascha delivered the news that her kidneys seemed to be failing and there seemed to be no way to stop the disease. After he answered our questions, he left the room. It was quiet for a moment as we tried to absorb the news. Though the news was expected at that point, it still took my breath away. My Mom’s first words might have been expected to be “not what we were hoping for” or “not what I wanted to hear”. Rather s he said of Dr. Sascha “that man has a hard job to do.” Empathetic to the end.

FAITH

Mom’s faith was as intense as it was important. She lived out her faith out by helping others, baking, supporting, praying, teaching, serving, loving and caring. She was a cheerful giver and served her Lord so faithfully.

She prayed for family and friends and with family and friends. Here at her church home at West Van Baptist she made so many, many wonderful friends. One of the reasons I know this is in the last week before she died we received countless calls, emails and offers of food. We had a veritable smorgasbord to enjoy every night. I will be contacting some of you for recipes.

There are many things that are God-ordained about the last month. In April, I wanted to set up a weekend for the 13 of us to go away. It took weeks to coordinate our schedules. In the end the only weekend that worked was Mother’s Day which was one of the last weekends she felt well enough to have enjoyed it. We are so very, very glad we had that time together.

My Mom prayed that if she was to die, that she would have an easy death and wanted to die at home. God granted his faithful daughter her wish. In the end her death was quick. At home. And free of pain. And she is now free for all eternity of the discomfort, weakness, fatigue and all symptoms of cancer and treatment that dogged her for the last 2 ½ years.

INFLUENCES

Mom entered the world during the great depression. In her lifetime a great many things were discovered, invented and developed. She had come to enjoy life transforming inventions like the microwave, the speaker phone, and fat-free sour cream. But I will say that none of the modern inventions, conveniences meant as much to her as one. And that is cheap long distance plans.

In the last number of years she has enjoyed unfettered access to many, but in particular her two sisters, Edith and Hildy. Anything from a good recipe, interesting news headline, a good joke, a piece of family news or just update from the latest doctor’s appointment was worthy of a phone call. I thought at times that Dad should have installed and open access mic to Auntie Hildy’s house, just to save the trouble of pressing the speed dial button. I know that the companionship of her sisters by phone has meant a lot, especially in the past couple years when her travels and other activities have been more limited.

Well over twenty years ago a woman named Ruth prayed. She prayed for a friend. A special friend. She prayed for a full year and then one day sat a table with my Mom at the Christian Women’s Lunch. Ruth said she knew. There was just something very special about Irmie. My Mom noticed Ruth immediately. What did she notice about Ruth? Her blouse.

For over twenty years they enjoyed lunches and coffees and walks and a steady and enduring friendship. Ruth preceded Mom into the world of grandmothering and I know that they shared many a brag session over the exploits of their grandchildren. I don’t know if Ruth will be praying for a new special friend, but I have one thing to say to her: I like your blouse.

Something needs to be said about my Dad. By the time he retired he already had an impressive resume as an engineer and management consultant. In his retirement he became the skipper of his own ship and consummate genealogist as he and Mom traced their family tree. After the past few years he can add to his resume, laboratory analyst as he surveilled beta 1 globulin, the tumour marker for multiple myeloma more closely than the US government tracked ever tracked Osama Bin Laden. He knew not only Mom’s current white blood count, red blood count, neutrophils, haemoglobin, creatinen, calcium and platelets but also the range for such things and what it meant. There were spreadsheets involved, bar graphs and Dr. Sascha always welcomed Mom, Dad and his black notebook with a long list of questions Dad compiled with input from Mom.

Dad became the procurer of organic foods and vitamins and supplements as Mom did everything in her power to be strong and give her body every edge to fight the multiple myeloma. He has chauffeured Mom to appointments, for blood draws and to specialists. He has read all the medical literature on multiple myeloma and all the treatments. In more recent days I saw my Dad an extraordinary nurse and companion.

We all know that Dad will miss a great many things about Mom. They shared almost 55 years of marriage, 3 kids, 1 dog, 5 grandchildren, lived in 6 cities, 8 houses, had 7 church homes, took countless trips, many adventures and of course had a little heartache. But there is one irreplaceable service that she rendered him that no one can replace. This service is born of the decades they spent together intersecting with my Mom’s remarkable memory. It is instant name recall. We have frequently heard these conversations increasingly over the past 10 years:

Dad: Irmie, what is the name of the guy, you know, the one with the brothers?

Mom: Ernie Friesen

Or this:

Dad: Irmie, what is the name of the old lady, she lived by the river?

Mom: You mean the one with the …

Dad: No not that one, the other one.

Mom: Mrs. Peterson

Or this:

Dad: Irmie, who is the guy, you know who got the things and then he got other thing?

Mom: Bob Stewart. He had rickets and then got a brain tumour.

This skill was worthy of being on a game show. My Mom would know who he was talking about even without context, city or what decade he was talking about.

In conclusion, I will say that Mom’s influence on our family is profound. Though it is difficult to imagine the Konrads going forward without her, her love and devotion has formed us, guided us and will live on in us. Her last wish was for God’s peace for her family and for all who loved her. May it be so.

3 comments:

Ted said...

What a wonderful and amazing tribute to at truly wonderful wonderful woman. It is hard to imagine your dad without Irmie, or Irmie without your dad.
Certainly to know her was to love her. She so reminded me of my mom and so much of what you wrote in this tribute just confirmed that.
I feel privileged to have known her and been a guest in their home many times. I hope I carry some of those genes as they are a great blessing.

Ted Baerg (Irmie's cousin)

JDL56 said...

A beautiful reflection, Heather . . . sorry again for your loss.

Reading the obit, I discovered that your mother and I shared the same birthday. It's a shame we never got to celebrate it together.

John Longhurst

Sherry said...

Heather, this was beautiful. I am so sorry for your loss. I know how hard it is, and will be for a while. I do know that in the months and years to come, you are going to discover your mom in so many nooks and crannies of your life. Sometimes it will come as a surprise, but it is the greatest feeling when you realize there are places you will find her. You offered me a great deal of support and comfort when my mom passed, and I I hope you know you can write me anytime.