Jill Of Some Trades

And Master Of At Least One


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He Only Has One Ball and Other Ways My Mother Made Me Laugh

My mother and I were in the hospital as she was getting another treatment about a year before she died. My mother was in a bed, but there was a gentleman close by in a chair talking LOUDLY about his orchiectomy. I looked a my mother with a question in my eyes because she was very well versed in medical terminology, having worked in my father’s office for so many years. My mother looked at me, and in a very LOUD whisper said “He only has one ball.” I looked at her, and she looked at me, and we were in tears, we were laughing so hard. The gentleman never knew the difference, but he was such a loud talker, every time he got on the phone, my mother and I would mouth “He only has one ball” to each other and each time, we cracked up. Whatever the situation, and no matter how sick she was, my mother either made me laugh or she would find something humorous in a situation. She had an amazing sense of humour and was one of the funniest people that I have ever met.

One of Joe Biden’s (yes, I know, but the quote fits) most famous quotes is that “The day will come when the memory of the person that you lost will bring a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.” The good news is that sometimes, I laugh before the tears come when I think about some of the things that my mother has said and done or just an expression that she had on her face. My tiny mother was the source of so many big laughs over the years. As time goes by, one of my biggest fears is that I’ll forget something that she has said or done or even just her hilarious reactions to my own oopsies. Maybe these stories are just funny to me, but the greatest gift that I can give my mother now is to remember her.

Flirting With the Fireman

I remember the last time that my mother had to go to the Emergency Room. My aunt was in town, and it was October 2017. My mother was short of breath and I was so worried. I called 911, and the firefighters were the first responders on the scene. All of the sudden, my mother, who was so sick, was WIDE AWAKE and started flirting with the fireman, who she thought looked like Tom Selleck. I was trying to give him information to, you know, hopefully save her life, and she asked him to take her to the bar across the street instead of the hospital. He left the room for one minute, but he had a big smile on his face. I was pleading with her to be good for just 5 minutes. She’s said, “Jill, he’s so handsome, I wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating crackers.” I was torn between laughing hysterically and scolding her. She had a huge smile, so I told her to be good. She kept flirting with him at the hospital too. I gave up.

The World’s Most Expensive Coconut Cream Pie

I’ve always been gullible and my mother always took advantage of that fact for her own amusement. Every year for our birthday, we get to pick our birthday cake. My mother made the absolute best mocha chiffon cake, but the poor woman had to make it so many times, I decided to give her a break. I prefer pie over cake, so I asked for the coconut cream pie from Scaramouche (a fancy Italian restaurant in Toronto). I had never had it before, and just wanted her to get a slice, but that wasn’t my mother. She bought the pie and informed me that it cost $110 but whatever her baby wants, her baby gets. She bought it about a week before my birthday and left it in the freezer.

Every single day for that week, she reminded me how much it was. She’d make little remarks like, you know, it was expensive, but how could I say no to you? I felt sicker and sicker by the day, and I said when you found out the price, you should have said no. My little Mummy told me that she would never do that to me, but she wasn’t sure if I was worth every penny. The day arrives, and I’m sick over it. I’ve never been big on my birthday on a good year, but I felt so selfish. It’s birthday cake time, and I was MISERABLE thinking how could I have made my mother spend that much money. She looked at me, with the BIGGEST smile on her face and said, “What, are you stupid? Did you really think I’d spend $110 on a pie? Jesus Murphy (still not sure who he is, but my mother said Jesus Murphy often) you are gullible. It was $35. Now get that look off of your face and put a smile on it.” I said you were stringing me along this whole time? My mother said, “You bet, and you fall for it every single time. It’s like taking candy from a baby” She killed herself laughing, and then, after berating her for taking advantage of the weak and the helpless, I joined in.

You Look Like a Hooker

My mother was bed-ridden and for the first little while, she had many different care givers until we got her into a routine with the favourite five that would take over. I came to see her just about every day, to check and make sure that she was ok, especially when someone new was there. I walk in, and let’s just say she was wearing makeup from a bad fairy tale. Yes, her lips were as red as blood, but it was her eyebrows that were as black as ebony and Snow White didn’t wear bright green eyeshadow or smudge jet black eye pencil around her eyes. I took one look at her and started laughing and so did she. She said that they woman was trying to be nice and make her feel good by putting some makeup on her. Now, my mother and I both have an inappropriate sense of humour, so half of the things that I find hysterically funny, will never be written. She could also laugh at herself and I never needed a filter around her.

I said, “You look like a cheap hooker. I’m going to take you down the street and sell you for $5 for 5 minutes.” My mother, almost always had an answer for everything and she looked at me and said, “Oh Jill, your awful. I couldn’t last five minutes.” Me, “Ok, I’ll bring the stretcher down and sell you for one minute, there is a market for everything.” My mother said, “Well, you aren’t wrong.” Then we both cracked up. Yes, I know – no harm is meant by this comment.

She Gave Me Fudge

During my mother’s illness, I was constantly in a state of high alert. I constantly had to advocate for her. My goal was for her to spend any energy that she had on herself and things that she enjoyed. I was the squeaky wheel at the hospital going 48 hours before her treatment, telling them that she would need a bed and that they needed to make a note and put it on the white board. The receptionists would always remind me that they don’t hold beds, and I would always politely tell them that I knew that this wasn’t the case and that I would wait until her name was down for one.

I was the one who dealt with the pharmacists, the doctors, the lab, and the list went on and on. My mother needed an emergency blood transfusion about two months before she died and they did not have a bed for my bed ridden mother. Her caregiver and I were together, and I was having a fit. I reminded the nurse about the compression fracture that my mother had in her spine. I reminded her that she was very sick. She told me that there were other sick people as well. I reminded her that I wasn’t insensitive, but were they as sick as my mother, for she was the only patient that I cared about.

Anyway, long story short, we did not bond. I was doing my usual, my mother needs this, and this, and what if this happens, etc. The nurse condescendingly told me that there was only supposed to be one person with my mother and either I or the caregiver would need to leave. I always got along with my mother’s nurses, but this one was a piece of work. My mother looked at me, and said, “I’m fine Jill, it’s ok.” and she meant it. I also didn’t want to stress her out, so I said fine, but I’m coming back. Her wonderful caregiver gave me a look like huh? Did that just happen?

I get back about 2 hours later, and my mother is snuggled up in a bed eating fudge, her favourite food of all time. She had a huge smile on her face, and she said the following, “Hi Jill. I told you I was fine. The nurse was so nice. I don’t know why you didn’t get along with her. She got me a bed about ten minutes after you left. And look, she gave me fudge.” Me, “She was horrible to me and Narda agreed (one of her wonderful caregivers). Are you telling me that all it takes for you to forget that fact is some fudge?” She said “You bet.” and popped another piece in her mouth. I told her that in no uncertain terms that she was a brat who could be bribed.

Forever Lost

My mother had the absolute worst sense of direction. She was a great driver though. If she drove us somewhere, she would always go the wrong way. Sadly, it didn’t matter that she was in the car with my sister and I who know the city, she still, somehow got it wrong. Every time I would tell her to go east, she would say “Never you mind with your east, west, north and south, just tell me right or left.” My sister would tell her to turn right. Of course she would turn left and we would be lost in suburbia. I would always spot the way to a major intersection and she would somehow follow those directions. Then she would say, without a trace of irony, “Wasn’t that nice? You got to see a new neighbourhood.” My sister and I would roll our eyes, but then we would all crack up.

There are so many more things that my mother did that were even more funny, I could write a book. Mother’s Day now, reminds me of being the kid who has to stand outside the candy store and can’t come in. I know that this year is different with the self-quarantine, but every email with a Mother’s Day reminder from a retailer or hearing people talk about what they are going to do with their mother stings. I know that it always will, but I will be forever grateful that I had such a wonderful mother.


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My Father and the Little White Box

A few months ago, I received a message from my step-sister letting me know that she had some of my father’s things and offered to ship them to me. This was very kind given that we only met once. My father and I had a strained relationship at best. I am not going to get into the details. It is no longer a factor in my life, and even though I had issues with my father, I do not have Daddy issues. To be fair to someone who cannot defend themselves, those problems belong in the past. I forgave my father a long time ago. I am writing about it today because it is the fourth anniversary of my father’s funeral.

I was curious to see what would be in the box and two padded envelopes that were coming. Maybe a piece of information that would help me understand my father a little, maybe an unseen photo of my mother (likely not) or even my mother’s parents. The box and packages came separately, and when I opened them, it was a lot of family photos from my father’s side of the family. I didn’t really know many of the people. There were a couple of photos of me, and many more of my sisters (the curse of being the youngest child). They also contained his medical diplomas, a cub scout hat from when he was a child, two rings (his medical school ring and a class ring) and finally a digital watch and a couple of other men’s “fashion” watches.

The items themselves didn’t make me feel much of anything. What saddened me the most was that his life came down to a little white box. Imagine living for 83 years, and that is your legacy. I think about my mother, and her life was so much more. Recently, I had a charity come and pick up most of her clothes, some kitchenware, books, cds, toys and a few knick knacks. It was just under 20 boxes and bags. I’ve thrown out 8 garbage bags of things and gave another couple of bags to a senior’s home. Her house is still crowded with her life, her things. My mother had a bigger life. She had interests. She was an artist – a pottery and needlepoint buff. She had so many photos and other treasures. It is all proof to me that she was once vibrantly alive.

My father didn’t have a big life. He was all about his medical practice. He enjoyed gardening and reading, but he was also very introverted. My mother had a presence about her. I remember watching her at her sickest moments, noticing that she still had a spark – a will to live. When I saw my father in February of 2015 for the first time in almost 20 years, it would also be the last time that I saw him. He was gravely ill, but even worse, he didn’t have that energy, that will, that my mother did. My mother’s death left me aching for her presence, but comforted in the fact that I can see that her life had meaning, because of what she created and because of the impact that she had on people. My father’s death left me sad for a person that didn’t have an anchor. When I grieve for my mother, I grieve for her loss and for what I lost. When grieved for my father, it was for the things that I never had. Now what I have is that little white box.


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One Year…

“What is it like?” I was asked by a woman who shall remain nameless. “What is what like?”, although I knew the answer before she told me….”What does it feel like when you lose your mother? I’m so close to mine that I can’t even imagine…” She looked at me pleadingly, and I asked her if she really wanted to know and she nodded. “It’s a ache in your heart that just never goes away. It is a nervous buzzing in your stomach that gives you a feeling of always being on edge. It is a lump in your throat that you cannot swallow away. You cry in unexpected places at unexpected times because you saw a mother with her child and it made you miss yours. There is the feeling that you are seeking something that you can no longer find. The best days are bittersweet because you can’t share your happiness with the person that would take the most joy from it. The difficult days are even harder because your mother is no longer there to comfort you. That is the best way I can describe it.” She looked at me with such shock and horror that I almost regretted telling her.

Grief has become my comfort and my foe. It is always there, a feeling like a dam that can burst at any time. It is a comfort because it has been a constant, and it is my foe because of how easy it could be to just be about it. I feel myself moving on, but more because that’s what I know that my mother would want, and even in death, I cannot disappoint her. Days go by quickly, and in some ways in slow motion. People expect after a period of time that your mourning has ended once you get through all of the firsts, but I want to tell them that it is just the beginning. I’ve had half of my life with my mother, and I will likely have to live without her for almost as long. A year, a day, really, it’s the same. When I have a bad day, I remember a moment when I was beside myself, wondering what I would do without her, and how I could cope with my sister’s illness. When I said to her, “Mummy, what am I going to do?” She said, simply, and knowing what I meant, “You’ll live your life.”

When I think about my mother, I think of the silly little things that I miss. They make me smile when it is one of those days. In no particular order, they are:

  1. She would say, “I’m not happy.” and I’d ask her “So which one are you?” and she’d say, “Dopey.” Get it? Like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  2. When I was in her little storage room/office, I’d drop something, and she would say, “Is that you Dayo (her nickname for me)?” At first it would be lovingly said, then as I’d drop something else or hit my head as I always did, she would say, “JILL – what the eff are you doing in there?” Patience was not her strong suit, but it was funny.
  3. When she had one of her road rage moments in the car, giving someone the finger and swearing at them, and then looking at me with a big smile on her face as I barked like a dog at her.
  4. Laughing so hard at something together, that we were in tears, hyperventilating. This happened often and never stopped, no matter how sick she got.
  5. Sitting on the subway with her, as she stared at some weirdo or someone with a mohawk or who looked like they were carrying a knife, and me telling her to stop staring, that she was going to get stabbed, and she would continue to stare anyway while I rolled my eyes at her.
  6. Going to anything and being in the audience with her. My mother didn’t applaud like everyone else, she cheered and whooped loudly and proudly as my heart sank with embarassment at her.
  7. My sister is the treat queen and often hid candy at my mother’s, because my mother never found a cookie, cake, candy or pie that she didn’t like. She somehow always found the stash. One day, she told me to get her the jujubes that my sister had hidden, but when I went to get them for her, there were only green, yellow and black ones left. My mother had eaten all of the red and orange ones. She told me to go put the bag away, she didn’t like those colours and to get her something else. BRAT.
  8. The squeak of horror when she opened a menu on the one day a year, her birthday, that she would let us take her for dinner. Well, she didn’t allow us to take her, I had to tell her that it wasn’t gracious to rob us of the joy of taking her out. She was miserable, and acted like she had never seen the prices on the menu before, as she tsk-ed at each item. I also had to tell her if she ordered water and bread sticks, that we would take her out until she ate like a lady.
  9. The frantic phone call that I received when there was rain or snow. I also had to reassure her that I had an umbrella and/or a winter coat that I would zip up – every single time.
  10. Her shaking her head at me, with a big smile on her face, when I would do or say something silly.
  11. Her big smile when she would give me the finger.
  12. Her big smile when I walked in a room.
  13. Her big smile….

My mother had an amazing smile – it lit up her whole face. It was like she put everything she had into it. My mother was tiny, but her presence was so large. She filled a room even though, she took up so little space. Not a day goes by that I don’t get a little teary remembering something that she did or said. Not a day goes by that I don’t remember her strength and that is what gets me through missing her. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank my lucky stars that I had the world’s best mother. I think of a quote that I read at my mother’s funeral – “How lucky I am to having something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” How lucky indeed.