Marnie Haines Howell
Spirit of Christmas Writing Contest, honourable mention
Losing a parent is difficult. The pain is so deep you don’t think you can go on. When my dad, Bob Haines passed in 2009, I never thought my broken heart would heal. I can only imagine how mom felt, losing her husband of 51 years – the lost feeling that haunted her the remainder of her life. On November 24, 2021, my sisters and I were left in deep grief, losing her as well.
While this is an obituary, of sort, it’s also a tribute to a complex lady that will never be forgotten – a woman of strength, courage and feistiness like no other. Our mother came from humble beginnings, growing up north of Williams Lake in Soda Creek and Deep Creek, where our family home sits in the beautiful valley below “the old ski hill,” visible out our living room window. This is where dad taught himself to downhill ski, tumbling down the hill in clouds of snow while mom watched from the lodge wondering, “who is that poor guy having a heck of a time?” only to discover it was dad when he finally arrived at the bottom, brushing himself off. She’d laugh, telling that story.
Mom’s childhood home still sits, falling apart with its boards lying here and there, yet still filled with memories. It remains just past the Deep Creek/North Gables Store (as it was called when I grew up). The Evans homestead was a beautiful little ranch, sitting below the road, where her Grandpa, George Evans Senior pre-empted the property, clearing it and haying it regularly, keeping cows and horses. Mom always said of her own dad – George Evans Junior, “Daddy would work all day, haying until there was not one piece of hay left on the field.”
Mom’s life was spent going between Soda Creek, living with her Grandma, Augusta Evans and then to their homestead at Deep Creek without running water, only wood heat and no electricity, packing wood and water up the hill leading to the old house. Eventually the Deep Creek home got electricity but packing the wood and water continued.
Mom had three brothers, Georgie, Joey and Aaron who always called her “sis.” She faced many hardships starting as a young child and lady, having lost her two brothers when they were young, along with countless relatives. Eventually, she also lost her parents, her best friend, other brother, husband and her sons. One by one, they left her with a broken heart to mend. Even through her tears and pain, mom kept going with her feisty attitude and sense of humour – to the outside world.
What most people didn’t see was the raw, gentle vulnerability that I had the privilege of being there to comfort her with, time and time again. You see, in the past five years mom was experiencing mild dementia. Her short-term memory suffered. Yet on long drives, I’d ask her to tell me stories of when she grew up, to which she was able to give great detail and would speak of endlessly. Mom’s many moves after dad passed, trying to get away from the painful memories of the home they made meant our childhood home was left empty, uncared for and getting run-down. Mom kept searching for that homey feeling she had made with dad but just couldn’t establish it anywhere else. She still believed she could live on her own, but eventually surrendered her license, being in and out of the hospital with many health issues. My husband and I took her into our home also, giving her a space of her own. With her last hospital stay, I fought to get her a room at the Deni House, so we could begin the process of moving her to a senior’s apartment, as she requested. She was finally “set up” in her beautiful apartment but her heart was always at Deep Creek. When her last son, passed six months ago, mom ended up back at Deep Creek because “it was too damn lonely in there!” Living with my sister on our family property, mom saw out the kitchen window, her lost dream – the home she once knew with dad, sitting on the hill empty and dark, bringing instant tears of sadness about her once-happy, vibrant life there.
With mom’s dementia and health issues, came the loss of stability and confidence to move safely, having experienced some horrible falls. Mom was afraid to shower and bathe on her own. I was the only person she allowed to shower her in many hospital stays, the Deni House and her apartment. She’d fight me each time, saying I was “bossy” or “I just showered the other day!” when in fact it had been two or three days. In our home, I’d take time to do her hair and pluck her eyebrows. We shopped for makeup because she wanted to be the person she had been – someone who took great care in dressing beautifully, with her hair and makeup done. As a young girl, she’d told me, “always take care of yourself. Make yourself look nice, no matter what!” So each of these times, I knew she was proud and felt good again.
Lately, mom no longer fought me on “shower days.” It was very difficult for her. Each time, she broke down in tears, crying for dad, upset with the fact she needed help; she couldn’t do it on her own; that she was helpless. She complained that she was “like an old woman!” I’d hold her wet, tiny body in the towel, hugging her, saying, “it’s okay, mom!” I let her cry and then lightened the mood saying, “well you are an old woman!!! You are 80 years old!!!” to which she laughed, collecting herself again. I reassured her, “it’s okay, mom. I’m here to help and this is what we’re supposed to do as kids – take care of you, just like you took care of us.” Even though she and dad didn’t have much money, with five children to feed and clothe, she ensured we had always had nice clothes and a clean home. Clothes she sewed for us when we were young and a house we had to dust, mop and vacuum regularly! As little girls, she sewed summer tops from the towels that came in the laundry soap boxes as give away gifts.
After dressing mom from showering, doing her hair and cleaning her glasses, she’d leave the washroom feeling some dignity which was lost from having no home of her own, no license and relying on others, which she absolutely hated!
As difficult as it was during this private time, these were the sweetest, most cherished moments I hold.
She felt respected and safe, knowing I was doing the best I could to give her a bit of her “old self back.”
Thanking me, she’d say “what would I do without you?” I told her at one point, “well you would be happier without me bossing you!” Again, the laughter came with her response “yeah, you’re right!”
Each Christmas, since I moved back home in 2016, I’d take mom driving to see Christmas lights around the city.
I played Christmas music as we poked along through neighbourhoods. Mostly she loved people’s various displays of lights, but sometimes would say, “ugh!!! What are they thinking???” seeing some of the over-done displays on lawns.
When I sat by momma after she passed, one of my first thoughts was “I guess I’ll be doing our Christmas drive on my own this year. You were so close to having your last drive to see the lights, mom!”
Even though she won’t be with us to celebrate, I still hold her final gift to me and wear them fondly – a pair of teal blue, knitted mittens she bought me on one of our last outings.
She’d gotten herself a book but I saw her trying the mitts too, thinking “that’s good. She needs something warm for her little hands!” Afterwards, she pulled them out of the bag with a huge smile, saying, “these are for you!” I said, “mom! You don’t have to buy me anything!” To which, she said, “I want you to have them.”
Even though I knew mom’s pension was not much, she always delighted in giving a gift to us when she was able. But her biggest gifts were bringing people joy with her continued joking and laughing.
While Mom loved her family and many relatives deeply, she continued to long for dad, saying “there was only one dad.” We’d tease her about finding someone new and she’d say, “I don’t need another boss!”
I believe mom and dad are together again, happily playing guitars…singing the old country tunes they loved and were known for.
Their legacy is done here on earth but their gift of love, joy and laughter live on.
The sweetest gift from mom will warm my hands this Christmas. Yet, my heart is warmed with the most precious gift – the trust in me during her most vulnerable and last bit of time on Earth.