All Souls Day – Honouring my Mom

This Samhain, I’m taking a break amid a busy theatre season, to breathe and reflect on my matrilineal ancestors. Namely my mother, my grandmother and my aunt. All have crossed the veil now. And this season, I am inviting them back to offer me their wisdom as I head into the coming month of directing, performing and honouring my muse.

One of the gifts my mother gave me was independence of thought. While I always knew we were “Anglican,” she never dictated to me what that meant. She allowed me to discover a spiritual life of my own. At times, I felt adrift, with no direction, and I didn’t appreciate the freedom that afforded me to find God of my own free will. I searched for years as a younger person. I read all kinds of books… the Bible, the Tao, Mere Christianity, The Witches’ Almanac and a ton of others both fiction and non-fiction, that helped me go within and search for meaning in this oftentimes meaningless world. What that allowed me was to find an integrated sense of spirituality that was not dogma imposed upon me from without, but instinct that grew and flourished from within. So I recognise many holy days. And these mid-autumn days of the thinning veil, the end of the cycle of the wheel of life are among the most reverent for me. I love the fun of Halloween parties and dressing in all manner of costumes; one year I even attended a Wiccan Sabbat. A Catholic-raised friend who attended with me, remarked that it was quite similar to the Mass she attended every Christmas Eve as a child! For years, I faithfully took my daughter trick-or-treating in scary costumes and always described the Wiccan meaning of the holy day to her. This year she finally said, “I know, Mom – you tell me this every year…” LOL. It’s true. I do. I like to honour the spiritual and pagan roots of these holidays amid the commercial cacophony, while still allowing room for the fun of it.

For this, I have my mother to thank. For her lack of indoctrination and her permission to find my own meaning in my life.

Some years ago, the concept of three sisters began to bubble to the surface of my consciousness and took on particular significance for me. Macbeth’s three weird sisters grabbed my imagination, and when I journeyed to England following that production in 2013, I visited Bath, where among the ruins was a carving of three female figures in the ancient Roman baths that honoured the Goddess Minerva. The following year I directed a play about three sisters, The Attic, The Pearls and Three Fine Girls and a few years later still, I performed as the middle sister of three, Sister Theresa in Marion Bridge. Three plays, three sisters. My mother was the middle of three sisters, and if you can believe it, I have only just drawn that connection now, as I write this. In Wicca tradition, the triple aspect of the Goddess: Mother, Maiden and Crone mirrors the Christian trinity of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. To me, they both exist in all of us as the feminine and masculine aspects of the Divine.

My mother’s older sister was named Marilyn, but everyone called her Dee Dee (or DiDi, DeDe, or just DD). I have no idea where it came from, nor how to spell it, but she was always my favourite Auntie Dee Dee. She died of cirrhosis of the liver when I was 19 and I was devastated. She had always been the member of the family with whom I identified. She was a writer and an actor, like me, but her disease prevented her from ever honouring her muse and for years I feared that hers would be my fate too. In the final years of Dee Dee’s life, we had begun writing letters to each other, after many years apart, during which she admitted her powerlessness to quit drinking. It had a profound impact on my own resolve and I faced that demon in my mid-20s before it could really take hold. So now, when I act, write and create, I do so in memory of my Auntie Dee Dee, who could never overcome her demon, and died alone, unhappy and ashamed of herself. I carry a wee bit of her shame in me, still. But every day, I wake up, put two feet on the ground and keep going for her, for me, for my daughter and for my mother, Donna, who also gave up her dreams at a young age.

Donna had been a figure skater as a young girl. And she was good. Long ago, she told me that she could have skated with the Ice Capades – she was that good. The way she told it, she was at the tryouts, where they were signing skaters up or dismissing them there and then. Mom watched as one by one the girls ahead of her took to the ice and showed the recruiters what they could do. And Donna knew she was better than the girl who was signed on the spot right ahead of her. So she left. She didn’t want to join the Ice Capades because it would mean leaving my father for the season, and she would miss him too much.

My parents’ wedding. The bridesmaids from left: Aunt Diane (Dad’s sister), Aunt Barb (Mom’s younger sister) and Auntie DeeDee

I never wanted to put a man ahead of my ambition. That was a lesson I learned very early on from my mother. My dreams came first.

In the final years of my mother’s life, we were largely estranged. I lived here in BC, while she convalesced for years after a devastating fall left her mostly paralyzed from the waist down. She had some movement in her legs, but she never fully regained their use and ended her life homebound for many years. It was a tragedy that I was never able to nurse her through. I was re-building my life here in Vancouver, raising a daughter on my own, and I left my mother to be cared for by my stepfather, her second husband of about 40 years. Two years after her death, the guilt weighs on me. And so I write this tribute to her as best I can, trying to find the legacy that she has left me, along with Dee Dee, and my Grandma Molly whose death I grieved long ago at the age of 11.

Mom learning to walk again with the help of her husband, Bob. 2002

When Molly died, I was still reeling from my parents’ divorce and my mother’s re-marriage. It was a difficult time to make sense of the loss, so I wrote a novella about a young girl who was dying of leukemia. Somehow, that outlet allowed me to channel my grief in a way that wouldn’t overwhelm me. I read that novella over the phone to Dee Dee, while she listened in rapt attention. Dee Dee always honoured and fostered my creative muse. I continue to channel my grief through my art to this day. As any of you who’ve lost a loved one knows, grief is a continuous process and I’m sure I’m not done yet.

I regret that my mother and I weren’t closer, but it’s a reality that I had come to accept over the years, as she had made it clear long ago where I fit into her priorities. “Amy, you’re my daughter and I love you, but in the end it will be my husband who is there for me, so I have to put him first.” And she was right. It makes grieving that much harder, ironically, because I just don’t really know how. I stopped missing her years ago. As a character in one of the plays I’m rehearsing right now says, “She’s been dead for forty years; we finally buried her.” That is a horrible thing to say in a memorial for my mother, but it’s true. In Donna’s case, it was after her accident in 2001. She never really recovered, and our relationship died a slow death, despite my faithful weekly phone calls. I don’t think my stepfather has ever forgiven me.

So, this is it. I have bared my soul on this All Souls Day, in memory of my mother, in confession of my sins as a daughter. In all likelihood, I will rarely speak of her again. But I will leave you with this… my mother was there for me at critical times during my life. Years ago, I was living in New York when I became pregnant and had an abortion. I only told my Mom after the fact, but she immediately booked a flight and came to New York to be with me. It was the only time in her life she would get on a plane to come visit me. I was her daughter and when she thought I needed her, she came to me.

Mom and Me with my niece, 1998 (left) and in Brampton, 1996 (right)

Finally, some years ago, I was reminded of the Catholic tradition of The Feast of All Saints (also a novel by Anne Rice), in which a feast is served on November 1st in honour of the saints and martyrs. It’s also a day of remembrance for loved ones who’ve passed, and at the time I had Dee Dee’s ashes with me, but had yet to take them to the trees and river where she and my mom now rest. So, I cooked a feast, set a place for Dee Dee, opened the door and invited her in. Within a few days, would you believe it? I got a friend request from Dee Dee’s daughter, a cousin I hadn’t spoken to in about 30 years. Coincidence? Perhaps. But I choose to think that Dee Dee snuck through the veil for a moment to reconnect through me and my cousin.

The great red cedar grove where Donna and DeeDee rest together.

In Anglican tradition, in which I had myself and my daughter baptized, All Souls Day is celebrated on November 2nd and is the day when we call our ancestors and invite them to come to us, to live within and through us. Today I cherish the memory of my mother, my aunt and my grandmother, all 3; I invite them to come to me, and remember that they will always live in me as the triple aspect of the goddess and my divine feminine. Blessed Be.

A video memorial for my mother: Sept. 6, 1941 – October 3, 2020
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Author: Renaissance Woman

Writer-Director

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