Grabbing Hold of Life

One year ago today, my mother died. I was with her as she passed through death into her new life.

During her short illness I started a few posts about the experience, and have published a couple of them. I’m hoping to share the others when the emotions are a little less raw.

Today though I want to let my brother reminisce, a story he shared after Mum died. It captures who she was, and reminds us of the potential we all have.

If you knew Phyllis, and you want to remember her in small ways, try this: pick up a book or a cat or both. She was always reading, and she often said she liked cats better than people.

Or do this: take a stab at stand-up comedy. NOW.


Because when she was 70 my mother and I had a long phone call. The purpose was a fact-finding one: Phyllis wanted to know how I had learned to do all the things I do – the writing, composing, directing, acting, singing etc. I told her I went to school, I found teachers, I read….

“That’s not what I really meant,” she said. “I meant how did you know you could do anything at all? You didn’t learn that from us.”

Phyllis had never found that one thing, that one calling that would satisfy her (except for reading!). She felt she had been a bad model in that way, never finding a vocation.

Fast forward 11 years. Another phone call from Ottawa.

“I found something I would like to do with my life,” she said. “Stand-up comedy.”

She agreed.

It might seem out of character for someone who spent all her time with books and cats, but this is how it happened:

Mother was always physically active, but in her senior years she found it was hard to find exercise classes that would accept her. They told her she was too old – or too blind. She wouldn’t accept that. So after she had heart surgery at 81, she was walking right away (and Phyllis walked FAST to avoid the pain of her arthritis) and she was back at tai chi after a week. She called the cardiologist’s office a week and a half after surgery to check on how soon she could go back to aquafit.

The doctor asked if she would be willing to talk to some physiotherapists and residents at the Civic Hospital about exercise for octogenarians, because they were sometimes reluctant to broach the subject with older patients.

To her surprise, it wasn’t a handful of people in a classroom. It was a lecture hall full.

“I started by telling them I hadn’t spoken in public since I introduced my Grade 7 class to my pet white mouse,” she giggled. “But I must have inherited something from you, because I told them stories, and I was funny, and they laughed, and afterward I was asked if I would come again.”

And then the punch to the gut:

“For the first time in my life I feel as if I have found something I would like to do, but it’s too late.”

I love her so much. And at that moment I wanted the entire world to stop still, to defy time and logic and her upbringing and clear all the decks of every dimension so my mum could have a shot at that one thing. And she couldn’t see that I was crying on the other end of the phone, and I wouldn’t tell her.


Read a book.

Pet a cat.

Tell jokes to a crowd.

Don’t wait to find your bliss.

I love you, mum.

I can’t have said it better myself. Go out and do something today to celebrate the lives of those you love.

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