February 21, 2013

One month since: In memory of Wendy Jacqueline Mansbridge Chase

31st March 1970. London – Vancouver. Depart Heathrow 2:55
Route – London, Scotland, Greenland, Iceland, Hudson’s Bay, Lake Athabasca, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver.
A 13-hour journey during which we were treated to dinner followed by tea followed by dinner again! A smooth flight and clear on most parts once away from G.B. Could see Iceland and Greenland. Once over N. Canada, a non-stop view of miles of ice and snow.
8 ½ hours to Edmonton which was snow covered and temp was 34 F, 1 hour stop, then ½ hr flight to Calgary where further short stop before final 1 ½ hrs to Vancouver.
Arrived to clear evening, and rather amusing shuntings with piles of luggage at airport.
With that single journal entry, my mother marked the beginning of her life on Canadian soil. No ceremony, no pomp, no musings of what the future in this new land might bring. Just a matter of fact record of the trip, and then, luggage gathered up, out into the wilds.

If the facts of Wendy’s life in Canada are what we’re after, then loosely collected, they might go something like this:

My mother, Wendy Jacqueline Mansbridge, flew to Canada with her friend Mary, both with teaching certificates in hand. Jobless, they both pledged to find work in a year or leave. They moved in with their friend Jane, who arrived before them, at a condo at 4691 w. 10th avenue in Vancouver.  The first months were peppered with odd jobs--babysitting mostly, delivering flyers and stuffing envelopes--and travelling about the town, the region and beyond, well into BC, discovering Terrace and Smithers (It would also appear, based on another journal entry, that on May 8th, 1970 there was a party, "small, noisy, drunken”).

The name ‘Jim’ starts to appear at the end of July of 1970:

“Jim, outside Orpheum. Drinks"
“Chinese smorgasbord – Marco Polo – Jim"
“Boozing with Jim, slightly too much beer”

A few other boys' names got mentioned in the coming weeks, too, but they all faded away. Soon, the record will show it was just ‘Jim’ standing alone (It is worth mentioning how Wendy was meeting these fellas: Personal want ads. Being resourceful but broke, how better to get to see your new town than for a local fella to take you out at their expense? Clever!) It may have been that Wendy wasn’t looking for love, but she found it in Jim all the same. 

Another simple entry in her journal later that year from September 24th: she landed a teaching job as she had set out to do. Again, no fanfare. Just a note, easily glossed over.  It would be the start of her life’s career in Canada.

Wendy married Jim of ‘want ads’ fame on June 2, 1973. 

Jim and Wendy moved to Kamloops, B.C., bought a little house and welcomed their first son Jamie into the world by summer 1976. Soon after, they found their dream home in a more rural spot out the east end of town. Wendy gave birth to their daughter, Kari in spring of 1978. I arrived in late 1979. That dream home in the community of Barnhartvale is where Jim and Wendy filled the rest of their days, with veggie gardens, cats and dogs and a consistency to life that we as kids were thankful to have.

Mum brought grace, courage and plenty of humour to repeated battles with the disease that took her from us, and in doing so, proved to us all that success is not simply found in an outcome. Success can be defined by the attempt. It is hard to watch someone get knocked down by bad news, over and over again, but it is nothing short of perfect inspiration to watch that person get up, accept what cannot change, and smile in the face of it. 

As reading through her daytimer of her first Canadian year showed me, her life did not need an exclamation point or a blare of trumpets. Life IS an explanation point and a blare of trumpets, all on its own. 

By sheer chance, I was there in mum’s final moment. A long journey was at its end. It all happened in just the understated style mum might have journaled about:

21st January, 2013 Kamloops -- ? Depart 2:oo pm. Route: up. 

Temperature, zero degrees under overcast skies. Lovely view across Kamloops. Quiet.  Family have all said their good-byes. Laboured, noisy breaths gave way to short, calm breaths. One breath, followed by another, followed by another, followed by another, followed by nothing. But wait...do I see Jim? 

No ceremony, no pomp, no musings of what the future in this new land might bring. Just a matter of fact record of the trip, and then, luggage gathered up, out into the wilds.

I know my mum had a whole life before Canada, but it was once the Canada chapter started that I, and my siblings, make sense. Without Wendy making the bold choice to strike out at age 24 and cross the Atlantic away from her family, her friends, her normal way of life to maybe find something new.... well, would I be here? Who knows! Some things just happen. My siblings and I got the unusual privilege of growing up in one single house, with two loving parents who did their best, and once we were grown and gone, we still got to come back to that house because Jim and Wendy never saw fit to move out of the best house that ever was.

Cancer was not a choice for either of my parents.  Some things just happen. How they chose to deal with their illness was, however, their choice.  As I said above, mum showed us how success is not always defined simply by the outcome. 

This is not merely an end-of-life-lesson that she blessed us with. It was a philosophy that she instilled in us as children, and presumably into the lives of every kid who had the privilege of being one of her students during her 35 years of teaching. We were always told by mum that as long as we tried hard, she would be proud, no matter the result.

It was a core of her values, and she lived it in every moment of her final days, weeks, and months. Mum, I told you before and I’ll say it again: You made us all so very proud in your attempt. Thank you for living your word.

You will be missed, mum. You ARE missed. Wide and deep.But we know you are reunited with dad, and your own mum and dad, and that you are without pain or suffering. For that, we are all so thankful. 

Before I sign off, I have one last story to tell--this will be a repeat for those at the service for mum. It takes place on New Year's Eve day, 2012. 

Mum had a bad day. No food or drink, largely uncommunicative,  confused when she was, pain ruling the day. 
I sat at her bedside. 
I asked 'can I hold your hand, mum?' 
No response. 
I took her hand, and as I did, said "I'm feeling really sad today, mum," and I started to cry. 
Mum, even in the state she was and all the while looking somewhere else, moved her other hand across her body and placed it on top of my hand.

Truly, "The heart has eyes that the mind knows nothing about". (a favourite quote of mine). 

My mum, was there just then. 
On a day when I felt so little hope, she restored it in an instant. What a gift for me to remember. 

I picture you today, mum, doing what you and dad loved to do, nestled into deck chairs at a lakefront camp site, watching the sun go down, reflected in calm waters. 

Rest easy and keep the campfire glowing. 

If that is the piece of heaven you earned, where the streets of gold have given way to the gravel and smell of pine, all I can say is that's where you may well want to be, and you earned it. 


The following is a video played at mum's celebration service, watched by the family and the hundreds gathered to celebrate her life (we hope she wasn't put out by all the fuss).The re-posting of this video here is especially for the benefit of those of you who could not be at the service who may have wished you could, but as well it is for those of you who didn't even know my mum. There is no rhyme or reason to the placement of the pictures, it is as random as life itself. Watch it, and take a quick glimpse into the wonderful existence of Wendy Jacqueline Mansbridge Chase.