The picture on the cover is my Mom, Tess Tessier, taken when she was 17 years old. The picture here was taken in Terrace at the age of 87 when I visited her in February. Mom was happy to have a chauffeur as she had given up her driver’s license the year before and did not like depending on other people to drive her around. While I was there, Mom decided she wanted to come to visit me in the Kootenays for a while, and maybe even learn to use a computer. She was not feeling so peppy and occasionally she had been experiencing an accelerated heart rate and dizzy spells. Perhaps she sensed that something was happening, for just as I was about to leave on the plane, she looked me in the eye and said, “I want to die near you.” I said, “Whatever, the little house is empty, ask someone to drive you down.” She found a retired truck driver, as my brother was busy with his political campaigning.
Once we unpacked her boxes, Mom rested. The next day, she walked up the steep hill from the little house to our place. That evening, we had soup and a visit. The next morning, March 21, she sat up in bed and passed out. When I found her, her speech was slurred and hard to understand, and she could not move her left arm or leg, so Richard called the ambulance. The first night and next day in the hospital were the hardest as Mom struggled to understand why she could not walk or talk, but the morphine eased her distress and allowed her to be comfortable. I am grateful to have had some final moments at Mom’s side, kissing and squeezing her hand, seeing the beauty in her sunken face, and feeling the gratitude that I had for having such a remarkable Mom. She was a carefree spirit who lived on the edge, doing what she wanted, when she wanted. She lived life to the fullest, a doer of the first order. Mom usually manifested what she wanted and now that things had slowed down, she wanted a quick exit. She left us on March 25th at 8:50 pm.
Tess was raised in a convent and her Mom did not get to hug her very often, so on her final night on Earth, that is what I did. I climbed into bed with her and just held her, telling her how much I appreciated her beingness. Afterwards, looking through her boxes, I found a file called Memoirs, where she talked about the nuns rapping her knuckles if she giggled, making her stand up to eat soup if she slurped and many more sad memories. When one is raised within such rigid parameters, the soul often rebels, seeking freedom from authority and a place to belong. She had to do things her way and seldom listened to advice, which made it difficult for people to live with her. Her sense of belonging went to the animals that she looked after and who adored her back. Many times she would say, “Dogs never talk back,” plus they would do a little dance whenever she returned and that gave her a sense of happiness. She felt they set a good example: live in the moment, expect someone to feed and provide a roof, and get lots of exercise.
Over the years, I often joked with Mom that I thought her life purpose was to learn to be a Grandma. When I had my three children, she said she was too young for that and chose not to be around too much, although she did live with my family several times. She claimed to be part-gypsy and drove a purple motor home with splashy murals on it, touring many primary schools with her twelve dogs, teaching that if dogs can get along, so can children. Afterwards, she would do a slide show on her homesteading experiences or her adventures in the Arctic. She even published a children’s book entitled Iceberg Tea, about her first poodle/terrier, Gigi, visiting the Arctic. Later she published The White Spirit Bear book, which is an amazing collection of photographs from colleagues and friends.
For the past twenty years, Tess has lived near my brother Michael, his wife Patty and their twelve children, giving her ample opportunity to learn how to interact with people and be a Grandma. I am grateful that Michael is a dedicated son with an understanding wife who gave their kids that experience. Community and family life helps us to see our patterns and gives growth to our soul.
I am so glad that I did not put off my visit to Terrace, thinking I was too busy, till it was too late. I had wanted to visit for her birthday, November 30 (1925), but flights and timing did not work so I arranged it during my next distribution trip as it is easier to fly out of Penticton than Castlegar.
As usual, the angels have a plan and the timing was good, for I had booked a booth at the Body, Mind and Spirit Expo in Calgary, April 5-7. Afterwards I drove to Edmonton to visit my two grand-kids. The next day, my two sons and I drove to Terrace for Tess’s Celebration of Life. We decorated the place with orchids and gave away many more, as that is something Mom would have liked. The grand-children arranged a slide show at the Celebration of Life and that evening, the family gathered for a longer explanation of our ancestry, reshowing the photos.
Mom always kept those stories alive as she was proud of the women she descended from, and the good deeds they did, at a time when it was not easy being a woman. Her grandmother moved to the Arctic in 1921 as a nurse and school teacher, and eventually operated a twenty-room hotel and trading post. In 1938, in a desperate attempt to get more supplies into Aklavik, she journeyed the Slave, Athabascan and Mckenzie Rivers twice in one season and brought back ten ton of supplies each time. This was something unheard of, for if the river froze early, you would not be getting home. Tess’s mother was a jockey and her father was a vet. When Mom and her two brothers were born, she became a shop-keeper and sold supplies to the Russian/Ukrainian folks as she had learned that language when she travelled there. This too was something unheard of at the time, as Russia was a communist state back then. There were so many interesting tales to share about her life.
After Mom died, I phoned the funeral home to ask the price of cremation and was told that $3,800 includes everything. I also talked to my cousin from Calgary, whose husband died recently, and she said it costs about $1,500 in Alberta for pick up, paperwork, casket, urn, everything. So I thought the BC cost was expensive and I asked for a breakdown: administration fees were about $2,000, with an added $1,000 for the cremation, $400 to transport the body and $400 for the casket. I asked if we could do some of this ourselves. The lady on the phone did her best to convince me that it was not easy and that it might take me up to six weeks to get the paperwork done whereas she could guarantee it within 24 hours. When I asked about picking up the body, she continued that there are many regulations. Richard then called Service BC to investigate further and I went to their website and printed off the forms. The regulations are: the casket must be enclosed, I.e., not in the back of a pick-up truck; the vehicle must be locked if you leave; and the process is to be done with respect.
The lady at the government office was knowledgeable and in just over an hour, I had the permit for transporting the body to the funeral home. While waiting for the e-mail, we filled in the data for the death certificate. It took Richard about a day to cut and hammer together a plywood coffin. Overall we saved $2,500. As a final tribute to Mom, I found a 1940s metal sugar canister to put her ashes in, which the pioneer spirit in her would have liked. Using stars and happy faces, I pasted on a recent picture so that people could see what she looked like.
I am glad I changed the print date last year as that change has allowed me to accommodate the time needed to finalize Mom’s last days. Issues magazine did get to print on time and the Spring Festival of Awareness is a wrap. When I get home from distribution, the garden will be awaiting my presence and I will know if my brother in Terrace got voted into politics. HIs daughter Meleah gave birth to a baby girl, April 15… and life continues onward.