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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Dear Mom

Today I buried my mom.  My heart hurts and I am exhausted.  I know that there are many emails of condolence waiting to be read.  I am told there are hundreds of kind words on Facebook and I look forward to reading them tomorrow.  But for tonight, I wanted to share a few photos for friends and family who were unable to attend the funeral today, and to share the memorial I wrote to my mom. Spencer read it for me today as I didn't have the courage to do it.  Again, thank you for your prayers- they got me through the last seven day.

Dear Mom,

I always knew that this day would come, but then again, I often wondered if you might just outlive us all. 

Mom, you were the smartest person that I know.  You were a genius, with all the charm and quirkiness that comes with being a genius.  You were always ahead of your time.  You were the only Pharmacist in the 1970’s who was also into holistic Medicine. Your goal was to find a solution to any and all heath issues   

Dad was the perfect partner for you for 50 years, and he was a wonderful father for me.  As I recall he supported most of your crazy ideas, and even admitted that they were good ideas after they were complete.  The only time that I can remember him putting his foot down, for real, was when you wanted to by a hovercraft for the cottage at Watebeag Lake. That was a firm NO, and you were not pleased by his decision, but submitted to his wishes and lived with the remorse of not having had the only hovercraft in Northern Ontario.

I know that you didn’t like to cook at all and felt it was a necessary evil to keep us all alive.  But even in cooking you were ahead of your time. I remember back in the 1960’s you were mixing butter and olive oil to make a healthier spread. You were mixing 2% milk with skim milk to make 1% - 25 years before it was done for grocery stores.

Mom as a toddler and then as a University Graduate.
You might have cooked 90% of our meals in a pressure cooker, because the day slipped away on you and you needed to make dinner in under 10 minutes, but after dinner you would make up for it by serving pastry swans that you had made earlier in the day, complete with fresh lemon curd topped with whip cream. The dessert always made the main course a distance memory. I think my love for cooking may have spawned out of necessity.

After dinner it wouldn’t be unusual for you to go downstairs in to the back of the Drug Store to continue rebuilding the engine of our 1965 Sno-Jet (snowmobile) that you had taken apart at the back of the Pharmacy.   You always loved to see and know how things worked, whether it was mechanically or scientifically.  

Spencer read this memorial and did a wonderful job.
As I look back at my own life I can’t imagine how different it would be if you and Dad hadn’t adopted me in 1963.  You taught me to be strong, courageous and compassionate. You made sure that I had the best formal education, but then also made sure I knew how to do things like attend funerals, speak truth to people in power, or send an anonymous gift to someone in need.  You taught me to do the right thing, even when it required personal sacrifice or when it was not popular.  You taught me who Jesus is and my faith in Him was nurtured by your example. 

There isn’t a week that goes by in Swaziland that I don’t find myself talking about you. With so many babies coming to us from young girls who have been sexually assaulted, resulting in pregnancy I find myself being able to encourage them with my own story. 

It’s easy for me to tell them that my birth mother was 15-years old when she got pregnant. I share that her family was humiliated and didn’t want anyone in the community to know, and so I was given up for adoption right after birth.  When I tell my Swazi friends that total “strangers” became my parents, they are shocked, as that doesn’t happen in their culture.  But there I am, a total stranger, being the one to accept a newborn baby who was dumped in an outdoor pit latrine or outhouse because there was no hospital or government agency to help her in her time of need, like my birth mother had.  

With each and every one of these conversations I can see the hand of God on my life – and it all started with you Mom

It’s funny, I can’t even count the number of times that people would comment and say how much I looked like you, which made us both smile.  Of course there was always an awkward silence when I would say,  “Thank you. That’s interesting since I am adopted.” 

Mom was buried beside Dad.  The headstone at the back on the left has both their names on it.
But adopted or not, there is no doubt that am your daughter.  There is no question that I got my tenacity, my drive, my ambition and my commitment to fight against injustice directly from you.  I remember Kim hosting a birthday party for me many years ago and we all had name tags that said, “Where there’s a Willis, there’s a way.” And ANYONE who knew you mom, knew that if there was a Willis, there WAS a way.

The past six years in the nursing home was like a prison sentence for you - my highly intelligent, defiantly independent mom.  And even though you were unable to move anything other one arm, and your hearing was very bad, you were still able to dial the phone and order product from the Television shopping channel.

This past week the staff at Riverside Glen were fondly remembering the items that had arrived at the front door of the nursing home including:  the total gym, a full set of pots and pans, THREE sets of 50 knives, complete with wooden storage blocks.  Then there was the portable fireplace, the “NoNo” hair removal kit and the monthly delivery of the Victoria Principle beauty regime.  I promise, that is only naming a few.

Last Saturday I got “the call” from Kim and I knew that it was time for me to fly to Canada from Swaziland to say “goodbye” for the last time.  After a 40-hour trip filled with cancelled flight(s), cancelled car rental reservations and lost luggage I was finally able to join Chloe by your side on Tuesday night. I wasn’t sure if you knew we were there, but when I put a cold cloth on your hot head, you opened your eyes, and I knew then that we were together.  Oh, how many times did you sit beside me and put cold cloths on my feverish forehead?  Too many to count.

Nice to have cousins from across the country come and celebrate Mom's life.
Early Friday morning you went to be with the Lord, and I was thankful that you were finally out of pain.  You were no longer trapped in your own body.

Death is a part of life and it is something we will ALL face.  But as I reflect on your life, I can't imagine where my life would be if you and dad hadn’t adopted me, raised me in the knowledge of Christ and encouraged me to follow Him. Because of your example and support, Ian and I now have 107 Swazi babies whom we are legally responsible.  Why? Because we can, and it is the right thing to do.

The circle of life was once again completed this week.

Thank you Mom.  I love you.



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