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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Who was my mother, really?


My mom and Dad would have been married for 60 years if he were alive today. They were married on June 10, 1955 and they were each other’s best friends.

In 1963 they decided to adopt a little baby girl – that was me.  My 15-year-old birth mother did not want her newborn child and my biological Grandparents were ashamed by the pregnancy.  That decision to adopt changed the trajectory of my life, and impacted many lives in the years to follow. 

My parents committed their lives to making sure that I was brought up caring with proper manners, a solid education, a good work ethic, that I was aware of the world around me and they hoped that I would have a faith in Jesus Christ, which I do.

My mom was a renaissance woman.  She was one of the first women in Canada to graduate from the University of Toronto with her degree in Pharmacy (which is where she met my dad, a third generation pharmacist). Mom was one of the smartest people I knew, and as I was adopted, it became clear early on that we didn’t share the same gene pool.  Mom was a scientist, a physicist, a researcher, and I wasn’t.  But I could write a story about all of those things.

University of Toronto Pharmacy 1954.
I remember doing a 7th grade project called, “My Life: Welcome to it”.   I didn’t dream of becoming the 4th generation of Pharmacist in the Willis family, but rather my fictitious story told of me rescuing a homeless child who was living on the streets of New York.  What?  Where did THAT come from in 7th grade? 

While there has always been debate about “nature” vs “nuture”, there is no doubt that I got my tenacity, determination and calling to fight against injustice came from my mom.  In fact, Ian often says that when I hear the word “no”, it’s just a “cry for more information.”  I got that from my mom.

She didn’t like to cook at all and would often serve corned beef and cabbage (cooked in a pressure cooker) and supplement that with a can of green peas. But for dessert, oh, she loved dessert and it was not uncommon for her to make handmade pastry swans, complete with fresh lemon curd topped with whip cream. I think my love for cooking may have spawned out of necessity.

The famous dessert.
After dinner she would go downstairs (we lived in an apartment on top of the Drug Store) and would continue to rebuild the engine of our 1965 Snow-Jet (snowmobile) that she had taken apart at the back of the Pharmacy. 

Mom welcomed Ian in to the family in 1991 and was even more welcoming when Spencer and Chloe arrived.  In fact, it was she and Dad that pulled them out of school to play "hookie" and go horseback riding on that fateful day in September 2001 when the planes crashed in to the towers in NYC and our lives were changed forever.

Grandma with Spencer.

Grandpa and Grandma with Chloe
Mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 1991, Dad passed away in 2005 and by 2010 mom was in the Riverside Glen Nursing home in Guelph, with my cousin Kim as her advocate.

The past six years in the nursing home was like a prison sentence to my highly intelligent, defiantly independent mom.  The team at Riverside Glen could not have been more gracious, caring or understanding to her needs and wants, and I give thanks for them all.

On Saturday I got “the call” from my cousin Kim. 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 able to join Chloe at my mom’s side on Tuesday night.  Although she was not entirely conscious, she did know who we were and tried her best to smile and acknowledge our presence. 

On Friday, February 19th, 2016 my mom went to be with Jesus.  I have no doubt that there was a huge welcome party when she arrived with my Dad at the front of the line, followed by many loved ones who went on long before her.  What a day of rejoicing that would have been. 

Death is a part of life and it is something we will ALL face.  I can't imagine where my life would be if my mom and dad hadn’t adopted me in 1963, raised me in the knowledge of Christ and encouraged me to follow Him. Because of their example and support we have 107 Swazi babies whom we are legally responsible for because they had mothers who were not able to care for them.  I believe that it was not an accident, but rather it was by design, and I am thankful. 

The circle of life was once again completed this week.

Live from Canada … “Blessed are those who mourn; for they will be comforted.”  Matthew 5:4



  1. It's a beautiful story ending beautifully. Blessings Janine.

  2. Amazing story as is the incredible work you do for other Janine. I feel honored to have known you and am continually inspired by your care for others.

  3. You are an inspiration to so many people Janine, and I feel blessed to know you and to see the incredible work that you and your team are doing. Beautiful story of tribute to your Mother and Father.

  4. And comforted you will be, in so many different ways. You've been in prayers all week. Thank you for sharing a snapshot of your journey with us. Love you and sending big hugs your way.

  5. Prayers of comfort for you, and all who loved your Mother...including that wonderful, caring cousin of yours!


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