When your mother dies

21 Feb

Rest in peace, Mom

Joan Zaruk     May 7, 1928 – February 21, 2012

At 5 a.m. this morning, after hearing the news on the phone, I reread the chapter called When Your Mother Dies, in Rona Maynard’s wonderful book, My Mother’s Daughter:

“Baby showers herald the transition to motherhood. Roses, greeting cards and invitations to lunch celebrate mothers every May. Yet, despite our culture’s motherhood mystique, no rituals mark the psychological journey we daughters begin when our mothers die.    

“The loss of either parent cuts deep, but mothers shape most women’s lives like no one else. What your mother served for dinner (or didn’t), whom she married (or divorced), the work she chose (or had forced upon her) – things like these tell a daughter what it means to be a woman.

“Whether you model your choices on hers or cringe at the very thought, whether she nurtured or neglected the girl you really were (as opposed to the one she thought you would be), your mother was your North Star.”

My mother’s death also marked my launch into orphanhood. As Christopher Buckley wrote in his memoir, Losing Mum and Pup, when the last of your parents dies, you are an orphan:

“But you also lose the true keeper of your memories, your triumphs, your losses. Your mother is a scrapbook for all your enthusiasms. She is the one who validates and the one who shames, and when she’s gone, you are alone in a terrible way.”

I  thought I’d share with you the obituary we drafted for our mother:


“On February 21, 2012, Joan Zaruk died peacefully in St. Catharines in her 84th year.  Predeceased in 1983 by her husband, soulmate and favourite dancing partner, Peter.  She was very proud of her five children: Carolyn, Catherine, Beverly (Gary), Brian (Donna), and David (Mitzi).

“Joan was ‘Baba’ to 11 loving grandchildren:  Ben, Larissa, Conor, Liam, Hailey, Matthew, Allison, Daniel, Celine, Clarissa and Jordan. She was ‘sister’ to Jean, Mary, and brother Tony, and ‘Chucha Joan’ to many nieces and nephews.

“She was ‘Joanie’ to her friends, especially during the years she devoted to volunteering in the kitchen at St. John The Theologian Ukrainian Catholic Church.  She inherited her fierce work ethic from immigrant parents on the Manitoba farm where she was born, and then spent a lifetime practising it, including at the Red & White grocery store she and Peter ran on York Street, and for 20 years on their 40-acre fruit farm in Jordan Station.

“Somewhere in heaven today is the aroma of her famous homebaked Chelsea buns and an apple pie or two, a jigsaw puzzle on the go, and the sounds of polka music as she finally gets to once again dance with her beloved Peter.”

by Carolyn Thomas


See also:


23 Responses to “When your mother dies”

  1. Denise May 14, 2017 at 9:47 am #

    Your Mom gave you a gift… it was you! What a sweet story.

    After losing my Mom eight years ago (and going through a quad bypass last year at age 64 that I could never tell her about), I miss my Mom too. We shared everything. She was my anchor.

    I love what you do Carolyn. You are a gift to many.
    Love Denise


  2. denisekathleen February 22, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    So sad to hear about your Mom. Thinking about you and wishing you joyful memories and comfort in the embrace of family and friends. Hope to see you when you get back.
    Big hugs, d and gj


  3. Dan Curtis February 22, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

    Dear Carolyn,
    Thinking of you right now and sending much love. Take care and when you’re up to it, let’s have a tea.


    • Carolyn Thomas February 24, 2012 at 4:02 am #

      Thanks Dan – I know that the recent death of your own mother gives you an understanding we can’t have until we experience this loss.


  4. Robyn Unwin February 22, 2012 at 2:38 pm #

    What a beautiful tribute to the gorgeously complicated mother/daughter relationship. And what honouring words you left in memory of your mom, Carolyn. Sending you lots of love on your journey back to your family.


  5. Rod B. February 22, 2012 at 12:06 pm #

    30 years later, I still miss my mom.


  6. Paula Roberts February 22, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    Dear Carolyn,
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. May wonderful memories engulf you all as you celebrate your Mother’s life and love for you and your family. The grieving process takes time and is different for everyone. May you be supported throughout your journey. I am so sorry for your loss.

    I lost my mother 7 years ago but everyday I speak of her and to her. Her words of wisdom come to me often and through them she continues to be there for me.
    Thank God for Mothers.
    Thinking of you,


  7. Dr. Ruth Simkin February 21, 2012 at 5:36 pm #

    Carolyn – so sorry to hear about the loss of your mother. I know there are no words that can fill that void in you right now. My mother died in 1986 and I still miss her every day, but over time, the pain, which never completely goes away, is slowly substituted with wonderful memories. It sounds as though you and your mother made some pretty good ones together and I hope they help to bring you peace. Please know you are in my thoughts.

    With love,


  8. martzj February 21, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Dear Carolyn,

    I’m so very sorry for your loss. What a lovely photo and deeply moving memorial here.


  9. Deborah Walker February 21, 2012 at 12:20 pm #

    As one who’s “been there, done that”, I wish you all the best and, especially, comforting arms to enfold you. You never “get over it” but the tears you shed get happier with each passing year.


  10. Bj Babcock February 21, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Dearest Carolyn,

    I love the image of your mother’s refrigerator with all of her children’s business cards neatly in a row. What a beautiful woman she must have been ~ just like you! As I age, I find myself looking into the mirror and seeing my mother staring back at me and I feel a sense of comfort. It’s called the circle of life, and while sometimes there is great sadness, there is also great joy in remembering who we are and how we became the people we are today.

    Loving thoughts your way as you grieve your beloved mother.


    • Carolyn Thomas February 22, 2012 at 2:44 pm #

      BJ, my mother lives in my mirror these days, too . . .


  11. laurahcory February 21, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Words are inadequate, but please know that I’m thinking of you. ((hugs))


  12. quilterlynn February 21, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Carolyn, my stomach tightened into a hard rock when I read your first lines. Oh, yes, what a shock to the body and soul when our mother leaves this world.

    Mine was only 55 and a heart attack untreated, undiagnosed, and not suspected was the cause. Not because she didn’t have family history: she had an entire family of male siblings with treated heart disease! Along with a father who died at 39 of the same.

    And so, I consider her early death her final gift to me. Awareness of the silent intruder in my own life and in those of my children and their children. A responsibility to be a ‘teller’ to others about their own possible ‘lurking’ inheritance. A small word at the right moment is my legacy to her.

    And so you have done the same. The photo of your mother is so lovely. She looks happy, warm, content, and I know she is so very proud of YOU!

    Consider yourself hugged and loved this day.

    Lynn, Mayo Clinic Class of ’08


    • Carolyn Thomas February 21, 2012 at 10:52 am #

      Thanks for your kindness, Lynn. You’re so right – my mother WAS so very proud of me and my two brothers and two sisters (although of course that rarely if ever came out in words – you don’t want to give your kids a “swelled head”, after all!) But on her fridge door was very proudly arranged a neat row of the five business cards of her five children. To my mother, who had a 3rd grade education and a childhood of unspeakable misery, just having a business card meant you must be a ‘somebody’ – and here she was with five ‘somebodies’ right in her own family! XOXO


  13. New Allie February 21, 2012 at 10:37 am #

    What beautiful words and so true. I’m so sorry Carolyn. Allie


  14. familytreefun February 21, 2012 at 10:00 am #

    Carolyn, I am deeply sorry for your loss, and for the loss to your family. Another journey begins. A warm hug to you ~ Mary


  15. Vetia February 21, 2012 at 7:36 am #

    Hi Carolyn,

    I am very sorry for your loss, take comfort in the time that you were able to share with her. My heart cries out for you in your hours of pain. I find myself at a loss for words, but know that my heart and prayers are with you.

    With love, Robin


  16. Pam Scott February 21, 2012 at 6:32 am #

    My thoughts and prayers are with you, and your family. Hug yourself for all of us.


  17. laurie February 21, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    I am so sorry for your loss, but I hope your mom had a wonderful, well-lived life right up to the end.


  18. Cindy Schuerr February 21, 2012 at 6:24 am #

    So sorry for your loss, Carolyn.:-(


    • Carolyn Thomas February 21, 2012 at 8:22 am #

      Thank you all for your kind words.


      • Chris Corbit February 22, 2012 at 4:09 am #

        So sorry for your loss. The loss of a mother is a great one. You are a tribute to her. I think of my own mother daily and ask for her guidance. Our mothers are always with us.
        Take Care,


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