Can it be two years since my mother’s death?

Two years ago today, I wrote this essay on the morning my mother died:

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 father died at age 62 back in 1983, so my mother’s death also marked the launch into orphanhood for me and my four siblings.  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


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12 thoughts on “Can it be two years since my mother’s death?

  1. This is so good, and I have just re-read your others related to losing your mother. I took Mum out for the 1st time on Friday for lunch at the White Spot, one of her favourites. She had a glass of wine, her 1st since she went into hospital and it went well. Afterward I took her to have her nails done. When I took her back she didn’t recognize the building and an aide came out and helped her in so it went smoothly.

    One of her old Edmonton friends called her Saturday night for a chat and then called me to let me know it had gone really well with some laughs. That was just like getting a gift.

    Hope you’ve recovered from yesterday.



    1. Hello Kit – that special outing must have been so lovely for both of you considering how challenging her move into her new care facility has been. With my mother’s dementia, I realized how much I’d taken for granted simple little things like going out for lunch when she’d been well. Getting little flashes of a mother’s ‘old self’ here and there does indeed feel like a gift, doesn’t it?


  2. Our mothers died around the same time Carolyn, mine a little bit before yours. I cannot believe it is over 2 years and I still miss her terribly every day. The number of times I still want to pick up the phone and call her still makes me ache inside. It is a lonely experience, and the only ones who understand are those who have experienced the same thing.


    1. You are so right, Marie. I too have observed that only those who have lost their own Mums can truly identify with the permanent loss of what Rona Maynard’s book calls our “North Star”.


  3. What a touching tribute, Carolyn. I can only hope that my 2 daughters will be able to see me in such a lovely light! Thank you….


    1. Thanks Sunny – actually that lovely light does get better with time. Even the most difficult or challenging relationships benefit from the luxury of hindsight, perspective and nostalgia.


      1. My mother died last July. I am still grieving. To we women, it doesn’t matter the age she was, her death is felt forever by her daughters. If she was strong, resilient, passive, child-like—none of it matters, she is still loved and missed.
        Your mother was very beautiful as was mine.


        1. Thanks Barbara – I found that first year following my mother’s death to indeed be the toughest (this is generally true in all bereavement but with our mothers it does seem longer and harder).


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