I was born of an amazing woman who was born of an amazing woman who was born of another. They were all mothers and daughters. I too am a daughter, and in a twist of fate I became the childless mother to the woman who bore me.
My grandmother left her home in Nova Scotia in her early twenties to study nursing in Montreal, Quebec. It’s an overnight train journey, even now. She met my grandfather, an electrician, in Montreal; they married and had four children. Over the years she went back to Nova Scotia occasionally; it was a long way to go. Her brother Alec stayed on the family farm.
My mother was the second-oldest child (that’s her front and center in the pic at left). She was born and raised in Montreal with her two sisters and “Eddy boy” (bottom left) the baby of the family. At 23, my mother made the 13-hour flight to Vancouver to marry her fiancé Don. They had two children: me in 1956, my brother in 1958.
When I was six, my father was transferred “back east” and my parents returned to Quebec with my brother and me in tow. Just as my grandmother and mother had done, I left home in my early twenties. Like them I headed west: Gran abandoned the Maritimes for Montreal, Mom flew to Vancouver, I chose Calgary. I settled and married there.
My husband and I moved to the United Arab Emirates in 1993 and returned each summer for extended holidays with our respective families in New Brunswick and Quebec. After we separated in 2005, I travelled back and forth from the Middle East to live with Mom for about two months in the summer and one month in the winter until 2011 when I left Dubai to come back to live with and care for her full time. I was able and still am able to be with Mom so much because I am divorced, childless by choice, and semi-retired. I chose to do it because of Mom’s Alzheimer’s and the fact that she lived alone in a big house.
People have told me for years that I am a “good daughter.” I think they say it as a compliment, or perhaps to encourage me. “But what does it really mean?” I’ve asked myself time and again. Does giving up my life as I knew it to care for my mom make me a good daughter? If I hadn’t done so, would that have made me a “bad daughter?” Was I bad daughter for moving away from home in the first place? Were my grandmother and mother “bad” for doing the same ? Or were we all good daughters for being pioneers in our own ways?
I’ve thought about these and similar questions a lot, and I’ve come to some unequivocal conclusions. I feel good, not guilty, about my life choices, which were not enabled in any way by anyone but me. I feel good, not guilty, about my relationship with my mother and about all the things I did or did not do for her while she was alive. Now that she’s gone. I have no regrets.
I never felt I owed my mother some kind of debt of gratitude. I didn’t feel any need to “give back” to her while she was alive. If I owed her anything at all, the debt was repaid in full by me being the person I am. I loved her even though I often felt she did not love me in the way I wanted. During our Alzheimer’s journey, I saw her more clearly than I ever had, and I loved her unconditionally.
I came back to Canada to care for my mom because it was the right thing to do. She needed care, it wasn’t being provided in the way I thought it should be, so I returned. I advocated for what is best for her until her last breath because it was the right thing to do. It’s often harder to do the right thing than it is to make other choices. I strongly believe in living by my values and doing what I know to be right.
I wanted Mom to have as much joy and happiness as she could as she neared the end of her life. I helped her to live as I believed she would have wanted for as long as possible: engaged with the world and the people around her.
I held her hand as she went through the process of living with and dying from dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Together we navigated uncharted territory. The time we spent together during the last chapter of her life was joyful; it was it was also challenging. It lasted about ten years, and then it was over in an hour.
I don’t believe being a good daughter–or son for that matter–depends on where one resides: a few miles down the road, or on the other side of the world, it makes no difference. It’s the nature of the relationship that counts. It has to do with heart, soul and connection. I believe it has to do with being a good person not a good child. It can take a multitude of shapes and mean many different things over the course of a lifetime and beyond. Mostly it has to do with love.
My goodness as a daughter was/is mine to create and celebrate. Any failings are mine to own. That’s the kind of daughter I was, I am, and I will always be.