I have chosen to record the piece as written. I recognize the audience has changed.
August 15, 1930-February 9, 2011
The obituary reminds us she had an extensive career in nursing, and retired as Director of Nursing. She belonged to the Board of Governors for Sault College for six years, two as Chair. She later chaired, for two years, the Council of Governors of the Association of Colleges and Applied Arts Technology of Ontario1—and had numerous other involvements besides these. She belonged to St. Gregory's Parish for many years, where she took an active role on numerous committees, sewed bibs for baptisms, and played the church organ. I could go on, but you could read the obituary. These things tell you a good deal about our mother, but as positively and accurately as they reflect her character, they don't tell you who she was. I don't know that I'll accomplish that, either, but I'd like to try.
Some time in my childhood, the tv advertised A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.2 Mom told me it had been her favorite movie when she was a girl. I cannot recall if she got to see it again on that occasion; I know I didn't. Watching a tree grow didn't sound very exciting. I didn't see the film myself until just a few years ago.
Doreen would have been fourteen when it played the theaters. The story concerns a young girl from a working-class neighbourhood whose family often struggles to make ends meet. The girl dreams of making her mark in the world. She has the support of her family, she works hard, she attends a well-regarded high school despite the fact that some of her classmates do not regard too highly the neighbourhood she comes from, and she never stops dreaming. Rounding out the story we have a love-match, a good match, but one not everyone approves. At the film's end, she sees that a tree she thought would die has started to grow towards the sky again. We understand that she will overcome whatever hardships she may find.
Many differences may be found between the life of our mother and the life of the film's fictional heroine, but I see why she identified with her.
Because we know, at times, her mother and father had to struggle to make ends meet. We know, at times, she encountered prejudice in high school from people who believed themselves better-heeled. And we know that at the time of her marriage, some people believed—for reasons of culture and religion—she had not found a good match. I don't need to tell this crowd how entirely wrong those individuals were about the people she came from and the man she married.
You also must know that anyone who ever doubted that Doreen would accomplish what she set her mind to accomplishing also erred in their judgment.
She succeeded in her career, she served her God, and she loved her family.
She brought love and authenticity to everything she did. Whether you knew her as a grandmother who baked cookies and cooked turkey, a nurse who administered aid, the friend who lent a concerned ear, the mother who told you to wear a sweater because she was cold, or the Chair of the Association of Governors who spoke before the Premier, you got Doreen. And, as my wife says, she put her hands where her heart and words were. You may have received best wishes from Doreen, but that's rarely all you received. She loved, and where she loved, she acted. I won't give you an example, because if you're hearing this, you have one of your own.
If you take comfort in the belief in an afterlife or you if just take stock of the effects of Doreen's life—you will see that the tree continues to grow. We are poorer for her absence—an absence which, because of the disease that afflicted her final years, we have felt for some time—but we are so much richer for having known her. As we inscribed on our father's gravestone, so can we say of our mother: she is too well loved to be forgotten.
Thank you, mom.
Your work is done.
May you rest in peace.
1. The governing body now has a different name.
2. Adapted from the novel by Betty Smith. The novel covers a considerable greater period of history than the few months depicted in the film.
3. (There is no third footnote) After the funeral, I had a fascinating conversation with my great uncle, who is 99. He recalls holding her as a newborn and comments with melancholy that he's "here at the end."