Anne Margaret O’Neill, ‘Mom’ to me, left us in January 1994, a victim of cancer. She left behind a husband, her children, and perhaps most important to her, her beloved grandchildren.
Anne (also known as ‘Anna’, ‘Mom’, and ‘Granny’) was born in Detroit, Michigan, USA. Her parents had moved to Detroit from their home in Toronto, Ontario because work was available for my grandfather – and finding work in the Depression era of the 1930’s was important. My mother’s older brother, Edwin (‘Ed’) had been born in Toronto a couple of yearas prior to the family move and a couple of years after my mother’s birth, the family expanded again with the birth of William (‘Bill’) O’Neill.
Following the death of my mother’s paternal grandmother in Toronto in 1937, the family moved back to the house my grandfather had inherited. The same house became my parent’s home after they married in 1953 and was the house that I was raised in through my early childhood years.
My mother graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1948 and entered nursing school as it was referred to then at St. Michael’s Hospital in downtown Toronto. She graduated as a Registered Nurse in 1952. My mother loved nursing but took a hiatus from her work from the mid-1950’s through the early 1960’s during which time she gave birth to five children in six years, only three of whom survived to adulthood. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I could even fathom the anguish my parents must have experienced at the deaths of my brothers Brian (1956-1957) and Stephen (1957-1959).
My mother often displayed an off-beat, quirky sense of humour. While in high school, she and a friend would pass a local funeral parlour while walking home from school. They started making it a habit to stop in and visit the funeral parlour each day – just to see who was there! The anecdotes from her professional life working in a hospital ranged from technical medical procedures to the bizarre. Her favourite however was always ‘The Chocolate Cake’ story.
St. Michael’s Hospital, or St. Mike’s as it is locally known, operated in an older part of the city not known for glitz and glamour. As such my mother’s patients were often those that suffered from alcohol and mental illnesses. My mother worked on “1D”, a first floor unit that was close to the street and all that the rundown neighbourhood had to offer. She worked with a close-knit team of nurses and they used any occasion to brighten otherwise tough days.
One such occasion was the birthday of a colleague unit nurse. Mom’s best fiend, Marie (known in our house as ‘the tall blonde’) baked the birthday cake and spread far more chocolate icing on it than was required. As Marie was carrying the cake into work for the birthay ccelebration, the cake fell out of it’s box, landing on the florr of the hospital’s lobby. My mother and Marie quickly assessed that with the excess icing, the cake could easily be salvaged by re-spreading the icing that remained.
A short time later as my mother was walking through the lobby, she encountered two nuns dressed in their full black habits (the hospital was run by the Sisters of St. Joseph religious order). The nuns, thinking that someone had defecated on the floor, called to my mother and pointed out the brown lump. Without missing a beat, my mother told the nuns not to worry and promptly put her finger into the ‘lump’ then put her her finger bearing the brown goo into her mouth, proclaiming”Ummmm, it’s wonderful!” The shocked nuns hastily left to report that a nurse was having some kind of breakdown.
In her retirement years, my mother shopped, a lot. She explained to me that she was simply exercising her “God given right to spoil” her gandchildren.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom and to all mothers in heaven or still struggling here on Earth! You deserve a day to be recoginized for the nurturing care we have all benefited from.