Anne Margaret Hadden (nee O’Neill), ‘Mom’ to me, left us 20 years ago today, on January 8, 1994, a victim of cancer. She left behind a husband, her children, and perhaps most important to her, her beloved grandchildren.
Following the 1937 death of my mother’s paternal grandmother in Toronto, the family moved back to the Toronto east end 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 alcoholism 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 birthday celebration, the cake fell out of it’s box, landing on the floor of the hospital’s first floor 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 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 grandchildren.
My mother died at home, just as she wished. My father arranged for a hospital bed to be installed in her room, affectionately referred to as ‘The Nest.’ As an experienced and knowledgeable nurse, she knew that her body was failing. So, a few weeks before her death, she asked me, as I was a church musician, if I would sing at her funeral. When I agreed to her request, she asked if I thought I would be able to given the emotion of the time. I told her that I didn’t know how I would do as I had never sang at her funeral before. She smiled and asked me what song I would sing. I quickly replied that the first thing to come to mind was Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead from the Wizard of Oz. Our laughter at that moment is still a precious memory and I won’t repeat the name she called me.
Her death came quietly, as it is said, ‘like a thief in the night.’ Our whole family had been gathered around Mom throughout the day on January 7th. We all left the house late at night to put our own children to bed in their respective homes. Within two hours of leaving, my father called to summon us back to our parental home. I drove my sister to our parents’ home that night through a raging blizzard and when we entered the house, our father looked at me and with the slightest shake of his head, I knew we were too late. Hours later, my father and I stood in the doorway to the house as Mom left her house for the final time, now in the care of the funeral directors.
Anne (O’Neill) Hadden with 5-month old Ian Hadden
Our rather large church was filled to capacity for her funeral on January 11, 1994. A fitting tribute to a wonderful woman who gave so much of herself to those she loved and cared for. And, I sang!