By: Christine Miskonoodinkwe Smith
Remembering Ni Mama:
I remember the dream as though it happened yesterday. You know the one where I woke up short of breath and counting 1…2…3… in order to try and calm myself down. In the dream, I had received a call saying “Christine, I’m sorry your mom has passed away.” In actuality this dream had happened years ago, at a time that I was probably a bit distanced from my mom. There was a period where I didn’t talk to my mom for a bit, not because I didn’t want to, but because I wasn’t sure how to finally handle, having my mom in my life. It was through no fault of her own, nor mine, I just wasn’t sure how to take having someone I could actually call “mom” in my life.
Yeah, I know it sounds weird to the layperson but when you are taken away from your mom, your culture and traditions, due to the assimilationist policies of your countries government, you really don’t know how to act or behave when all of a sudden you are reunited with your birth mom.
I didn’t really think much of that dream at first. I thought it was just me and my fatalistic thoughts. I’ve always been that way-thinking of everything at once, or nothing. I could never think of the in between. I beat myself up for that, because there were probably many dreams and opportunities I gave up because of that way of thinking.
The dream, though I don’t really want to think about it, came alive on August 25, 2017. Ironically, I had an appointment with an employment counsellor at the place I currently work at in downtown Toronto. I was sitting in a chair just steps away from the front desk in the Aboriginal Employment and Training Resource Centre, and my phone rang.
RING…RING….RING…. I had my earphones on because I was listening to some music on my Ipod, but the shrill ring of my phone broke through and almost made me jump out of my seat. Yeah, I scare easily. Since my mom had become ill, every time the phone rang, and it had the area code 204 flash on my caller id, I grew scared because I didn’t know what the phone call would bring. Often, I wished that the hospital where my momma was staying would call and say, “hey your mom is better and she’s going home,” but that call never happened. Wishful thinking on my part, right?
After all, my mom was ill with stomach cancer and hadn’t been home in months. Her last year on this earthly realm was spent in the hospital, and that thought alone always had me close to tears, even though I tried so hard to stay composed on the outside. Inside though, I was a mess.
Back to sitting in the resource centre. My phone rang, and I remember practically ripping my earphones out of my ears, so that I could pick up my phone and answer.
“Hello?” Hello?” I said kind of breathlessly. It sounded as though I had run across a room to answer the phone, but really, I had just been sitting beside my phone. The shrill ring broke the quiet around me.
I brought the phone to my ear, and on the other end I hear a lady say
“Can I speak to Christine?”
I hear some muffled noises in the background, and I feel a bit distracted because my appointment time is coming up. I hurriedly say
“This is Christine.”
The lady on the other side is the head nurse at Lakeshore General Hospital in Ashern, Manitoba. The hospital where my mom has been for the last few months.
Remembering what the nurse said to me is a bit of a blur. I remember her telling me
“Your mom is going downhill fast. She isn’t breathing very well, and she isn’t eating,” the nurse says.
I gulp when I hear that and selfishly say
“Isn’t there something you can do, give her a feeding tube? Keep her going?”
I wasn’t ready to let my momma go just yet. I had just been on the phone with her a few days before and she had managed to ask me
“When are you coming to visit me again?”
I had just seen her maybe a little over a month before I got the dreaded call.
I had told her “I’m going to come and see you in the fall Mom, I can’t afford to come out right at this moment.”
It made me tear up when I had told her that. Money was always an issue when it came to getting out to Ashern to see my momma. I live in another province, and the cost of a flight out to see her plus the cost of a bus and a motel was enough at that time to proverbially sink me financially. I had to plan my visits almost strategically, because since my mom had fallen ill, I didn’t have a place to stay other than the motel that sat across the highway from the hospital that my mom was staying in. My mom’s partner, Jim was in the same hospital. He had suffered a major stroke shortly before my mom had to be hospitalized. But that’s another story, I guess.
The resiliency and strength my mom tried to show was amazing. It was quiet on the other end of the phone for about a minute before she answered back with
“Ok, fall is good, everything will be good in the fall.”
I felt her disappointment, and I knew she was trying to be strong. We had talked for a couple more minutes that night. I told her “I love you”, and she told me
“I love you too”
I honestly didn’t think my momma was going to go so quickly after that last phone call I had with her. But I had my appointment with the employment counsellor and somehow in a fog made it across downtown to go and see my friend Jen at the University of Toronto’s First Nations House.
I remember getting there, and I was a bit distracted. I was trying not to think of the phone call I had merely two hours before while I had been at the Employment Resource Centre. I tried to say hello to my friend and others around me in the cheeriest way I knew, but there was a heaviness inside me.
I had taken my phone and placed it in the charging stand. I walked away from it for a bit. I had been sitting in the conference room in a worn-out black chair, staring kind of mindlessly at the chalkboard before me, when I heard my phone ringing once again.
I didn’t want to go and answer it, but there was a sense of urgency that was lit within me when I heard my phone that time. I tore across the floor, from the conference room to behind the front desk. I fumbled clumsily but managed to answer.
My caller ID flashed with the name “Lakeshore General Hospital”
I answered “hello?”
The same nurse I had talked to two hours before was on the other side. Before she could get the words out, I knew. My mom had passed away.
It was on August 25, 2017, at 12pm, that I got the first call about my mom going downhill and then three hours later, at 3pm the second call came and the very same nurse that had called before broke the news and said
“I’m sorry, Christine, your mom has passed. I’m so sorry.”
I was quiet for maybe a second and then the tears came flowing out of me like crazy.
My friend saw my face crumple and the tears come. She said
“It’s ok, Christine, It’s okay”
She led me back to the conference room and had me sit down. I remember in a daze, calling my sister, and letting her know. I called a couple of other friends, and not long after that, I got up and walked out of First Nations House to head back home.
It was raining that day. I walked home slowly, thinking of my mom and asking
“Why? Why did you have to go?
At first, I was angry because she didn’t make it to the fall, in order for me to come and visit her. But then there was an overwhelming sadness because that dream, I had had years ago had come alive.
Living without my mom has been difficult. It will be three years this summer that she has been gone, but there is not a day that goes by that I am not thinking of her and wishing almost selfishly that she was still here.
But I also know now, my mom had lived her life as long as she was able to. It had been full of pain and torment because she had lived through and witnessed so much trauma. The stories I had heard over the years of knowing her and being with her broke my heart. But through it all she had found me and had found my sister, and though at first the relationship between her and I had been a bit tenuous; we had survived it and had built a strong connection towards the end.
There are memories of her I will always hold onto, from our everyday phone calls, my yearly visits to see her, and then coming out and taking care of her as much as I could while she was in the hospital. But there will always be a part of me missing, because she is no longer here physically, where I can reach out and touch her. To give her a hug or tell her “I love you”.
I can honestly say I haven’t been the same since. But I am soldiering on, just like my mom did with her own life when the going got tough.