Eulogy for Mother

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Ring the bells (ring the bells) that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything (there is a crack in everything)

That’s how the light gets in

In this quote from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem, he speaks of chiaroscuro. The Oxford Dictionary defines chiaroscuro as the treatment of light and shadow in drawing and painting.

I think of chiaroscuro when I think of Mother. Chiaroscuro best sketches the force of nature that was Mother. In her winter it was bitter. In her summer it was glorious. Light and shadow. Shadow and light. She had a generosity of spirit, which could turn to something darker when feeling threatened.

Mother was born at the end of the Roaring Twenties, a time of prosperity, new vision, some would say an indulgence after the horrors of WWI. But for Mother’s early years, growing up during the Dirty Thirties, there was adversity and heartache, ameliorated by a few very strong and gentle influences in the persons of her mother, Annette, and later in her step-father, Arthur Brown. It is from them, I believe, Mother learned about that glorious summer, that light of chiaroscuro, of seeking beauty through the cracks.

She married early, almost a child-bride, discovered the darkness of chiaroscuro during those years, and fled through the cracks of that marriage into light, into freedom, and what she thought was another cascade of light in the form of my father. But because life is all about chiaroscuro, in order to understand the light, you have to understand the darkness, and so once again she fled from darkness into the hope of light and the possibility of building, yet again, a life.

It was shortly after she’d settled into the hope of that new life Gerry Batherson walked in all grins and handsome swagger, the Burton to her Taylor. He became the love of her life. And throughout her many long decades with him there was much in the way of light, most especially the brightest light of all in the form of my sister, Penny.

There were cracks, indeed. Just like Burton and Taylor Mother and Dad were on-again/off-again. You could never say it was boring. And together these two titans built a life of prosperity, becoming industry leaders, offering up opportunities to Penny and me through travel and education, tutelage in art and dance, during a time and in a community that eschewed such pursuits. But the cup from which Mother drank was full, and she wanted to share that bounty, dispense largess, until the wine soured, the cup cracked. And so there would again be winter and darkness.

I believe Mother finally understood personal contentment, if not happiness, when she came to terms with being alone, of living within her own skin free of dependencies on others for her well-being. Those years, spent mostly in the company of Penny and my sister’s growing wisdom and forthrightness, very much allowed Mother to understand that life didn’t always have to be about chiaroscuro. That maybe there was contentment in the return to her earliest of loves, that of the earth. Of quietude. Of the art of stillness. And in the legacy of her grandchildren, Adam, Melissa, and Christopher.

Sure, there were still tempests, but mostly those were confined to tea cups instead of oceans. As she had as a girl, she dug in the dirt, and from that dark, fragrant place grew beauty and light, a burgeoning bounty of life and colour.

But life is about chiaroscuro. And so to define the light came the darkness, this time a darkness she would not be able to flee. There would be only one crack left after the disease of cancer was to consume all her light, and that crack, we hope, has led her to light, and a profound understanding of the beauty that is life, that is chiaroscuro, that is Barbara.

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