Corrie Colquhoun: A Eulogy

A poem I wrote the night before she died.  Below is a prayer and eulogy I wrote for the funeral today.

Here is the MP3 file for the entire funeral.

Sadness strikes the heart of many
When a face that once forced dimples to grow into crevices
Grows weary and broken
And a voice that honoured newlyweds and made lips quiver
Suffers loss and weeps for her mistakes

We gather here today to grieve and remember
Answers are few
Which is why we pray
So hear this prayer oh God

As you move in and through your creation
You must have felt a shortness of breath
You must have felt some power leave you
You must have felt your plan get spoiled

Meet us in our sorrow
Help us see the light when everything grows dim
Set our troubled hearts at rest
Banish our fears

We look now to rest in your peace
Comfort that extends beyond our understanding
We leave Corrie in your perfect care
Where she has gone and where we all will go

We trust that love wins
Nothing is wasted, nothing is forgotten
Everything is redeemed, everything reconciled

Mother, as I like to call her, was my rock of emotional reason through childhood. As children, we storm through life learning lessons and processing experiences and we rarely have opportunities to unpack what this means. I translate my entire life through the lenses and filters that my mother passed down to me.

One of my first memories is her and I standing on opposite sides of my bed while I was having an epic temper tantrum and trying to lift my mattress to throw it at her. Her compassionate grin will never leave my memory as she chuckled at my weak attempts to assert my independence and express myself. She had this way of laughing at me that ridiculed away all the bad parts and embraced what was left—her son whom she loved.

This was the greatest thing I ever could have learned from my mother. She saw people because they were people. She didn’t see people as the things they did or words they said or the hurt they brought into the world. She had a way of looking past the dark facades of grumpiness and negativity and seeing hearts. I still remember coming home as a young child bemoaning an interaction I had with a teacher and the unfairness I felt. Ignoring my pre-teen drama, she wondered out loud what must be happening in the life of this teacher. She told me to be kind, because they are probably just having a bad day and they probably didn’t mean anything by it. Quickly I learned that my mother was not on the side of affirming my clouded experiences of hurt without the balance of understanding the one on the other side. She taught me empathy, especially for those who were causing my own anguish. To this day I consider this the most important lesson I’ve ever learned. She taught me to love my enemies. She taught me that any feeling I had of personal offence was only my inability to see the hurt and pain in someone else. These lessons have sunk deep into my soul as I try to honour this way of seeing people and the world we find ourselves in.

There was a softness to my mother’s approach to life. For most of her life, she was unable to assert or express herself when she was hurt. It wasn’t until her 50s that she picked up a book called Nice Girl Syndrome and started to realize this. It took everything in her to stay silent rather than say hi and give someone a hug who had hurt and abused her most of her life. She just didn’t have it in her to not be kind. It’s a special kind of woman who needs to read books about how not to be nice to someone who has hurt you.

Our home growing up was an art piece. My mother beautifully wove her love of antique hunks of wooden furniture with her welcoming arms of hospitality. When she wanted a new piece of furniture, she made sure she payed the carpenter a little extra to use it as a workbench for three months to ensure it looked appropriately aged. As I walk through her home now, it’s full of her eccentric personality. There is a 200 pound wooden ball. That’s right. It’s just a massive piece of polished wood that sits in a corner. None of us understand it. But she wanted it for years and finally got it. Her eyes saw things that no one else saw and would turn the most abstract pieces into meaningful accents of beauty. I never really appreciated, nor inherited her love for aesthetics. Unfortunately I picked up my interior design leanings from my father. If it wasn’t for my mother, our kitchen would serve as a tool shed and our living room an office. My mom saw making our home beautiful as central to her being. The way colours would flow and shapes would fill spaces was her way of saying “welcome to my home, make it yours.”

Hospitality was something I grew into as I started to recognize my mother’s love for people. Ask any of my friends growing up, and all of them would tell you that being at our home was like being at their own home. She was a second mother to many of my friends. It would not be uncommon for us to come home from a family outing and have two of my friends there hanging out in the living room. They would look up and say “hey Corrie” and she would respond by asking if they helped themselves to the fridge. My friends grew to be as close as family because my mother accepted them as such. We had an open door policy. And by this I mean we didn’t even lock our door. My friends and I flowed freely in and out of the house always knowing that our beautiful home in Point Edward was safe and welcoming. I know I speak for all my friends when I say that Corrie made them feel loved and welcome like they were her own children.

When my mom met Rachel, she told me ten minutes later that if I ever got in a fight with her, she would be on Rachel’s side every time. She quickly absorbed Rachel into the family and saw no difference between her and Naomi as her daughters. This was evidenced by her Christmas gift giving, which extended into giving gifts on every day for Advent to the both of them. When my mom passed, Rachel was there with the family as a strong support, something which I’m very grateful for, as she too has lost a mother here

I think mother always silently grieved the fact that we were never that close of a family. While we were always amicable and got along, we all sort of paved our own paths with our relationships that took us in different directions. Just the other day I read a letter I wrote her in high school saying something about having a girlfriend but that not changing things. I then went on to start apologizing that the three of us kids were fighting but assured her that we still loved each other. It’s just what siblings do! I remember one time where all she wanted was a family picture before I left for school, and it was a disaster. The whole episode ended with everyone crying and me laughing at everyone crying.

Though, I like to think we’ve grown from this and there are specific values that she instilled in us that we’ll never forget. As children, we have this longing for fairness. One kid gets something and our instant question is what does this mean for me? What do I get? My mom’s answer always was: “you get to be happy for your brother or sister.” This simple response to our drive for fairness and competitiveness slowly chipped away at our hard hearts and helped us be happy for each other. She taught us not to be jealous, but to be proud. She taught us not to ask what’s in it for us, but to see how much joy it would bring to others.

Kindness for my mom was not just about putting on a face. She was graceful to the core. If you cut her open, she would bleed kindness. To this day, whenever I see an ambulance, I say a quick prayer for the situation. This is something that my mother taught us to do as small children. We would pull over to the side of the road, and she would say that if the lights are flashing it means that someone somewhere was hurting and needed help and we should be concerned.

On Saturday I was reading through cards and letters and looking at pictures. I read a card from a woman whom she met at Electrolysis school in Toronto, a course that I’m sure was only a few weeks long. The card expressed the gratitude and honour it was for this woman to meet my mother and she considered her to be one of her best friends that she would never forget as long as she lived. I was struck at the kind of magnetism that my mother must have had with complete strangers, that after only a few weeks of time with them, they find their lives changed and consider her their closest friend.

Even in her last days, as she was dying in her hospitable bed, I saw her concern for the people in the beds next to her. She would send my grandma to visit the old lady who was sick that used to be in her room. She would tell me stories of how moved she was by the way her one roommate passed away with her family there. She always had more to tell me about her roommates than she did herself. She ended up having twenty more friends in her last few months in the hospital. She was a woman who reflected compassion and concern for everyone, despite her own circumstances. I can only hope to be the kind of person who, while facing my own death, can find it in myself to even think about the random people next to me whom I just met.

My favourite part of my mother was her sense of humour. Her last words I’m sure were making some comment about how many people knew the intricacies of her bowel movements, or reminding us that she called her hoped-for transplant, implants. I see now that her sense of humour really did guard her from taking herself too seriously and gave her the starting point for her empathetic way of being. This was important for me to see growing up. Having a mother that could laugh at herself, and have her kids laugh at her, was something that showed us that we were on the same level as her. She was human just like us. There was that time she chipped her front tooth, and Naomi almost had a heart attack when she saw it because she was laughing at her so hard. Or that time she was convinced Jordan was no longer straight, when she walked in on him and his buddy wrestling at just the wrong time. Or the way that Naomi would lick her face everytime she would leave the hospital because of how much she hated it. Or the time she yelled at me for throwing my shit-filled underwear across the campsite then saw I was more mortified that she said “shit” than that I crapped my pants….she then just laughed at me even harder. Or the way that she was determined to get back into her jeans from when she was seventeen, and made us promise to have her buried in them. Yes that’s right. We had to cut them right open, but she’s in them. And of course Naomi, who tirelessly was with my mom every day for the last number of months in the hospital, who had to take my mom to the washroom and as they were walking over, my mom would give her a big grin saying “wanna see my butt?” We teased and were teased as a way of being sincere and accepting our quirks as part of the beautiful mess that we all were. There will be things that we will continue to roll our eyes about with my mom. Like her repetition of stories. Over and over again. It wasn’t until her last few months that I ever heard her say that she was working on not repeating herself. Thanks for waiting until you were fifty mom.

The humour kept us honest with each other. Rather than weaknesses and faults being ignored, they were made fun of. Ever since I can remember, my mother used to tell me how proud she was of me with everything that I did, but she would never say it without reminding me that the worst thing about me was how cocky I was. “Don’t be so sure of yourself Nathan, you aren’t that great.” It was a challenge to figure out what to do with that as a kid, learning to balance between knowing you are loved unconditionally despite the fact that you weren’t God’s gift to mankind.

Speaking of God’s gifts. That is what my name means. A gift from God. My mom’s lightheartedness did not come without tragedy and experiences of the pain that the world has to offer. I had an older brother that was born premature and only lived for a few hours. There are still pictures tucked away next to her bed of David, and the sorrow and joy that he brought. I came a few years later and was given this name as they experienced my entry into the world as a gift. The complications, the scars, the grief….all of it was something my mother absorbed day in and day out so that us kids could have the life we had. It makes me wonder what kind of gift I could have possibly have been? Since when do gifts require so much responsibility and work?

The slow and painful unraveling of her struggle was the hardest thing for her, and for us. Drinking continued to be a way to drown pain and loneliness and to cope with the trials that lay behind her and in front of her. Her shame surrounding the drinking made her want to hide it, which snowballed her loneliness and continued to ostracize her from everything that she longed for. She became naive to her struggle and what it was doing to herself and the one’s she loved. Never wanting to be a burden on the people around her, never wanting to admit she needed help, she slowly got beat by the sickness and alcohol. Many of you struggled with how to be in a relationship with her in her last years. Some of you had to distance yourself, for some the relationship changed as you had to protect your own family, some of us turned to lecturing with sternness, and some of us turned a blind eye. I know without a doubt that my mother would want everyone to know that it is OK. She didn’t hold it against you. Neither does God. Neither do we in her family. There was no right way to go about this. Every way brought hurt with it. We grieve with you and we know you grieve with us. We understand. The last thing my mother would want at the end of this is for any of the people in her life to feel any shame. The poem I wrote on the back of the bulletins was my way of processing this struggle. I am only now beginning to see that love is the only appropriate response to someone else’s pain, and love takes all sorts of different forms that don’t make sense at the time.

She was graceful, tender and joyful. Her joy went before her, brightening up rooms and making people feel special. Whether it was her job at CCAC striking up random conversations with old men, or Dress Club, or Girls Night Out, she made friends wherever she went. My siblings always hated being called Nathan’s brother or sister when running into people that I knew. I knew how this felt though because I constantly was known by being Corrie’s son. She loved and was loved by more people than I can name. I have no problem being known as Corrie’s son. It’s a title that I wear proudly.

My mom spoke very fondly of her younger years, saying they were the best years of her life. She attributed this to being deeply involved with her community, spending every night with friends, and feeling like she was meaningfully participating in good work around the city. She looked at my life now and saw me hanging out with kids of her friends with whom she had shared similar experiences. She saw the joy it brought me and it reminded her of those years and she would tell me the same stories, of course, over and over again. She spoke with a tinge of regret as she tirelessly organized and re-organized her photo albums and keepsakes boxes, holding onto the memories as gifts that would forever remind her where her peace and comfort came from.

Mother was an example of love. She loved and was loved. What else can we measure someone’s life by? Her love is the kind of thing that ends wars and and sets the world to right. We’ll forever remember you mom, as one who was marked by qualities that make the world a better place and give us all hope that surpasses the frailty of our bodies and addictions and pain and suffering. Faith, hope and love. The greatest of these is love. Thank-you mother for showing us the way.

1 thought on “Corrie Colquhoun: A Eulogy”

  1. So overwhelmed with emotions even today. So thankful that you filled in so many beautiful memories and moments of the the beauty of mom. She was a taste of heaven . I will forever be greatful for my kids who carried so much weight in such a difficult time.

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