Finally Released From Alzheimer’s
A Tribute to Kathleen O’Flaherty
March 12, 1942-Nov 30, 2017
This is not one of my normal posts and has little to do directly with my art. But it is the story of my mother, a tribute to show how her influence has been significant on who I am today.
My mother passed away last week. She was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 67. Her 8-year battle was a slow decline at first, the last three years were more significant. She was able to stay at home, cared for by our father. This is the tribute I wrote for her, I know you may not know her, but maybe you can relate anyway. It’s been therapeutic for me to write this all out.
As we were mulling over memories, talking with family and friends and our Dad, it occurred to us that the easiest way to explain our mother’s life is to tell you about some of the things we learned from her and I expect you may be able to relate to them as well. I could talk about where she was born and raised, and the timeline of her life, but there are details that like you, I just don’t know. So really I’d rather talk to you about her essence and how it impacted us. She has threaded her way through our lives and we all get a piece of the grand quilt of her life in what we take from her.
The importance of family
My mom would travel home to England to visit family. Every time she got on the plane she would cry for the family she was leaving. When she landed she would cry in anticipation of seeing her sisters Sylvia and Val and family there. When she got back on the plane again to come back to Canada, she would cry for the family she was leaving and cry when she landed, relieved to be with her family here again. She taught us that no matter the distances, family is important and worth the trips when you could do it.
A zest for life
Our mother was game for just about anything. She was dynamic, engaged and loved to laugh. She loved social interactions, being the centre of attention, dancing, dinners and good food, good company. While she drew the line at skiing and skating, I would never have called her athletic; My brother reminded me of a time when we were kids in Oak Ridges when we went tobogganing. There was a place we called “the hill”. In my memory it was huge! My mom was ready to jump on the wooden toboggan with Damien and good friend Winfred and took off laughing as she careened down the hill. She did the same thing years later when the lived at Bobs Lake with her grandchildren. My Mum had a great laugh. She taught us to have a zest for life, to seize the moments that can bring great joy and to laugh.
Appreciating beauty in the details
I can remember dinners on Drummond street. The huge harvest table would be laid out with matching plates, ornate serving dishes, embroidered napkins and a feast for friends like Annie, John and Rhonda and whoever stopped by – usually teenage friends of Rachel and Brendan. She loved old things; pewter serving spoons, cracked porcelain serving dishes, mismatched salt and pepper shakers. My Mother loved and appreciated the history of them, the untold stories. She would take us to auctions and flea markets when we were kids. We would also look at open houses just to see the grand old houses from the inside. She gave us an appreciation for the artistry in our history.
A love of colour
Taking a walk with my mum always gave such an interesting perspective, she loved to walk. She had a love of old architecture and gardens, but mainly flowers. Even once Alzheimer’s had set in for her, Rachel talked about how she never failed to see the beauty in gardens or the shades of green in the landscape. Rachel got the gift of the green thumb from our Mum. It was obvious that she had a love of colour, it was reflected in everything she did. Her clothes, gardens, food and of course her quilts. Her creative artistry was entrenched in our childhood from homemade clothes, hand knitted sweaters, hand embroidered Irish dancing dresses and on to the spectacular quilts, she made in her art career. She taught us how important it is to see the shades, to appreciate the colour in life.
An appreciation for music, musicals and dancing
Our mother loved music. But it was very specific, as far as she was concerned when it came to rock and modern music it was none of her business unless it was Rod Stewart. She loved choirs, she would light up during hymns in church and cherished singing in the Oak Ridges and St. John’s church choirs. She’d watch ‘Last Night at the Proms’ every year, took us to the Nutcracker, just about every musical to come to Toronto and desperately wanted to be Fred Astaire’s Ginger. The best part about these times was the dress up. I loved seeing her so glamorous. She pulled out her experience as a cosmetician and was elegant and sheikh, always so well put together. She loved to make these events special. Her love of music brought out the joyful personality that was lost in the disease. She taught me to love the performance and the magic of the theatre and song.
Welcoming anyone to the table
From college borders to exchange students and any friend of her children, there was always room at the table for another guest. She was kind, generous and always welcoming so many of these connections are still in our lives today and richer for it. On Drummond street, so many of us looked forward to playing games like Trivial Pursuit after a meal, hoping she was on our team, she always said she had loads of useless information but her team always one. She showed us that seizing new opportunities, welcoming new people into our lives, enriches them.
Fierce independence and standing strong with your dreams
From an early age, our mum instilled independence in us. She set us on a course of self-discovery and encouraged us in anything we wanted to try. When she made the bold move to go into business for herself with the quilt stores I was too young to understand how significant that would be in my life. She bravely stepped out of the traditions of working and became an entrepreneur. Then she sprinkled her verve in organizations like the museum board, the BIA, the quilters guild, and touched the lives of so many in the community. Too many to name. She taught me the importance of following passion authentically. Life is too short to pass that up.
Friends and family, nothing matters more
From the communications we’ve had in the last few days and seeing who is here today; we know our mother was loved. Her friends were lifelong. From the moment she landed in Canada, friends on Scarth Road, Jim and Judy who introduced our parents to each other, Don and Betty, Leslie and Peter, Joan, Pat, the Densmore’s, the Ardelt’s and the Nolan’s, Faye & Mike, John & Ronda, Annie and Mick. Solid friends who were unwavering and their lives intertwined over 50 years. These friends are like aunts and uncles to us, we grew up with their kids now like cousins, we know we will always be connected to these families. She taught us the importance of forging friendships to last a lifetime.
Kathleen O’Flaherty, our mother had her share of struggles, but her determination to enjoy life, laugh and live her passions always shone through. The lessons that came from knowing her will continue to reveal themselves as we forge our way through our own lives. The last few years were difficult, the disease had stolen most of her essence. She is finally free to come back into our lives, shine her light on us, remind us to enjoy life, seize opportunities and to laugh with the ones we love.
Thank you so much for sharing some memories, and being a part of the fabric of our mother’s giant quilt that was her life. I know she loved us all.