**this isn’t so much obituary as a remembrance of my mom, my dad, and my step-dad, a glimpse into their lives as viewed through my own. the photo’s with sheila, bill, ted, and his girlfriend rose at a restaurant i worked at, circa 1991**
It was a beautiful sunny March 5th morning and a lovely day to bring my mom to, as they say, her final resting place.
Back in the late 80s she and my step-dad bought a piece of land (it was actually possible to do that in those days) and built their retirement home near a lovely little public beach. They later pragmatically downsized into a condo, and while I was visiting that condo one weekend (as I did over several years) they discussed where they would like their ashes to be distributed. Dad’s navy days, plus our time as a family living in the Bahamas, plus living on an island, all inspired ideas for offshore distribution. From a boat out at sea, perhaps? I forget the other ideas, but they finally settled on “our little beach.”
It wasn’t really “their” little beach, near the retirement home they built, it was a public beach. But they had moved from Alberta, and there was hardly ever anyone at that little beach, so it was particularly special. Later in life they weren’t able to traverse the rocky trail and the steep steps, or clamber over the misplaced logs – former living trees that fall off the barges taking them (and local jobs) to distant sawmills in foreign lands – but, it remained forever “our little beach.”
Sadly, as the years progressed, my mother distanced herself from me. A couple of years before she died she’d fallen and broken her jaw, and her personality changed noticeably after that. She went from being friendly and extroverted, to somewhat surly and quite antisocial, even denying her closest friend visits. I’m not sure what she saw, or didn’t see, in me that threatened or hurt her. I wasn’t able to be there for her at the end of her life because she specifically told me she didn’t appreciate my visits. It hurt, but I honoured her request and let her go as graciously as I could.
I was definitely there for my dad in his final year though. I helped him move into a small, friendly seniors’ facility and visited him every week with flowers. A special bond evolved between us, even through his dementia. By some miracle I was able to be at his bedside through his final hours, holding his hand and wondering if he could hear, in his semi-coma state, the lovely voice of my friend Pashta singing his spirit to freedom. I’ve written about that experience elsewhere … today I’d like to offer a little obituary for my mom, and my step-dad, and my birth father too, as I say another final goodbye to their bodies while holding onto the happy memories we’ve shared.
Sheila Kitching was born on May 1st, 1926 in Darlington, England. Sheila’s mother, my grandmother Mary, I’ve learned, worked setting tables in one of the big Downton Abbey-like mansions in Northern England. I recall also learning that Mary’s family had a post office of some sort and Mary would hike through the fields in her long dress and petticoats to deliver parcels and letters and in the process she met Bert Kitching, my grandpa. Bert worked on the trains. He and Mary eventually married, and raised Sheila plus her four brothers – Norman, Dennis, Raymond, and Stanley – in a small row house, kind of like a townhouse. They’re all deceased now, Sheila was the last to go.
Many years ago mom told me she forged my granddad’s signature so she could join the war effort when she was still slightly underage. She later denied that, so I don’t really know what the truth is. She was in the Royal British Air Force, though, and claims she was an airplane mechanic. I began to wonder about that when I was old enough to really think about what that would involve, and we got a flat tire and called Dad for help. But mom insisted she helped the mechanics fix the airplanes, for the war effort.
In her younger years Mom was a very beautiful, social, out-going, fun spirited and musical person. She told me stories about sneaking out of the camps when she was younger, with a girlfriend of hers, to go to the dances. Certainly the war, for women of that era (and for men too), was one of the only places they could find any freedom. Their other choices were to work in the factories (which mom did not want to do), or have babies.
Mom eventually did have babies, obviously … she met Ted Bandcroft in London after the war. Ted was a bus driver on the double deckers and mom’s job was to collect tickets from the passengers. The funny story is that Sheila suffered motion sickness so she’d signal to Ted whenever she needed to stop and deal with that particular challenge. I guess that experienced contributed to a bond between them.
The emigrated to Canada with my brother Maurice when he was about 8 years old, sometime in the late 1950s. Ted came first and travelled on the train across Canada. He decided to stop in Edmonton because he’d heard there was work there, and got a job driving a bakery truck. He later drove city bus, until he retired from that job later in life.
I was born in 1961, obviously it wasn’t a planned birth. My mom told me she’d been told she’d never have any more children after my brother was born, 12 years prior to me. So, I was a bit of a surprise. Maybe this unresolved disappointment (or however you want to describe what it would be like to be a 35 year old woman with an unexpected pregnancy) is what rose to the surface in those final years, who knows.
I remember riding on the city bus with dad in Edmonton now and then, but I especially enjoyed the mornings on the “Winnifred Stewart” bus, picking up the special needs kids and taking them to their school.
Mom and my Ted dad split up when I was about 6 or 7. I don’t really remember any details, just that dad didn’t come home anymore. Ted was very kind to me throughout my life, even though I didn’t often live in the same city as him. He always wrote to me, and telephoned when that became more accessible. I still have some of the postcards he sent to me when I was living in Manitoba, in Puerto Rico, and in the Bahamas.
My mom met Bill Ede at a dance and I was happy with my “Uncle Bill” too. One day early in their relationship, I remember, we were in Edmonton driving to go visit friends of Bill’s and mom said “what would you think if I married your Uncle Bill.” I said that sounded ok, and then she said that would mean we’d be moving. I didn’t really understand what that meant, I was only 8 or so, but I trusted them.
They were married on July 25th 1970 and I was there, in a little purple dress with white gloves and a hat. I inherited two more big brothers, John and Raymond, and their families which included, eventually, nieces and nephews.
Mom and Bill dad and I lived in Brandon Manitoba for about 2 years, the boys didn’t travel with us because they were all old enough to be living on their own. I made some really great friends in grade 4 in Brandon, so when it was time for the next move I was a little more hesitant because I knew it meant leaving those friends. But, we were going to Puerto Rico, and that sounded pretty cool. My friend Christine and I wrote letters to each other for many years, and later found each other on facebook. And, when we met up again in 2012 we discovered that we’re still really good friends, which is also pretty cool.
So my new dad, Bill, worked in the oil industry as a contractor. His work in Brandon, then Ponce, and then in Freeport (where we lived for 2.5 years) was about opening and closing “plants.” In those days the oil and gas industry was more a means to an end than an end in itself. It wasn’t until years later that I began to understand the extent of the environmental damage that oil and gas creates, it’s so much more now than it was in back then. Even way back in the mid 70s I remember we would have to scrub patches of oil off our feet after visiting beautiful and otherwise pristine beaches in Freeport, because of the spillage from the offshore oil rigs.
There were definitely some challenging times and difficult conversations, as I was growing as an activist for peace and environment. My birth dad, Ted, was very supportive of that work. He drove me to the Clayoquot Sound action camp in the early 90s, and spent time walking around the camp talking to people. He loved going to pow-wows, as did I, and we would talk about the plight of native people and the challenges ahead of us trying to keep the air and water clean, working for peace in world where war is waged for profit and oil.
With Bill, I learned to respect the work that he did in the “plants,” or factories as I later learned is a more accurate description of them. And I think Bill learned to understand my concerns, later in life. In his day they were providing energy to local communities across Canada in ways the world had never seen before. To people living in a cold nation, many of whom had grown up without electricity or central heating systems, this was nothing short of miraculous. During one of our conversations he agreed that what’s going on now, in the northern tarsands, where infrastructure is being massively expanded for the purpose of exporting bitumen offshore (for profit), is radically different than what he was working on. I recall him saying “it’s gone too far.” We agreed to meet there, and didn’t talk about it anymore.
Bill and Sheila and I moved from Freeport back to Edmonton in 1975 and again I had to say goodbye to friends and this time go back to a very cold snowy environment, quite different than the pre-teen years we’d spent in the sun and on the beaches! Bill had 40 acres near Fort Saskatchewan so, after a year in Edmonton living in the Dovercourt house of mom’s (at 12423-135 St, an address that has stuck in my brain since I was encouraged to memorize it as a kid), we moved out to the farm. I thought this was pretty cool because it meant I could have a horse, a love affair I’d begun while volunteering at a riding stable in Freeport. We lived in a little trailer while building a house on dad’s property, and eventually built a barn for the horses too. My brothers all helped build that house, and Mom and I did too.
I lived on the acreage until after high school, and then left for Vancouver in 1983. I made sure to bring the horses with me, it was a huge amount of work to care for them in the winter and I wouldn’t have left that with my mom and dad. I had acquired enough office and computer skills to land me a good job in Vancouver which, in retrospect, is darned lucky considering I had my two dependents with me! Ah, the impetuous confidence of youth ….
But this isn’t about me, except in the context of viewing my parents’ life through these eyes (which is really the only option we all have), so, back to their story. My dad Ted continued to communicate regularly with me, now we had better phone access and he enjoyed visiting me and my brother in Vancouver about annually. Mom and Bill built a machine shop on the back-40, they could see that the industry was growing all around them and it was a smart business decision to service some of that equipment. They sold the business and retired in the late 80s and moved to Vancouver Island, to build another beautiful home. They travelled quite a bit in those years, too. My dad Ted also enjoyed travelling.
It was an interesting time to be alive on the planet, for that generation. So many big changes … radio, tv, internet! They became devout patriots at a young age, fought in the big war, and ventured overseas without really understanding what they were coming to or whose land they were taking. For the most part, at least for my parents, they worked hard, earned their pensions, enjoyed socialized health care, and they all had a comfortable retirement.
As happens, they all also got older and older and older. I watched, as compassionately as I could, as their brains began to abandon them and their memories began to fade. I wasn’t able to be with my Ted dad as much as I would have liked to have been in his final years because I was a rather impoverished student and then working to establish a non-profit street newspaper (which ALL my parents contributed to, by the way, bless them). I also didn’t really understand the process of aging and dying. I did travel to see my dad about once a year, I was there for his 80th birthday party, and I was lucky to see him in the home his brother and my aunt, and Dad’s lady partner friend, had chosen for him and helped move him into. It took him a minute to recognize me, but when he did a big smile emerged. “Is that Janine?” he said. It was a precious moment and I began to realize this would likely be the last time I’d see him.
And it was. Mom broke the news a couple of weeks later that he had died. I’m so glad to have had that last visit with him, and I learned a big lesson. When it was time to care for Mom and Dad, I wanted to be there.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, Mom decided she didn’t want me there. I fought that at first, sincerely believing (as I do to this day) that she was confused and misguided and that the efforts to estrange me were unfounded. But eventually I had to give up, and just let her go the way she wanted. She had been such a social butterfly, and in the end she was quite reclusive. Who knows what happens, right?
I was delighted, however, to see my Bill dad every week while he was in his final home. Dad seemed quite content … he had his own room, and I made sure he was comfortable there. I got permission from mom to bring a couple of beautiful paintings, got him a TV and the most comfortable chair imaginable. For his 90th birthday I contacted as many family and friends as I could and encouraged them to send cards or telephone. Of course many of them would have done that anyways, but I wanted to be sure Dad knew how much he was loved. I figured it was probably his last birthday, though I did encourage him to start thinking about his 91st!
It wasn’t long after his 90th birthday that Bill dad began to visibly decline. He no longer wanted to leave his room for the music sessions, whereas previously he’d absolutely loved those! He couldn’t remember what he’d had for breakfast, but he could reach for song lyrics he’d known since he was a boy in Croydon. He was an inspiration, for sure, and they loved him and his enthusiastic singing. That singing, by the way, was definitely a big part of my life growing up with he and mom. They sang all-the-time! It was usually mom who would instigate it, whatever tune came into her head, or she heard on the tv or radio, or saw something that triggered a memory, and next thing I knew the two of them would be singing up a storm. Many years ago they bought me a piano book with a bunch of their old songs, and I’d do my best to keep up with them as they sang ahead of my efforts to play them!
One day, a couple of weeks before he died, Bill dad asked me about Jesus. He said some people believe they’ll see him when they die, don’t they? We were never a family for regular churchgoing, but I have found spiritual strength and understanding through yoga and wiccan and buddhist teachings, so I told him that yes, some people believe that and if he wants to believe it too, he sure can. I assured him that, as I believe, wherever he’s going it’s a place full of music and love. I told him he’ll be able to see his family and friends there too, he’ll be surrounded by lots of love and warmth, and whatever he imagines, that’s where he’ll end up. That seemed to comfort him somewhat, and he began the slow march towards death. I’m really really glad I was there to help him cross over on his final day.
I remember reading somewhere that there’s the year we’re born and the year we die, but all of our life is contained within that little dash between those years. These are the dominant memories emerging as I say goodbye to my last parent, of course there is so much more. As my dad Ted said, though, “all we have, in the end, are our memories.” He’s right! So to make happy ones, to live a life truthfully and not to fear the darkness.
Lionel Philip (Ted) Bandcroft: April 21st 1924 – August 20th 2007
William John (Bill) Ede: February 15th 1925 – May 6th 2015
Sheila Kitching (Bandcroft) (Ede): May 1st 1926 – January 31st 2016
It feels different, now having parents. And especially, I think, because I don’t have children. Suddenly I feel “grown up” in a way I haven’t previously, even though the final years are so much different than the younger years when we can still call our parents to chat, and share our concerns, and seek guidance. Eventually, I suppose, we all learn to look within.
The morning I took mom’s ashes to the ocean I also sprinkled some wildflower seeds into pots on my balcony, those seeds will grow into flowers that will feed hummingbirds. Mom and Bill dad both loved birds, every house we lived in had several bird feeders. Mom made sure I knew that if you start to feed them through the winter, you must continue because the birds become dependent on the supply. She taught me a lot of good things, they all did.
Rest in peace, guys, I’ll be there too someday. Meanwhile, I’m enjoying life in the dash lane.