Reflections on the life of Marilyne Brennan
It’s hard to know how to summarize a life like mom’s. I spent the last several days gathering perspectives, listening to stories, sifting through them, feeling like each is just a chapter of a book that she wrote with each of us; each one with a multitude of chapters that we still get the chance to read, or re-read, through the telling.
Mom was a thrift store jumble of wild adventures, endless curiosity, boundless energy. She sucked the marrow from the bone of life with reckless abandon. She reveled in abundance of various kinds – if she liked it, she liked a lot of it. Often the things she bought made peculiar gifts. I have a collection of weird and creepy dolls that I’m very fond of. If she thought you liked something, she’d gift it to you consistently – even if you didn’t actually like it. John and I have been receiving white chocolate for easter since the 90s.
But that was mom. She was committed to overdoing it, because that’s how she experienced love. Love for her couldn’t be contained in a single butter tart – it had to be two dozen.
She took great delight in filling a fridge, and the people she loved most were often on the receiving end of a mountain of fruits, vegetables, sweets, cabbage rolls and more. I’m not sure she ever went to a dinner that she didn’t bring a second dinner to.
Her favourite part of life was our childhood. She loved being a mom, and I think she loved being a kid with us even more. It suited her whimsical nature; rules were for grownups. Silly was better than serious. Christmas eve Santa and the reindeer would often visit, with elaborate foot print paths in the snow, and notes complete with Rudolph nose prints.
I think it’s fair to say she had the approximate attention span of a fruitfly, something shiny often grabbing it and whisking her down the highway, or down the aisle of a store, into a nursing home for a visit, or onto a beach.
As many of you know, she had a particular disdain for schedules and time keeping of any kind. She was a true “Live in the Now” kind of woman, and plans were for suckers. We talked about having her arrive late today, as she often said “I’ll be late to my own funeral”. Sorry, mom. The funeral director already thinks we’re a bit strange. We seriously contemplated getting a suitcase instead of an urn, after hearing her talk often about Grandpa “packing his bags.”
Mom had a pretty crooked sense of humour. One of the last days in the hospital we were discussing some ridiculous thing and mom suddenly put her hands together in prayer. Danielle asked “What are you praying for” and she said “Common sense.” And that was mom through and through. Sometimes her humour had teeth, but teasing in a way is a very intimate form of affection. She loved to laugh.
Mom loved the idea of love. She loved love songs, walks on the beach, sunsets, rainstorms, starry skies, snow angels and poetry. She loved furry blankets with satin edges, fancy dresses, high heeled shoes, ripe strawberries, tiger tail ice cream, wildflowers, dirt underneath her fingernails. She so loved her grandkids, Emma and Luke – that was truly a love story.
She loved to talk, my did she love to talk. A voice is one of those things that’s gone when you lose someone, a unique way of using language – and I hope I always remember hers. In the last days, people have said “she was always the life of the party”, “she never left a room unnoticed”, “you rarely had to ask her opinion, she’d tell you”. “She was a spitfire”. “One of a kind”. You never really knew what wild ride might await you, or when you’d get a visit or a phone call. Spontaneity was her middle, and sometimes her first and last name.
She was a nurse, and she loved that too – particularly community palliative care. More than a few people in this room experienced the hardest moments of their lives with her by their side. She was profoundly passionate about social justice and patient advocacy. She experienced the grief of others deeply, and as her own.
Family was important to mom, whether it was relations or chosen brothers and sisters. Sometimes she liked you, and sometimes she didn’t – but she always loved her family. It’s hard to say how far that family reached for her. We’re quite sure she had close friendships with people we may never meet or know. She loved meeting strangers and hearing their stories. She really loved a family story, which would often begin “do you remember Cousin so and so? Great Uncle and Aunt so and so’s daughter? Well her middle daughter is married to a guy that owns a …” and you’d learn about them buying a house or changing jobs, or having another baby. In a family this size, there was always something to talk about.
The last ten years have seen many challenges. There was a lot of loss, and a lot of conflict. And the times when mom was happiest were some of the hardest for the people who loved her most. Here we are on the other side of it, together. Working out the details. Putting together pieces. Reconciling some chaotic memories. Looking for the love in it. And I feel the best place to look for that love now is in each other.
She passed away so peacefully, it was a bit of a surprise. You somehow can’t imagine such a dynamic life ending in quiet slumber – like she should have spontaneously combusted, or fallen into Lake Huron reaching for a seashell. She was such a fighter.
In many ways, I’ve been writing this eulogy for some time now. Reflecting on how we got here. Choices made and not made. Dreams and realities. She had some really great dreams. She had nine lives, and at least three lifetimes. We’re grateful to the folks who shared them with her, for coming on this journey with us, and for being here to remember it.
We hope you’ll all join us in celebration this afternoon, at Grandma and Papa’s house, where we all grew up, in a way – there was nothing mom enjoyed more than a good party. Maybe you can thumb through a chapter or two of your book of Marilyne Joanne with us. Maybe one day we’ll make a movie.
I hope in the next days you’ll do something spontaneous, perform a random act of kindness. Dance like no one is watching or sing like no one is listening. Live life recklessly, even for a few minutes. Eat an entire pie in one sitting. Engage in life. Give some love and get just a little bit crazy. I can almost guarantee she’ll see you and smile.