I lost my mother last Sunday. I was in Nashville, my bags packed for a month-long cross-Canada tour, when I got the call from my sister up in Ontario that she was being rushed to the hospital. One gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, prayer-filled hour later, she was gone. At age 68, my gentle, lovely mother had lost her battle with bipolar disorder, and her death was a shock and a trauma to my entire family.
By nightfall I was on a plane to Toronto, and at midnight I walked through the door of my Aunt’s cottage in Muskoka and collapsed into the arms of my family. For the next three days, we cried. We wept out our grief over her lonely and untimely death. We raged and screamed at the medical system that let her slip through their fingers, denying her care when she needed it most. We poured out our feelings of guilt for not fighting harder somehow, and for not knowing how to save her. We held each other and comforted each other and reassured each other. We talked and talked and talked it through, trying to find a way to accept and understand what had happened.
It was the most raw, most cathartic three days of my life. I have never seen such strength or such pain, and I have never felt such love before. And I have never seen such healing.
Three days later, my family put me on a plane to BC, with their love and blessings, having postponed my Mom’s memorial service so that I could begin my tour by opening for Johnny Reid at the Prince George CN Centre. That night my family sat together and prayed for me back in Ontario while I walked out onto a stage alone with my guitar and performed to thousands of people. I sang my heart out. I felt naked and fragile and immensely strong at the same time. I have never felt anything like it. And after Johnny and I sang “Dance With Me” as a duet, I walked back to my dressing room with the roar of the crowd in the background and tears of gratitude streaming down my face.
The next night found me onstage at the Mae Wilson Theatre in Moose Jaw, headlining the Concert of Hope to raise funds for a breast cancer treatment facility at the local hospital. As I sang, a group of cancer survivors stood silently on stage behind me. The strength in that room was palpable. We were trying to raise $20,000. We raised $100,000.
I flew back to Toronto yesterday for Mom’s funeral. It was held in a church by the water in a grove of Muskoka pines. 260 of us gathered there to celebrate Mom’s life. Almost everyone in the congregation was a musician. We lifted up our voices and sang Bach chorales in four-part harmony. My cousins played a beautiful cantata on cello, oboe and violin. My sister sang a beautiful soprano solo. My broken-hearted dad, who was the love of my mom’s life for 52 years, fought back his tears and read lovely poetry for my Mom. My uncle sang “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” in a rich bass voice from the back of the church. I delivered the Eulogy that I had written during the stolen moments on my flights and in my hotel rooms out west. And I didn’t think I was going to be able to do it, but I sang too – a song I wrote called “The Other Side”, which my Mom had always loved. I had to sing it with my eyes closed, but I sang it with my heart open.
I don’t know how we did it, but somehow we all took that pain and shock, and together, transmuted it into a celebration of Mom’s life. By the end of the service, we had all laughed together, shared wonderful stories of Mom’s past, and we had helped each other see past Mom’s death to what was really important – her rich, full life that had touched so many people. It’s what Mom would have wanted, and it’s what her memory deserved from us.
I hugged my family goodbye today and now I’m a flight back out west. I’ll be performing on the Canadian Country Music Awards in Vancouver on Sunday. I’m nominated for six awards. Mom was so proud. She told me she was going to come with me. She is.