Tribute to Mary Grace Pope
December 3rd, 1925 – March 24th, 2014
By Maryanne Pope
Delivered at Mary’s Celebration of Life Service on March 28th, 2014 at St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Wow…what a journey! I can’t believe we’re here celebrating the life of Momma Pope. But what a life it was.
For those of you don’t know me, I’m Maryanne Pope – Mary’s daughter. On behalf of our family, I’d like to thank everyone for coming today to share in this celebration of our mom’s life. It means a lot to us and it means a lot to her, too…so thank you.
Thank you also to Reverend Fergus Tyson for officiating this service. Our mom spoke very highly of you – and after working with the past few days, now I know why. Thanks also to the McGinnis & Holloway for all your help and professionalism over this past week…you have made a very difficult time a bit easier.
I’d like to start this tribute to Mary with a story about how she came into the world. She was born in 1925 but she was a premie and only weighed 3 pounds 6 ounces. I bet she just couldn’t wait to get going! But in 1925, it was an absolute miracle she survived. My mom loved to tell the story about how the nurse in charge told her mother: “If this baby doesn’t make it through the night, I’m going to hang up my cap.”
Well, that baby made it through the night all right…and it’s a perfect example of the sheer strength of spirit our mother had right from the get-go. She was a survivor. She was born a fighter – and she stayed a fighter her entire life…right up until the very end.
As many of you know, my mother was one tough cookie. Yes, she was kind, generous, compassionate, had a wonderful sense of humour and loved to have lots of fun. But at her core, she was a very strong soul who, I suspect, had a specific job to do here…and she did it.
And that job was to be our mother.
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that my mom loved animals so much, especially cats. For if there was an animal that best represented our mother, it would be the tiger. Because when it came to us kids, whether we were 4 or 40, you did not want to get between Momma Pope and her cubs.
On that note, a tribute to my mother wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention one of the greatest thorns in her side – my late husband, John. My brother Doug reminded me the other day of a very telling John & Momma Pope story that sheds light on what my mom was all about. Doug and mom had just had a spectacular fight over something or other – and he was dropping her off at my and John’s place for some reason.
And after my mom’s suitcases had been flung over the fence into our backyard, Doug threw up his hands and said to John, “She’s all yours.” To which John smiled, calmly picked up the suitcases and said to Doug, “I hear ya, man. I know what a pain your mom can be. But I’ll tell ya this: she sure did something right raising you four kids…because I have never met such kind, caring and forgiving people.”
Our mother did her job of raising four amazing children who went on to share their lives with equally amazing partners and raise 5 fantastic grandkids…and grand-dogs and grand-cats, as the case may be. And boy, did she ever love her grandchildren…she was so proud of you all: Kylie, Melanie, Laura, Kim and Emily.
There is a wonderful quote by Churchill that says, “We make a living by what we get – but we make a life by what we give.”
Our mother cared far less about what we did with our lives than how we lived them. And although she had a very successful career as an RN and was an extremely savvy investor, she understood that material success means little if you don’t have empathy, kindness and compassion for others.
And, just like a tiger, Momma Pope taught us how to survive in the world. She taught us independence, strength and resilience. She taught us that although life isn’t always fair, being fair is always important. She taught us how to love and how to laugh – and to never stop learning.
And although her sharp tongue and Irish temper got her into trouble more often than not, she always had the courage to speak her mind. And because of this, she taught us to stand up for what we believe in. I think we were all in constant awe at her sheer relentlessness.
But I realize now that if I didn’t have the mother I did, I wouldn’t have the strength, courage or determination to take the path I am taking. Being Momma Pope’s daughter was the equivalent of 46 years of tough-love boot camp – and her training is paying off in spades.
But my mom also knew how to have fun! She loved to throw a few things in the picnic basket and head to the mountains. My love of the outdoors and respect for nature came from her. She took me and Kim to Churchill to see the polar bears. She’d been all over Canada and the States. She went to Mexico, Cuba, Ireland…London, Paris, China. At 86, we all went on a cruise to Alaska. She flew in a helicopter over the Grand Canyon. She played the slots in Vegas, drank Manhattans in New York and Mai Tai’s in Hawaii.
And when her health started slowing her down, she adapted. She loved to read, go to the theatre, keep up on current events and have heated discussions about the issues of the day.
She cared deeply about the environment and never stopped being interested in the world around her and the many people she crossed paths with. Trust me, we can probably tell you a personal interest story about every waiter and waitress within a five-mile radius of here 🙂
There is another quote by Churchill that fits our mom beautifully: “Never, ever give up.” Momma Pope never gave up. She was fully aware of the risks that came with hip replacement surgery. But she still chose to have it because the pain in her hip was excruciating. She made the conscious decision to take the chance of improving her quality of life. In the end, she paid the price with her life.
But perhaps there is a tremendous lesson in that for all of us: for I, too, would rather take a calculated risk to improve the quality of my life than continue to live in pain because of fear.
Family was everything to our mom. Her greatest fear was not of dying. Her greatest fear was that when she died, her family would drift apart. But I know for a fact that won’t happen…partly because of the bonds we had to forge over the years dealing with Momma Pope’s shenanigans – and partly because, as this past week has reinforced, we are far stronger as a team working together than we are as individuals.
I’m beginning to suspect that my mom knew exactly what she was doing all along…or rather, her soul did. And when she had finished the job she came here to do, she pulled a fast one on us and snuck out the back door in that tiny window of time when no one was around.
The time had come for her to move on to the next leg of her journey. And although our mom would have loved another decade here on earth – and we were all rooting for that – that was not meant to be.
That’s the end of my formal tribute. But I’m going to pull a classic Momma Pope move and give a few of what we call in our family: “add-ons.” Whenever my mom said grace, she never ended with the prayer. Before saying Amen, she always had to add a few extra directions to the Powers That Be…whether it was to look out for the polar bears or the refugees in Syria or whoever in her life needed a little extra love sent their way.
So here are my add-ons – and they are words of gratitude:
Donna (my sister-in-law/George’s wife): on behalf of all of us in the family, I want to thank you for your kindness and patience in helping our mom out over the last few years. Your dedication meant that she could stay in her own home – and that meant the world to her. So we are sincerely grateful. I honestly don’t quite know how you did it…but we’re sure glad you did 🙂
And thanks also to you, Dolly, for all your help with mom over the years.
And a special thank goes to Dr. Bensler, who was our mom’s family doctor for years. You sure had your work cut out for you with Momma Pope as your patient…but you did your job well, keeping her upright as long as you did. So thank you.
Tracey (my sister-in-law/Doug’s wife), Donna and Mary (my sister-in-law/Pat’s partner): I want to thank you for living – day in and day out – what my mom sometimes had a heck of a time trying to teach through her own actions. Her motto in life was to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. But as we all know, this is not easy to do.
Thankfully, it’s a skill all of you have…that – and an incredible ability to turn the other cheek. So boy oh boy, was our mother ever lucky to have had you for daughter-in-laws!
And the final add-on goes to my brothers: Pat, Doug, George and my little half-brother, Carleton – who’s not so little anymore – and to my Dad. When I had my rather spectacular meltdown on Doug’s shoulder earlier this week, what came to the surface after all the sobs surprised me: it was fear.
I realized how terrified I was to have to face the next fifty years without a mom – because I probably will make it to a hundred! But Doug reminded me that although I lost my Tiger Mom, I will always have all of them – and many more – waiting in the wings…they just won’t leave quite as lengthy phone messages on my answering machine 🙂
Here is the link to Mary’s obituary.