The Mother and Daughter Jigsaw Puzzle
It has taken time to assemble
Connectivity in our lives can seem serendipitous or like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together. Now in my 70’s, I’ve come to understand that some pieces are made to fit perfectly. That’s how it was with Christine and me.
Christine recently died. She wanted it clear she did not “pass away.” Died was her word of choice.
Christine and I were friends, but she was not someone I saw often. It was more of a “swim mom” thing. It was our daughters who were close. My daughter Jane and her daughter Iona, both competitive swimmers, grew up together at the pool, travelled together to their big swim meets, and stayed close friends all the years. With our daughters’ friendship locked in, Christine’s life and my life entwined in ways we would never have imagined.
Christine’s life was not easy. In her 40’s, not long after she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, her husband left, and she became a single mother of four. And yet, in her determined way, she picked up the pieces and carried on.
As described by her children in her obituary, Christine was an educator, gourmet chef, artist, literary critic, master of diplomatic etiquette and protocol, lover of sports (tennis, football and F1), comedic actor, poet, polyglot, storyteller, dahlia enthusiast, art dealer, dancer, writer, connoisseur of bagpiping music, daredevil and advocate of only the finest of boxed wines. As said by many, she was a remarkable woman.
Her illness didn’t stop her, as she did all these things from her wheelchair!
And then life handed her a further blow as her disease stole more mobility. In her last years, she was confined to a bed in a nursing home. She was no longer able to be the hands-on mother to Iona.
Here’s where the jigsaw pieces get laid out…because my life wasn’t easy either.
As children of the 60s, my husband and I married young and launched into life expecting, like most baby boomers, a happy road ahead. Then reality struck. Our two children, Robbie and Jane, were diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. It is a brutal genetic disease for which there is no cure. As a family, we lived with the philosophy that we would do all we could to make life normal while dealing with the necessary endless daily treatments, mountains of medications and frequent hospitalizations. CF was what the children had, but not who they were.
Our children, like Christine, were remarkable and accomplished a great deal. Robbie was a football captain in high school, a scholarship student at university, and had a career as a sports writer for our local newspaper.
Jane’s world was all about swimming, rising to the national level, first in Canada and then as an award winner at Providence College in Rhode Island. After graduation, she returned to Halifax and opened her own candy shop, Sweet Jane’s.
Tragically, Cystic Fibrosis took Robbie’s life at age twenty-three and then five years later claimed Jane when she was twenty-six.
Picking up the pieces and carrying on after losing both children was not easy. But with supportive family and friends, my husband and I learned to carry on. In time we managed to find joy in life. One source of that joy and purpose came from the circle of our children’s friends.
And that’s where my special bond with Christine comes in. That’s when she and I truly became linked like the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle. I had lost my daughter, but her daughter Iona, Jane’s dear friend, was now there for me in many special and caring ways. And with her mother, now immobilized and in a nursing home, I could fill a gap in Iona’s life.
When Iona got married, I was the one to shop with her for the wedding dress, and my husband and I hosted the small wedding in our home.
Iona started a family. My husband and I proudly received the titles of Nanny and Papa to their daughters, little girls who didn’t understand that the third set of grandparents was anything unusual.
Mother-daughter moments that were stolen from me when Jane died became gifts to my life from Christine. Through all of it, Christine graciously shared with me all of those incredible mother-daughter moments she was unable to manage. She allowed me the privilege of mothering and grandmothering, miraculously filling a hole in my world.
Two mothers’ lives that could have been crushed by illness were enriched by the weaving of Christine’s love, kindness and generosity. Rather than being bitter or angry — Christine knew these pieces fit together. It was never about my replacing her, and it was clear we were equally there for each other, linked by our daughters’ friendship. We shared the moments that make life meaningful. We shared daughters and granddaughters.
I take comfort in knowing that there was peace for Christine as she understood all along that I would be able to return her kindness. And that time has now come. I will continue to carry on the mothering and grandmothering she left to me. Iona and I will now remember Jane and Christine, knowing they each left to us two families pieced together by extraordinary friendship and kindness.
The jigsaw puzzle is fully assembled.