Today marks just over 2 weeks ago that my dear mom, Kaethe Sawatzky, passed away of a sudden stroke. It feels as though everything has shifted. Life is the same but different as we are left with memories and a new routine of supporting our 91 year old dad left alone after 65 years of marriage. This person, so familiar to me (and so similar in many ways) is gone, and while the intense feelings of her passing and the funeral week have begun to subside, she is not far from my thoughts.
I had my first dream of her the other night. In the dream, I came across a photograph of her holding a monarch butterfly.
She is smiling broadly. No doubt, the dream was prompted by the butterfly release we did at her graveside, and it makes me smile as I realize that like the monarch, she is now free.
I will write another blogpost of the many ways God was present to me in the whole experience, in very concrete ways like the support and love of others, and in the more intangible, mystical experience of a deep sense of God’s presence in a time of grief. But for today, I’d like to post the tribute I said at her funeral service.
September 22, 2015
My name is Lydia and I’m the youngest daughter of Kaethe and Frank, or as Mom sometimes embarrassingly told people in the store as I was growing up, “The baby of the family”. I’d like to share a few memories of Mom.
I can’t think of my childhood without Mom. Mom looked after us in so many ways, as moms do. She was in the kitchen making bountiful meals, always canning pickles, crabapples (from ours or our neighbor’s backyard), peaches, pears, jam. Mom truly enjoyed tending the household and never seemed to mind cleaning up after me. Mom was always making quilts in our basement with my Oma or at the NKMB basement with the “Frauen Verein” (Lady’s Groups) for MCC. After I left home, Mom never failed to send food home with me. Some days I would come home from work to find a box of food lovingly packaged by mom and delivered during the work day by my dad. And of course, Mom gave loving support as Lyle and I raised our son Joel.
Other memories are more unique. In the difficult years when my oldest sister Hilde was sick, I was around 4 or 5, and I remember hearing her boots squeak in the snow as we walked to the bus to go to the hospital, and I was grumpily saying to every footstep, “I’m tired. I’m cold. I’m hungry.” Now doubt she had to be patient with me as she was going through her difficult time!
When I was young, she let me have my own space in the garden on Arby Bay and rejoiced with me when I grew a huge pumpkin. When I needed a job at age 16, she went to Wiebe’s J-Mart on Edison on my behalf and asked Mr. Wiebe and got me my first job as a cashier. She was always proud of her innate ability to play guitar and piano, and when I developed an interest in guitar at age 18, she and dad bought me my first guitar for Christmas. Guitar playing has been with me all my life.
I was also proud of how Mom loved to read. She passed that on to all her daughters. I would always laugh because even in these later years she would say that her eyes weren’t good enough to read anymore, but then in the next breath she would tell me stories of what she was reading.
One memory that makes me laugh is that all through my MBCI and MBBC days, I was almost always running late out the door to catch the city bus. She was forever pushing me out the door. This summer when mom and dad were over for lunch, she shared this memory with Lyle and he told her that now he’s the one always pushing me out the door! “I took over your job,” he told her and they had a good laugh.
Mom was also sensitive to me. When I was a bit quieter, even this last summer, she would ask me if I was ok. I think Moms always seem to know their children, perhaps sometimes better than the children know themselves.
I know that mom took great joy in raising all her children, as well as being Oma to her 7 grandchildren, and 3 great-grandsons. Mom baked cookies with Joel and all the grandchildren as they were growing up. She took great interest in all of our lives, and prayed for everyone daily.
Despite her growing pain over the last few years, she did not hesitate to make food for us and to the end she was lovingly still feeding dad and making sure he had meals and especially cookies. She worried about who would feed him if she went first, but don’t worry Mom, we’ll make sure he won’t starve!
It wasn’t just her biological family that mom loved. She seemed to have a heart for so many. She gave me a very fun little sister as her and dad welcomed our foster sister Louise into our family after Hilde’s death, and continued to love her all through the years.
Growing up, she always enjoyed seeing my friends and making them feel welcome. My MBCI friends told me more than once how welcome they were made by my mom. After high school, mom always made a point to ask me about different friends from my church and she remembered details about their lives and always showed an interest. I’m honored today that my friends from church, Marilyn and Eldon, could come sing for us today. In recent years, Marilyn and I visited my parents a few times, even singing together for them once, and Mom had a special fondness for Marilyn. I’m sure Mom is pleased that she could come. It’s a gift when Moms can care for their children’s friends.
Mom also loved my students. For years and years when I was a teacher, she lovingly baked gingerbread men cookies at
Christmas and heart-shaped iced peppermint cookies for them on Valentine’s Day. Mom even visited my class more than once and spoke to the students about her growing up years in what is now the Ukraine and her experience of coming to Canada.
But she didn’t just feed them, she also prayed for them. Every year when the class picture would come out, I gave her a copy with all the student names printed out on the bottom. That picture stayed on her fridge, attached by magnets, until it was replaced by the next year’s picture. Every day, she would pick one of the students and pray for them by name. I highlighted a few students who needed a bit of extra prayer, and she made sure to pray more for these students.
Over the years, when we would talk about this prayer routine, she would always remind me “And Lydie, every day I pray for their teacher,” which was me. Over the years I told her often that these student prayers were one of her greatest gifts.
Mom gave me the gift of faith in more ways, and there is one memory I have which she might have forgotten. In the early days of my marriage, one day Mom gave me an article she had cut out of a magazine, maybe the Reader’s Digest, of the importance of forgiveness in relationships. At the time, I know I probably rolled my eyes a bit and brushed it off, but its message stayed with me and has grown in importance. I’ve never forgotten her life-changing message to me.
In our many visits on the phone or in person, she was always happy to see me. “How good it is to hear your voice,” she
would say. There were a few things I could always count on during our visits, she would tell me about all the latest news from the community, questions on how Joel was doing, how my work was going, and assurances that she was praying for us all. One day this summer, when she was having a tough day, we prayed together. She thanked me sincerely and said we should do it again. Though we never did pray over the phone again, I’m so grateful that on the evening she died, the family prayed and sang the hymn “Day By Day”, which Marilyn just sang for you.
Mom also often told me to keep on writing. She always told me that she felt someday I would still write a book. I do love to write, and if I do someday publish something, it will be in part due to her constant encouragement.
Like all moms have to do, I know Mom had to practice letting go of me too, something that didn’t come easily to her of course, but I would say over the years she let me go with grace, making sure to always let me know she loved me no matter what. Looking back, that was a mature, respectful thing to do. She trusted us, even when we probably made some decisions that she disagreed with. She gave us freedom, something parents need to do, however hard it is to do in the moment. Thank you!
I like to thank everyone for their encouragement of mom, their support and willingness to visit, make phone calls, and all the rest — especially during mom’s hard last few years.
I would like also to thank the North Kildonan and McIvor church communities here for being a source of encouragement, a welcoming place for her service, and a context for her faith to grow for over 65 years. It’s hard to think of mom’s life without all of her connections to this community.
I would also like to thank my sisters Lorie, Marlene and Louise for being steadfast caregivers in mom’s waning years. I know mom truly appreciated your support and love.
Today we gather in gratitude for mom’s unique personality, her giftedness and sincere kindness. I will always thank God for you, Mom. I love you and will always miss you.