The eulogy. A genre in itself. A lamentation, a recollection, a commemoration. And, in too-rare circumstances, such as this one, a relief, and I hope, a celebration. I suspect that most of us gathered in this citadel of mercy, of forgiveness, and above all of communion, of community, have already travailed through certain stages of the mourning process, such as shock, denial, and maybe acceptance. So this, this collection of kin and kind—and a family reunion this is; this constellation of persons younger and older revolves around, is the effortless creation of, the woman we came to know and love as Norma Mary McNulty, and/or Norma Polley, and/or Trish Norma McNulty. She once asked me why I keep changing my hair. Long. Buzzed. Spiked. Chelsea’d. Blond. Long. Gone. My answer to her? ‘I don’t know TRISH!’ I had never before, nor have I ever since, deviated from the title ‘Mom’ she wore, no, the title ‘Mom’ she still wears so befittingly for my sister Krista and myself, and probably for our step-siblings Dennis, Jason, and Erin too. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom.
Mom, I wanted to be a chameleon of cool just like you, as at home on The Great Wall of China as at the Grand Russell Fair, as at home watching Raveen at the NAC as guffawing at Awful Knawful at The Dam, as at home navigating cruise-line casinos keeping forever marvelled Denis on a tight leash as on Russell’s streets limiting eternal puppy PJ on a slack-free lead, as at home at her fingerprint-ident desk at Ottawa’s RCMP headquarters as slamming the sizable bully Googoo against the glass for impolitely appropriating my kicked puck during public skating at the Russell arena. Beer; rum; wine. Sea; prairie; mountain. A chameleon of cool.
Jorge Luis Borges, the prized Argentine librarian and writer, theorised that memories are always already reconstructions of the previous tellings of these same memories. In other words, we don’t remember our experiences of events, we remember the stories we fashioned about those events. We’re all here today to commemorate my mom’s indelible influence on our own stories, on the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, about others, and to others. My mother’s biography, like most anyone’s, is simple: ‘She lived, she loved, she died’. All the rest is anecdote, is the personal narratives in which she plays roles. And there are a lot of these narratives. As a travelled citizen of the world, one with affinities for the rich and the poor, for the classy, the underclass, and the classless, she’s participated in myriad stories. And that’s why we’re all here (whether it be in body or in spirit or in both). Because we have these stories. Because we must share these stories. Hers. Ours.
It’s our god-given duty to celebrate Trish Norma Mary McNulty’s life well-lived. She told me a decade or so ago that she wouldn’t live into her eighties like her own mother, my Grandma Josephine McNulty, née Robinson, who’s now 89. ‘I live too hard’, my mom matter-of-factly explained. But the point is that she lived. She really lived. She packed two decades into every one, just like she turned a weeklong death sentence into a seven-week goodbye, within which she still managed to chastise me more than a few times. I’m sure Denis, the gentle seraphim who embraced every single ‘lovely’ second of this evermore delicate dance with death, knows the at-once discomfiting and welcome feeling of my mom’s no-holds-barred honesty. Until the blessed end, my mom told it like it is. No punches pulled. No empty social niceties. No mere Hallmark moments. No ‘nos’ swallowed. Feisty, courageous, quintessentially cool. That’s my mom. That’s our Norma. That’s our Trish. Let’s follow her example. Let’s live life, unabashedly, unashamedly, unapologetically. After all, a life un-lived is no life at all. Good night sweet princess, the rest is anything but silence.
Jason S Polley is Associate Professor at the Department of English Language and Literature. [Click here to read all entries by JSP.]