Pierre Elliot Trudeau died three and a half months after my Mom died. In those early times, I remember being immersed in a grief that was desperate and lonely, filled with a kind of anguish I couldn't describe if I tried.
I was alone in my apartment, watching on TV as Justin Trudeau gave the eulogy at his father's funeral. As I listened to him deliver a beautiful, heartfelt and at times genuinely funny speech, I remember feeling comforted and less alone. I remember feeling connected to others who were experiencing, across the country, what I was going through as an individual. I remember feeling my grief lift somewhat and in its place there appeared the understanding of a simple truth that impacted me then and which has stayed with me until this day: We all matter.
My Mom wasn't a Prime Minister. She wasn't a statesman, nor was she renowned the world over. She was a single Mom who worked two or three jobs at any given time to put food on the table for her three kids. She did everything she could to give us a better life than the one she had. One with Christmases and magic; theatre and poetry; hockey and dance lessons; art and community. No one outside our family or our circle of friends knew her name. But in my eyes, she was a giant and she was every bit as powerful to me as Pierre Trudeau was to his son.
I remember sometime in the 80s, years before she died, there was a terrible hurricane in Jamaica. People lost their lives, their loved ones and their homes. My sister is Jamaican and my Mom wanted to do something to help the people who shared my sister's heritage. So she organized a donation drop off at a huge warehouse that wasn't being used at the time. She got the space for free so that the people of Portage la Prairie, where I grew up, could come and donate clothing items and blankets that would then be packed up and shipped off to those in need. She wanted the people of Jamaica to know that the people of Canada had their backs.
My Mom didn't proselytize to me about this. She didn't get on her soapbox and do it for the attention or the credit. She just went on about her business as a single parent, raising her kids, working her jobs while, somehow finding the time to help people in another part of the world that she had never even met. She did it to let those people know that they mattered too. And in doing so, she quietly taught me by example the power held in a simple act of kindness.
In the first couple months after she died, I remember feeling so angry that no one in Vancouver knew her name. This woman who was so important to me. The woman in whose eyes I could see my home. She had so little, yet she was so generous to others. How could no one know her name? Or who she was? Or that I could barely stomach the thought of eating or laughing or experiencing joy in a world without her in it?
The sting of those unanswered questions lessened over time as a result of a variety of different things, most of which had to do with the love and kindness extended to me by others. (Some I had never even met.) Justin Trudeau's eulogy for his Dad was also a bit of a turning point for me. I remember resonating specifically with the words he spoke about his father reminding us all what we're capable of. And that, in his absence, it would be up to us now to realize and fulfill that potential.
I don't know what it was about those particular words over and above any other of the wise words I had heard in those early months after my Mom died. Perhaps it was the moment of national mourning which had tapped into my singular experience of loss. But there was something about those words he spoke. A magic. A grace. A kindness. Hearing those words helped pull the deep, heavy curtain back from the darkness of my grief. And I began to feel a tiny bit of joy again.
A week or so after Justin Trudeau delivered that eulogy, I met him on the street in my neighbourhood in Vancouver. He was still a teacher back then and he was out for a walk on a cloudy Sunday morning with friends. I stopped and introduced myself. I explained that my Mom had just died. I extended my condolences to him on the loss of his father. And I thanked him for the beautiful words he shared in the midst of his grief which had somehow managed to lift me a little out of my own.
We spoke briefly. He was genuine and kind and he thanked me very much before we each went our separate ways.
Last night, as Prime Minister Elect of our country, he gave another speech and I can't help but feel that he has lifted the curtain back again, this time on a collective darkness that has lingered too long over the hearts of Canadians. There is a fear that has been lifted; a division struck down; a seeming indifference by the previous government toward the people of this country which feels to be dissolving and in its place I feel rising up a regard for this country's citizens that I haven't felt in a good long while.
I know there is work to be done. And I know we may not agree on policy. But today I feel that we're back in this together. And that with respect, kindness and compassion we will indeed find our way back to the sunny side of the street.
Welcome home Canada. It's good to have you back.
The Happiness Detective