My parents had two daughters, 13 years apart, with no births or miscarriages in between. Dad was diagnosed with tuberculosis not long after my sister was born and although he survived, they decided to wait a long time before choosing to have another child. There were no antibiotics in those days and dad lost two of his sisters to the disease. A possible recurrence was high on my father's probabilities list and for this reason, he resolved not to leave my mother a widow with a slew of children to raise alone.

Left to right: Me, Mom & my sister Ghislaine
The age difference between my sister and me is obvious here

After they finally established that he would most likely be around for a while, my parents planned for a son. They ended up with me instead. My mother was anaesthetized when she gave birth and couldn't hold me right away. Dad saw me first and was not impressed with the way I looked. Before I landed in my mother's arms, he prepared her for the worst by sharing his misgivings. According to his personal criteria, I was really ugly. I made my entrance into the world butt first and ripped my mom to shreds (she should have had a caesarean section). After two minor surgeries to patch her up, she ultimately forgave me. Actually I think she liked me right away even though my entrance was rather wonky...a telltale sign of things to come.

Anyway, back to ugly. 

Seems that I was kind of folded up like an accordion inside my mom's body because my head kept flipping backwards for months after I was born. My eyes were crossed. That worked itself out over time although frankly, the back of my head is still rather flat. All wrapped up in a blanket, I was eventually brought in to meet my mom. I must have been sleeping (eyelids closed) because she supposedly told my dad I wasn't THAT ugly. I grew up resembling my father and teased him whenever I heard the story: "I may have been ugly dad but now I look just like you!" 

My older sister and I had the same parents and yet we didn't. Dad was really strict with her and not with me. Mom was in good spirits until my sister at twenty, married and left for the big city of Montreal. I was seven when mom's health started to deteriorate.

Before she became ill, mom was quiet but did lots of things. I recall crawling about as an infant on a checkered kitchen floor. In my line of vision were mom's legs and shoes. She invariably wore skirts and apron ties hung on her derrière. Mom had fine delicate calves. She always seemed to be washing dishes or preparing something. In summer, she tended a garden in the backyard. Our house was always neat, spotless, and tasty meals appeared with clockwork regularity on the table.

Mom rocked me until I was way too old to be rocked. At my request, she created beautiful drawings in front of my eyes. I loved watching her draw. She sewed stunning clothes for my "Suzie" doll (no Barbies in those days). No other kids had the cool clothes my Suzie had. Mom made a tutu for my ballet class. I remember being upset because it flopped and didn't stick out stiffly like those of the other students. I wish I hadn't been upset. She made the flower girl dress that I wore at my sister's wedding. It was the first and most beautiful gown I ever owned. 

Flower girl dress made by my mom

A partial hysterectomy and my sister's departure may have contributed to the radical changes in my mother's behaviour. I initially thought her spontaneous crying spells were my dad's fault. She would rush to their bedroom, he would follow and try to console her without success. After a while, I figured out that these episodes happened even when my dad was off at work, so from then on, I naturally assumed they were my fault although I was at a loss to figure out what I was doing wrong. 

My parents decided to sell the house we lived in so we could move into a triplex that my dad had recently built. He hated having debts and with the proceeds from the sale of their bungalow, he planned to quickly pay off the mortgage on the new construction. I didn't like the neighbourhood, a hodgepodge of multi-unit buildings and single family dwellings. I was around 10-years-old when we left our old house. From then on, mom became progressively worse. 

Depression Bed

Oftentimes she didn't leave her bed. The blinds and door remained closed. Loud, agonizing sobs emanated from the darkened room. On the days when mom couldn't get up, Dad made breakfast for both of us. He became particularly adept at cooking eggs, sunny side up. I have a fondness for them to this day. Yellow yolks were often the only sunshine in our house.

My beautiful mother lost weight and rarely smiled. Sometimes she became strangely frustrated for no apparent reason and used bad language. I had never known my mom to utter a bad word, not even "maudit" (damn) before, EVER! Now I heard her shout maudit torrieu, a VERY mild swear here in Québec. It sounded appalling coming from her mouth. Something was seriously wrong. 

She began her sojourns in various hospitals. Over the years she went to one in Québec City, another in Trois-Rivières and a few in Montreal. Diagnosed with clinical depression, she received all available treatments, electroshock and insulin. She often said that she felt better after electroshock treatments but it didn't last. After a few months she invariably spiralled down to hell once again.

Mom couldn't take care of me. During the summers I was shipped away to camp or to my sister's house near Montreal. During the school year I sometimes stayed with family friends. Eventually antidepressants, those magic pills that allowed my mother to function came into existence but she was never quite the same again. Her personality remained flat for many years and even on the pills, she would often have relapses.

I kept an eye out for the good days. Mom had a serious relationship with her bed. After supper she would sometimes sit there, propped up on a pillow. A little light hooked onto the headboard shone over her like a halo. I would lie down beside her and chew her ear off. I had so much to share. Mom was a great listener. She stared at me with a half smile and rarely said anything. The following day she was usually unavailable.

She was gentle, never made much noise, never made a fuss. I was an active sleepwalker and had vivid, upsetting nightmares. One time she caught me trying to open the front door in the middle of the night and quietly led me back to bed. How she always managed to wake up on cue to keep me from disappearing off the face of the earth baffles me to this day. 

Through all of this, mom managed to spoil me rotten at suppertime by treating me like royalty. I think she tried to overcompensate for what she couldn't do or "be". She would ask me what I wanted for supper and I would reply something ridiculous like Minute Rice with barbecue sauce, which she would then make for me. I was served in the living room while I watched an idiotic television program. My parents usually ate something else that was far more nutritious at the kitchen table. Totally weird. 

These patterns continued all through high school. I didn't have friends over too often, spent a great deal of time alone in my room, and often found myself echoing her behaviour. At times I felt incredibly sad but being alone also fed my imagination. I created things from whatever was at hand, collaged, drew, painted, wrote, and read voraciously. I wrote to a multitude of pen pals around the world.

When high school finally came to an end, I knew I had to leave my hometown. At barely seventeen, I was way too confused and immature, but I was suffocating. Home felt like a funeral parlour. One of my teachers suggested that I study art because I drew on everything in sight. That's what I did. I found myself living in a woman's residence run by nuns for 10 months while attending art school in Montreal. I felt free in the big city and never looked back.

Things remained more or less the same for my mom over for the next 40 years. Her meds allowed her to function. Deep down, I suspected that she didn't want to feel anything. When she became frustrated or angry, she would disappear into her room for a cry. Later she would explain away these episodes as being a manifestation of her illness. She abhorred conflict. 

Dad died in 1991 and Mom lived on her own for another 5 years. Eventually things became difficult for her (she didn't drive and had angina) so at 85, she sold her house and moved in with my sister in a Montreal suburb. She lived there for fourteen years.

Mom was in excellent shape physically and for the most part, emotionally stable but her personality remained self-effacing. A classic introvert, she didn't engage much with children but when we prodded her with questions about the past she became an animated storyteller. Stories about her mother, family secrets and her childhood experiences were always intriguing and became fodder for some of my art and writing. I'm a big fan of oral history. 

After a minor medical issue at ninety-nine, mom finally decided that it was time to move into a senior's residence. The new room was a good size with an adjacent bathroom. My sister and I wanted to bring her favourite things to make the space feel homey but mom refused most of what we suggested, opting instead for a very minimalist decor. It felt like a hospital room to me.

Over the next few months her character went through a profound transformation. She developed an easy smile, became chatty with my sister and me and friendly with the staff. I kept muttering under my breath, "Who is this woman?" Mom remained however, rather aloof with the other residents and rarely engaged them in conversation. She repeatedly told us how much she loved her room and the residence. 

Mom and the Easter Bunny with an ear problem

Over time we noticed some cognitive decline; she didn't remember my father even when I showed her a picture of him. She merely said "I don't remember him but he was quite good looking". 

She didn't recall having lived with my sister and was convinced that she came to live at the residence following the sale of her house 14 years earlier. She repeated the same stories over and again. When I asked her questions about the past she would often reply "I don't remember". At other times, questioning stimulated a new memory. It didn't seem to bother mom when she didn't remember something. I never saw her flustered or frustrated. 

Eventually she became quite fussy about food and hardly ate at all. She mostly survived on fortified drinks for the elderly but when I brought her fresh strawberries and yogurt every couple of days, she always gobbled them up with glee. 

Colour became important. To keep her stimulated, some of the attendants applied polish to her nails. Initially, she was put off by the whole experience but a year later, she started to love the attention and repeatedly showed us how pretty her pink nails were.

I brought her the colour pencils she always wanted but never had as a child. I was hoping she would fill in her new colouring book with renewed passion but I always had to do it with her. Mom's greatest joy was just staring at the pencils. "They are so beautiful. I finally have a set of colour pencils." 

Colouring with her will remain one of my fondest memories.

Mom died on October 28th at the age of 103 years and 3 months after a massive stroke which paralyzed her left side. She improved for a few days but eventually grew apathetic. The hospital experience was typical, a cacophonous environment where staff keep telling patients to rest but insist on waking them up the minute they fall asleep. Mom began to refuse food and drink entirely and died in palliative care a week later.

I was given the special gift of a new mom over the past three years. Cheerful and child-like in many ways, she loved it when I took selfies of us both or when I had her singing along via Youtube to Elvis' version of "Love Me Tender" and Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose". I am so thankful that "little girl" mom came back to me. 

My mother wasn't allowed to dance when she was young and really, really wanted to. The Catholic church forbade it then and nasty Sunday sermons ensued if the parish priest heard the slightest rumour of teenagers dancing. Mom told me that she was once personally targeted in one of the preacher's barbed diatribes after someone blabbed about a transgression.

So now I choose to imagine my happy, carefree mother dancing in a parallel universe. Dance Mom! Dance! Dance!

Simone Piché (Collet)
All my love.


  1. And draw Simone! May you live in a house made of coloured pencils and see out your sun-facing window your baby daughter let her imagination go where yours might have in another life and times!

  2. Thank you for sharing, I am so sorry for your loss.
    Cindy Hershon


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