A long ago image, one of my favorites
By Caitlin Kelly
I found out Sunday and immediately knew, seeing the nursing home’s name on caller ID, what this was.
A call I dreaded, but knew was inevitable at some point.
She had not been ill, although she had many health issues — COPD, a colostomy, survivor of multiple cancers. She was 85. I am her only child and we had been estranged, again, since 2010, for many reasons. Her alcoholism was a major one for me. I was worn out competing with it.
She was also bipolar and her manic episodes, certainly when I was in my teens and 20s, were terrifying, often resulting in hospital stays around the world as she traveled. I was 19, living alone and attending university, and would find calls on my answering machine from consular officials, from the Americans (she was) and Canadians (I am) asking me what to do.
It was a lot.
She had been in a nursing home since 2011 when she became too ill to live independently. She lived, at the end, in Victoria, B.C. as far as one can get from my home in N.Y., another obstacle to visits, even if wanted.
Which we often didn’t want.
She had previously lived in many places, including Roswell, NM, Woods Hole, MA, Toronto, Montreal, Bath and Gibsons. B.C. where she joined the volunteer sea rescue crew, bouncing around in a Zodiac and tending her garden.
In Victoria, she had a dear friend locally who will take her things for now, and who is executor of her will. She will be cremated and I’ll likely go out in a few months to take her ashes back to the part of mainland B.C. she wants them shared. Sadly, there are not enough people to make a funeral or memorial.
I am a stew of emotions, as anyone who’s read this blog for a while knows.
Cynthia had, in many ways, an amazing life, blessed with Mensa-level intelligence, beauty and enough inherited money she didn’t have to work after her 40s.
She traveled the world alone, even to remote Pacific Islands, and made friends in Australia, England and in Canada, where she moved from New York when she married my Canadian father — at 17. They met in Eze-en-Haut, France at a party, and barely knew one another before marrying at St. Bartholomew Cathedral on Park Avenue in New York City — two wealthy, charming, strong-headed people…who made me!
They were quite the pair and we moved to London from Vancouver while my father worked for the BBC making films. She was adventurous all her life.
She never attended university but worked as a radio reporter, TV talk show host and magazine editor and writer.
She met her lifelong best friend, an East Indian travel agency owner in Toronto, Molly, when she interviewed her for a story.
She had a wardrobe of wigs, sometimes changing her hair color several times a week.
Her black mink had a brilliant emerald green silk lining.
She was glamorous as hell — and also fiercely independent and private.
I knew very little of her.
I was sent to boarding school at eight and summer camps ages 8-14 when I left her care to live with my father. We had lived in Toronto, Montreal and Cuernavaca together.
I never lived with her again after that.
Because she always lived so far away, or vice versa, we saw one another maybe once a year. As she traveled, she would import me once a year to wherever she was at the time: Peru, Colombia, Costa Rica, Fiji.
Some years went by with no visits, due to rancor.
The closest we were, emotionally and physically, was the year I was 25 and living in Paris on a journalism fellowship and she was living, as always alone, in Bath. We saw one another more often then.
She taught me to play gin rummy.
To travel safely as a woman alone.
To set a pretty dining table.
To fight hard for what you believe in.
To talk to anyone interesting, anywhere.
We played ferocious games of jacks — her long fingernails, she knew, a competitive advantage
Ooohhhhh, we were competitive!
Love this one
That’s me, maybe age five or six, in Toronto.