to all of you. I am Kevin Kaiser and I’ve been offered the opportunity
to speak for a few minutes about my mother, whose life we are celebrating
here today together. I realized as I set about this task, that a son sees
his mother in a different context than those of you who are lifelong friends
or professional colleagues. It is even difficult to speak on behalf of my
siblings but I will try to represent the shared feelings of love, devotion
and admiration we all felt towards our mother.
My mother would be very pleased and honored to see that you all could make it here this morning to share in this with us, as it was her family and friends who were the most important focus of her life. It was also your continued support, well wishes and prayers which were so valuable to her in her final weeks.
In addition to your presence here, we have received many, many expressions of condolence from among the thousands of people my mother touched over the years. Their and your words match those that echo in my head with examples of her tireless and determined support of her friends and family throughout her life., The words that come to mind include: independence, courage, generosity, sensitivity, integrity, dignity, whimsy, and indeed the word ‘life’ itself – for few people I have ever known, lived life as fully or as well as my mother did.
I could talk for hours and provide numerous examples demonstrating her remarkable independence, including, of course, her desire to live alone in the woods for so many years. Her decisions to run for MPP, to restart her life in her mid-30s and get into and complete law school as a single mother of four high-maintenance children were further evidence not only of her independence and determination, but also of her courage and willingness to tackle any challenge.
Her generosity with her time, her energy, her advice, and in so many other ways provided invaluable support to a remarkable number of people. Over the years, and over the past few days, I’ve heard many stories of the friends, relatives, neighbors, clients and even strangers to whom my mother provided help and support in their times of need. One recent example, earlier this Spring a young woman came to my mother’s attention as she is working on a Masters degree and whose thesis includes studying the turtles in the area. “Would you like to borrow a canoe for the summer?” my mother offered, “There are two of them down by my shore”. The woman accepted the offer gladly. Such acts of spontaneous generosity were typical of my mother. Unfortunately, in an act equally typical of my mother, the canoe she lent was actually my brother Ted’s, a fact which escaped her at the time.
Among the other words which come to mind to describe her character, her uncompromising integrity and honesty have proven to be among the most important guides for myself in my professional and personal life. Whenever I face a situation in which I am unsure about which direction to take, I have always had a tool to guide me in the form of a simple question: – “Would I be willing to tell my mother what I have done if I choose this path?” (In truth of course, her adventurous nature wouldn’t necessarily result in the most prudent or sensible path being chosen.) Life forces us all into positions of compromise and presents challenges to our honesty and our integrity, and I observed my mother rise and meet those challenges one after the other throughout my life with courage and a toughness and a sense of right and wrong which was awe inspiring. It was her values and her commitment to community and people which led her into politics and then law and which kept her involved in local politics and community service in all respects to the very last months of her life.
Her sense of dignity was never so tested nor so well demonstrated as in the final weeks and days of her life. Even with a body riddled with cancer she still was not asking for the normal allotment of painkillers as she wished to maintain full control of her faculties and to preserve her lucidity and maximize her ability to interact with the family and friends showing up to visit. I struggle to imagine myself being able to meet death with even 1/10th the dignity that I observed in my mother over the past weeks and which swelled me with pride each minute that I spent with her.
Finally, and perhaps the key to her happiness, was her whimsical approach to life. She was always in pursuit of another experience, a little more fun or a new adventure. It must be said that her appreciation for red wine didn’t exactly hurt her whimsical nature. Her belief in fairies, her decisions at nearly 60 years old to take up roller blading or try skiing again after a 20 year absence, and her delight in her new bright red kitchen, reflected the child who still lived and breathed within my mother. To her last day, she was always able to crack a joke and even more able to laugh at herself in ways which had so many of us laughing in stitches so much of the time we were around her.
Her final months were focused on designing, building and moving into her new house. She moved in a week ago today and was so happy to be in her dream home in her final days. We are so grateful to all of those who helped make it possible: building, cleaning, packing and moving. Thank you so much for your efforts. Those of you who provided support throughout her life and in her final days are too numerous to mention but I would like to especially thank Karen O’Connor who was a rock of support from mother’s diagnosis through the preparations of the funeral today and to mother’s dear friend Loretta MacKenzie who came to spend time with her friend and wound up as her 24-7 homecare support in Mother’s final weeks.
My mother pursued a lifelong effort to build family connections and explore our genealogical roots. She came to know so many people and has given us all an extraordinary collection of family knowledge. We are all the product of our parents, grandparents and ancestors and while I cannot speak of the more distant past, nor of my mother’s mother who died the year I was born, I can say that, like her father before her, my mother had a character of the highest caliber who represented sensitivity and consideration towards all people, near and far, as well as extraordinary generosity and an unparalleled level of community and family involvement and dedication. It is with extreme sadness that within the past year we have had to say good-bye to, among others, John Laughland, my mother’s brother Paul and now my mother, each of whose lives, professionally and personally, reflected an embodiment of these values worthy of our deepest admiration and respect.
As a parent and friend, my mother had an extraordinary ability to make each of us feel stronger and more confident in our own identity, giving us our own sense of independence and mental toughness which, speaking for myself, has been such an asset in so many ways in my life. She will live in our memories and our hearts forever and I am will always be extremely proud to call myself the son of Mary Francis O’Connor Kaiser.