“Oh Michael”……..was an expression I have heard from my Mom many times in my lifetime and will never hear again. Her given name was Mary but everyone knew her as May. I knew her as Mom. She left this world early on the morning of Wednesday June 25th, as the sun came up and the birds she loved were awakening outside the window of her room at St. Joseph’s Hospice. Reflecting her wishes there was no funeral. Her obituary was the eulogy never given and this column is a reflection on her life. Mom’s use of the words “Oh Michael” was a universal statement that covered every eventuality in the world. Said with a soft Irish lilt and the emphasis on the “Oh” vs the “Michael” varied over the years as did the decibel level. In my teenage years she used the expression so often thought my first name was “Oh”. If she used the full name of Michael Desmond Bradley it was time to call the governor for a pardon.
Cannot write about Mom without mentioning my Dad, Des. It was a package deal with the two of them. Met as teenagers and married 15 months later in Northern Ireland. One was Catholic and one was Protestant–an Irish West Side Story. They left Ireland for Australia then to Canada looking for a better life. They faced all the challenges of a life a couple does together. For 55 years she was always there for him with affection and love, as he was for her. A friend of the family once said “Michael has his mother’s looks and his father’s guts”. Over time realized the compliment was interchangeable with both parents. Mom will be remembered for her engaging smile, warm personality, humour and caring and compassionate nature. Dad was known for his intelligence, wit and decency. After his passing a colleague said “Des was a real champion for the disadvantaged and for ordinary workers and a credit to the broader social movement for human rights, equality and justice”. Growing up my Dad and I often clashed. My Mom said she was Switzerland between us. My recollection, despite her claims of being neutral, after she reviewed the evidence, she often sided with the Irish instead of the Australian side. With maturity the relationship between Dad and I grew closer and, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “That when I was a teenager, my Dad was so ignorant I could hardly stand having him around but as I moved into my twenties was astonished at how much he had learned over the years”. They both had the Irish sense of humour that is gentle, ironic and observational. When they became Canadian citizens I attended the ceremony on behalf of the City and reaffirmed the citizenship oath with them, having taken it years before. At the reception after I mentioned to them “it is great to have two more votes”. My Dad responded, with my Mom nodding her head in approval, “don’t count on it”.
Mom retired from the Meat Department at A & P at Northgate after working decades there. She had started work in Ireland at age 14 and only retired to take care of my Dad who had a massive stroke. Mom was a staff and customer favourite with her warm smile and engaging personality. Extra tables had to be set up to handle the crowd at her retirement gathering. Noted the turnout and that she should be thrilled, she said with a smile “it’s nothing; if you were to retire ten times more people would turn out”.
She was a caring and compassionate woman with an outer and inner beauty that rippled through the lives of all she met because she loved people and they loved her back. She also loved animals and her favourite was a “Benji” dog named Yogi. Six inches high, a foot long and a bundle of fur with an attitude of entitlement. His teeth were crooked which gave him an infectious grin. At first Mom wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep him when we brought him home from the Humane Society as a present. The plea was made to let him stay for 24 hours and then decide on his future. He stayed 18 years. After his arrival the word went out to the squirrel and cat community that for a few laughs drop by the Bradley backyard. They delighted in racing through the yard pursued by Yogi. The only thing he ever caught was his tail and several colds. His best buddy was my Mom who he worshipped and
followed everywhere. Dad he viewed with “evil eyes” with distaste as a competitor for Mom’s affection. When my parents went to Ireland on vacation I was left in charge of Yogi. A typical phone call from Mom in Ireland went like this: Mom: How’s Yogi? Is he eating ok? Did you leave the TV on for him? (Never knew what station he would prefer: Was he a news hound and give two paws up to CNN vs Discovery TV, the all-hyena channel?) Then, “How’s everything else”? Would respond “I was in a car crash and my apartment was destroyed in a fire.” Mom: “That’s nice. Don’t forget Yogi likes his tummy rubbed”.
She loved feeding the ducks on the waterfront which led to the following exchange in a column. “My Mom, May, emailed after being outed as “The Bird Lady of Sarnia” in the last column. She has been feeding the birds on the waterfront for years despite my protests that it is not good for them. Leaving City Hall to have lunch with her, I spotted her car booting down front Street. I noted she turned into Bay Shore Park (her favourite duck feeding spot according to sources) instead of going directly to the restaurant. She was caught red-handed when she arrived for lunch with bread crumbs all over her hands. Now here is the rest of the story from her view. “I read your column in Sarnia This Week. Here is the Bird Lady’s version. I did see you exiting the City Hall parking lot and decided to let you know I was going to feed the ducks. I thought to myself, I will do this just to annoy the Mayor. I could have fed the ducks on the way home and you would have been none the wiser. I am sure that there are lots of people
who would love to be in my shoes. It’s not every day you can annoy the Mayor in a good humoured way. Love Mom”.
In 2007 she was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and faced that serious health challenge and others with grace, humour and courage. Mom’s Doctor at the Cancer Clinic in London emailed after her passing to say “it was truly an honour to know her. She was always so pleasant and focused on the positives”.
That was how she lived her life. Her last years were simple. Despite her health struggles she found joy in walks on the waterfront that reminded her so much of Ireland and feeding the ducks. Having French fries (always with extra vinegar) from Yogi’s French Fry Truck under the Bluewater Bridge. Drives through Canatara Park and along Lake Huron. Christmas with the family (her favourite day of the year). Telephone calls from Aunt Mary and Clary in Ireland, sitting in the sunshine in her garden, and watching Coronation Street with a cup of tea.
Yesterday and today, feeling very alone, her passing having left a Twin Towers crater of the heart. Sorrow comes to all of us in life. One can only pray the tears will evaporate in time with the beautiful memories of a Mom who personified the words “beloved” and “kind”. Remembering the words of Dr. Seuss, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”, I am going down to the waterfront and feed the ducks.