Anna Has Left The Building

Tiny and tough, my mother was feisty and fiercely independent.

She used to say, “no one gets out of this world alive”. She didn’t either. She died in July. A fall in her beloved garden — her foot got caught in the tomato cages — unleashed a cascade of complications. She was 87.

My mother's life was bookended by two incredible extremes. She walked barefoot to a one-room schoolhouse until she was 12. During her last 15 years, like every hipster, her life revolved around the Internet.

My mother’s life was bookended by two incredible extremes. She walked barefoot to a one-room schoolhouse until she was 12. During her last 15 years, like every hipster, her life revolved around the Internet.

Born in a time when women were seen as a weaker, softer farm hand, my mother, Anna Betnaza, embraced challenge. She chose a life’s path of learning and enlightenment. And she encouraged me to be bold.

Her family left the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Poland arriving in Quebec City on the SS Montrose on October 29, 1929, the day the stock market crashed.

Her entire life, she was decades ahead of the times.

Her formal education ended in the eighth grade. She walked barefoot from the family’s Alberta Peace River country homestead to a one-room schoolhouse until she was 12. Her family decided investing in her education was unnecessary, since her destiny was to be a farm wife.

My mother the career woman. She turned a job in a hospital kitchen into a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse, graduating with honors. We found her report card, every subject but one, bandaging, she was rated Excellent. In bandaging she had to settle for Very Good.

My mother the career woman. She turned a job in a hospital kitchen into a career as a Licensed Practical Nurse, graduating with honors. We found her report card, every subject but one, bandaging, she was rated Excellent. In bandaging she had to settle for Very Good.

In her 20s she enjoyed a single life that included a fashionably elegant wardrobe with matching leather luggage for her travels. She also became an investor, creating a nest egg she would later leverage into the family home and a school trip to Europe which changed my life.

In the early 1950s, she found her true passion, her lifelong interest in natural food, nutrition and health.

My mother didn’t kiss booboos or cut the crusts off toast. She didn’t cater to our whims. She wanted us to be strong of body and mind and soul. She provided us with the most nutritious food she could find, sat vigil with us nursing our sports injuries and set high standards of achievement by exposing us to art and culture. She thought her job was to get us to 18, ready and capable to walk out the door and do for ourselves.

Undeterred by strenuous duties as mother, wife, family CFO, guidance counselor, housekeeper, cook, medic, gardener and chauffeur, she became a Master Herbalist, graduating from the Dominion Herbal College in 1984.

She explored her principles of health, food and eating — a food plan without processed foods, one that everyone could afford — by publishing Eat Anna’s Way in 1992. Another endeavour that was far ahead of the times. In a newspaper review, the writer said that “the mind boggles at how absolutely nutritious our diets could be if we ate half of what she suggests.”

My mother wrote two other currently unpublished books, her memoir, Waltzing the Tango, and a guide to natural healing, Anna’s Remedies.

When I look at this photo, I am surprised that my mother grew up on a farm. When she married at 30 she had a fabulous wardrobe, which I destroyed playing dressup.

When I look at this photo, I am surprised that my mother grew up on a farm. When she married at 30 she had a fabulous wardrobe, which I destroyed playing dressup.

She delighted in the world the Internet opened for her, subscribing to smoking-fast Internet service as soon as it was available. She spent countless hours in research, including commenting on newspaper stories under the nom de plume “Goody Two Shoes”, and lately, became a fan of Lewis Black and Bill Maher.

When I got the crazy idea that MacGyver and I should try the world of trucking I went home to run it by her. “Too bold,” I asked her. She immediately got on the phone to MacGyver to lobby for this new adventure.

“I learned to drive an tractor,” she told me. “You can drive a big truck. If you have a half a brain in your head and want to do something, you’ll figure it out.”

Late in life she developed a keen interest in reincarnation and religion and faith. She practiced meditation in two-hour long daily sessions. She came to decide that “God” is within all of us because we all have God’s two great powers, the power to forgive and the power to redeem.

She told the doctors that she was not afraid to die. She trained me for years to help her through her death labor when the time came. To be strong. During the eight days I held her hand in the hospital and conducted her final business, I felt as if I was following a road map that she had prepared.

Sometimes we don't know why we do things. Last May MacGyver and I visited my mother so he could do some chores for her. I insisted he take a photo of us. She doesn't like photos. And he didn't like the setting or the light, but I insisted. The next time I saw her was in the hospital.

Sometimes we don’t know why we do things. Last May MacGyver and I visited my mother so he could do some chores for her. I insisted he take a photo of us. She doesn’t like photos. And he didn’t like the setting or the light, but I insisted. The next time I saw her was in the hospital.

Eleven days after her fall, she “went through the Gate” as she called it, without fear, dying peacefully. Her eyes opened wide seconds before her last breath as if to say: “This is amazing”.

In the two decades since my father died, my mother cultivated an extended family of neighbors. They watched over her discreetly, setting their clocks, counting lunar cycles and passing seasons as she tended her garden, particularly her rose garden with its 112 rose bushes.

My mother left me and my three brothers with the gift of her single greatest quality– grit to carry on.

A personal meditation in her honour is appreciated.

16 thoughts on “Anna Has Left The Building

  1. As I have already expressed, Ed and I were saddened to have heard this news. This is a beautiful tribute to your mother and she sounded like a truly amazing woman. I wish I could have met her. But, I have you, and I can tell you possess much of who she was based on what you've told me about her, and that's close enough for me.

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  2. Our hearts are with you. We know how much your mother inspired you, and your stories about her inspire us. We enjoyed reading your reflection on her life, well written and touching. She was an excellent role model as a woman to all of us, having the strength and courage to be independent and trying new things (even as it gets harder with age!) plus perfecting domestic interests like gardening, especially all those rose bushes! I have so much respect for those rose bushes, one can only imagine! Not only do you have her smile, but her spirit. We can't wait to hear stories about her over coffee and toast. XO

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  3. This is very beautiful ! I feel like I knew her!! Such an amazing example of a person! I am happy that you got to have her. Besos y abrazos!!Beautifully written BTW

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  4. It is so strange. I was speaking about Anna to my visiting sister-in-law just two nights ago, describing her holistic way of life and her wonderful zucchini waffles. Your mom had quite an impact on me. And her daughter is quite wonderful as well. I hope Anna is beginning another adventure. For you, I am so sorry she is gone.

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  5. Thank you all for your kind words, Salena, Ruth Ann, Susan, Josefina, Mario and Kate.Salena: We appreciate your helping with MacGyver's trip planning so he could deliver the load and get back to meand my mother before she went through the Gate. You made it happen.Susan: The roses were her signature statement, her pride and joy. She worked on the garden for 40 years. It was also a big connection with the world. Neighbors and passersby stopped to chat when she was in the garden.Josefina: My mother saved every card and letter I sent her since I left home at 17. Reading them, I am so grateful, that I never waited to thank her. She knew.Kate: Mom asked about you. She enjoyed her visit with "modern career women" as she called us.

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  6. I recall meeting your Mom in the newsroom years ago when I was struck by the similarities. I am talking visual. But after reading your descrption of Mother's life, I note that similarities go much further. Our condolences. John and Joanne.

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  7. We were so sorry to learn the news of your Mother. What a beautifully written tribute to her. So glad you got to spend some time with her last year and again, just recently. Thinking of you from Australia and sending comfort hugs. Steven and Genny

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  8. Marliana this is both deeply sad and very inspiring. What a lovely portrait! I know how close you were to your mother. I know this opens a new chapter for you too. Love you Dxx

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  9. What a great post about your mom, enjoyed reading about her life even though I never knew her personally. So sorry for your loss.

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  10. A beautiful tribute to a wonderful woman. Your mother taught me how to feed my daughter healthy meals when I could afford little. She taught me how to cook "by heart". I learned to smell an herb. To crush it between my fingers and decide how it made me feel and how it might nourish those at my table. She ignited a passion for herbs that I still carry. Your mom had reasons to be embittered, but she never was. She accepted life, with her impish grin, and carried on. She comforted me with a steady word of experience and a life lived in forgiveness. She blessed my life and I will honour her by not crying–though I feel it brimming. You lived well, Anna. Until we meet again ❤

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  11. "Fantastic!" was what rolled out of my mouth after reading this. I'm so glad I got to meet and spend time with her. I knew she was amazing, and I heard some of the stories – but it's wonderful getting more of the full picture here. Lots of love!!!!

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  12. Thank you all for your kind words. Mom and I studied the science of human behavior — most people call it gossiping — trying to decide how far the "apple" under discussion fell from the tree. I have been coming to see for many years,but now I am sure, that this apple fell right next to the tree. And it's a good spot.McKitrick, when I was younger, I thought I looked like my dad, but now I see my mother's strong imprint.Steven/Genny, the truck has brought us back to visit more in the past four years than in the ten before.Donna, my new retirement chapter will be to finish and publish her books.David, that was a pretty crazy afternoon you spent with us. it was so hot, we couldn't move more than two feet from the AC. She told me her trip to New York was a highlight of her life and she enjoyed meeting you.Barb, I know she enjoyed your visits and was sad when you moved away. I cried when I read your note.

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  13. Thank you for your note Gil. Here's something I was not prepared for as we work through her life, the last 40 years, in this house — the food in the freezer. She was already preparing our favorites for our August visit. It suddenly came to me that this is the last time I will eat food that she made for me. And food was her whole life. The last time I will eat the vegetables from her garden. It makes me cry, tears from deep inside.

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