Sometimes life throws you a curve ball.
For our family, that came two years ago when out of the blue my mom was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer. Sadly, her cancer journey ended when she passed away on January 30 of this year.
This post is for my mom, Vera Korinek.
My mom’s passing made me reflect on her legacy. Its hard to encapsulate the impact she had on me and the rest of the people in her life. Even as I think about it now, I’m aware that her impact on me was much greater than I realise and for the rest of my life I’m sure I will see her legacy live on through me.
During her memorial service, we had a number of people share their thoughts on mom. These people were from all of the areas of life she was active in. She had a deep and lasting impact on her family, friends, co-workers, and teammates. Each person spoke beautifully about her positive influence in all aspects of life.
She had a knack for quickly being able to make someone she had just meant feel special and important. It was because she cared. You would have loved her.
Of course I can’t share all the memories, her full influence on my life or the many amazing traits she had. So instead here is the speech that I wrote (with the help of my sister Barb) that I shared at her memorial service:
I’m so proud to be her son.
Ever since Barb and I were little, my mom made us her number one priority.
In her typical selfless fashion, she dedicated her life to giving us the best possible childhood. She chose to work part time, even when being pushed to come back full-time in order to spend as much time with us as possible.
Her friend Kathy told me that when people would ask Vera: “Why don’t you take a break from your kids?” She would always respond: “Why would I want to be away from my kids?” She didn’t understand that way of thinking.
She joined us on school excursions; she drove us to volleyball practices and theatre rehearsals; she us cooked dinner every single night. Mom and dad taught us how to speak another language and showed us the world.
She would always be the one to take the butt end of the bread or the burnt piece of meat. She said she liked it. To this day I don’t know if this is truly the case, or if she did it to spare us. Either way, she made it seem like these bits were her favourite.
The other area she shone brightly was her unwavering support in any endeavor we kids wanted to pursue; even when she didn’t like it.
Perhaps it is not surprise because Vera means “faith” in Slovak and Faith can be defined as complete trust or confidence in someone or something.
It came easily to her to show an interest in what we were up to. She’d play hockey with me on the driveway, always be there to help me with homework and went to see every single theatre production I was in.
I know she wasn’t all to impressed when I broke my collarbone playing rugby but she never pressured me to quit.
She may have thought I was crazy for my career path as a zookeeper, teacher and now professional photographer, but she never showed it. In fact, quite the opposite. She would be the first one to buy one of my prints and proudly hang it on her wall. She’d be the first one to buy my wife Rachel’s cookbook, and she would buy 8 of them.
No matter what direction I went, I knew she’d be with me.
She was by far my biggest supporter while at the same time was Barb’s biggest too. Which brings me to her preoccupation with fairness.
Some of you may have seen this on the volleyball court. Both as a player and as a referee, she was very particular that the rules be followed correctly, and when exceptions were made that they would be made for both teams.
How it showed up for me as her son was that in spite all my efforts to convince her otherwise, she loved both me and Barb the same. Not once did I ever feel like she had a “favourite”.
She didn’t love me more when I did something good, or less when I made mistakes.
She loved. That was her gift to us all.”
Although she was still a young 64 I feel so lucky to have had her in my life for as long as I did. Her impact on me and our family is immeasurable.
I also feel very lucky that she was able to be at my wedding during her cancer journey and that I was able to spend her last Christmas at home with her and the family back in Toronto. I am so grateful to my employer lululemon athletica for giving me the time to make those things happen.
If you were wondering why my blog has been quiet since December, now you know why. Although I had big plans on what I was going to do on the blog to start the year off strong, it suddenly became less important.
I’ve been so focused on my photography over the past few years that other areas of my life have suffered. Although I wouldn’t change a thing, I’m thinking now might be a good time for me to shift how I balance my interests.
Somehow my mom was able to be an amazing mother and grandmother, very successful in her career, playing volleyball, golf and staying generally active until her diagnosis. She also was a key organizer within the Czechoslovak-Canadian community in music, outdoor adventures and volleyball. She did all of the things that she loved doing and spent time with the people who were important to her. She was so comfortable with who she was, that she allowed others to be themselves.
That inspiration of a balanced, fulfilled and self-expressed life will be my north star.
I don’t really know what that means for the blog. I do enjoy writing but find it difficult to keep up time-wise. That means that I’m not sure how often I’ll be posting which I know can be difficult for committed readers. I’m sorry for that. I hope that you stick around and find out with me what this next evolution will be.
PS If you have the means, a donation to your local Cancer Society would be much appreciated.
This is a lovely tribute.
Such a great tribute Matt. Really sorry to hear about your loss. My condolences my friend.
Thanks so much Paul, I appreciate it. She was a great person.
I am so sorry for your loss, which clearly is a profound one. Your tribute to your mother is beautiful in how it celebrates what she meant to you and who she was as a person. Peace.
Thank you Kristi.
This is so beautiful, Matt. Your mom was so very proud of you.
Thank you Kathy.
So beautiful Matt. Such a lovely tribute. Xo
Thanks so much for your support Becky.
Gorgeous matt. What a special woman. xo
She certainly was.
Thinking about you Matthew in your loss! My dad died 28 years ago at the age of 63 to the ravages of cancer. Two weeks after his death I started teaching at Henry Hudson. This past week, I lost my mom at age 90! She’s at peace! So, I feel your pain! As you move forward, continue to make your mom proud. She is forever with you, deep in your heart and in every morsel of your being – deep in your DNA! Hugs and best wishes for your journey! Mark
Thanks for sharing Mark. So sorry to hear about your mother. I appreciate the kind words.
You know tha I am with you,always! Olina
Yes I know, thank you Olino.
Matt Your Mom was precious to us all. I do have an audio of the Memorial Service for you. (not video) The celebration of her life is one I will never forget. She is an inspiration.
Oh wow, that’s great Marg. I’d really love to have a copy of the audio. Thank you so much for the kind words and for recording the service.
This is one of the most beautiful blog reflections I have ever read <3
Thank you Rodney. I did my best to try and share with everyone the person she was.
Matt and Barb – you pretty much nailed the essence in your speech. Beautiful. Thinking of you.
Thanks so much Bruno – it means a lot to both of us.
Beautiful Matt. She sure must be proud of you, and always will be Xo
Thanks so much Jami.
My heart is full, bearing witness to the love that your family shares and the incredible legacy that your mother created. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful and heartfelt tribute.
Thank you for swinging by and taking the time to read this post. I probably didn’t talk enough about how great she was to others when I was younger and am glad I can share it now.
I was actually thinking about your post this morning whilst driving to work. I was struck by how *aware* you are of who your mom was; what she did for you… even down to taking the heel of the bread loaf. As a mother, I was so moved by your gratitude and love. Thank you again for sharing <3
You’re very welcome. My mom was so comfortable with who she was that I think most of her friend would have been aware of what was important to her. She loved being our mom so authentically. Thanks again for visiting and for the kind words.
I have only found out a few days ago about your mother’s passing, and I have only read your tribute to her now. Very nicely said!
Your mother and your aunt Jitka and I were close friends as children, growing up, and well into our twenties. Then, “life” happened and sent us on different, separate paths. Nevertheless, I was very sad to hear of your mother’s passing. I hope you and your sister are doing well.
Hey Tom, sorry that you only found out recently. I appreciate the kind words on my tribute – we all miss her very much!