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The Story I Never Expected to Write

AN-JM-Bellevue-SQOn September 8, 1928 a baby girl was born in the outport community of Ferryland, Newfoundland. Named Mary Louise Morry, she would ultimately be one of fourteen children –– seven girls and seven boys. Her father was John, her mother Elizabeth.

At school she used a slate and chalk, and learned everything she could. Education, she knew, was extremely important. When she graduated high school, she moved to St. John’s about 80 kilometres away, to study nursing at St. Clare’s Mercy Hospital. Those were the days when nursing students worked seven days a week, going from classroom to their shift in the hospital and to sleep, back to class and their shift in the hospital. Occasionally, there were Saturday night dances, and she used to laugh, two boyfriends –– one Catholic, one Protestant.

While in nursing school, she lost a brother to tuberculosis, then contracted the disease herself. Shortly before she was admitted to the sanatorium where she would spend a year bedridden with the affected lung collapsed –– the recommended treatment at the time –– she met the man who would become her husband. Their first son, Steve, was born in 1954, Rik in 1957, and I came along three years later, a surprise. I was named Jacqueline after my grandfather John, who had died suddenly about a month before I was born two weeks early, and Elizabeth, after my grandmother. She was desperately ill throughout all three pregnancies, but the day my grandfather died she had woken feeling better than she had in weeks, sure that something wonderful was going to happen that day.

The mother I grew up with always worked (she’d returned to nursing when I was two). When she wasn’t working, her primary focus was her family –– her own husband and children, and their large extended family. Unless she physically could not get out of bed –– and those occasions were few and far between –– rarely did she stop. She was strength, determination, and courage. She was fashionable, talented with a needle and thread, and determined never to let her hair go grey. She was the sound of singing and laughter. She was professional, and a presence in any room she entered. She was my friend, mentor and example. And if anyone had ever suggested that there were any lasting effects from her year with tuberculosis, we would have been hard-pressed to find any outward evidence of that fact. But as I would come to believe, that may be because she spent the rest of her life ensuring she made up for the year she lost. And the strength, determination, and courage that were her hallmarks defined every aspect of her final days.

Today, on what would have been her 88th birthday, we officially release the novella-length memoir, Twenty-One Days In May, which explores our experiences as mother and daughter during her final three weeks. It’s not a story I ever expected to write, but some stories are like that –– they insist on being written; they insist on being shared. I hope it’s a story that touches your heart and soul.

Download Twenty-One Days In May in ebook format beginning today at no cost from participating online bookstores. The print edition will be available later in September through bookstores everywhere.