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Edith Hamilton (Weston) Main

The picture I remember best is an old black-and-white that I only saw a couple of times. Her hair is long and loose, her smile carelessly radiant, and her eyes draw one’s gaze again and again. She’s young, and she’s gorgeous, and it surprised a teenaged me to see the middle-aged, slightly doughy housewife – the one who had so lovingly welcomed, guided, and cared for me – looking so confident and free. I had known her as a quiet, self-effacing baker of cherry cheesecake and dispenser of tea, but here she looked like a screen star. This was my future mother-in-law, likely at about the age of her daughter when I married her. She was Edith, “Mother Main” (and not just to me), but I mostly called her Mum. I still do, though it’s been years since I’ve seen her.

The other photo comes 50 years later, I guess. It is more formal, a rather conventional studio shot that can’t hide her silvered, warm-eyed beauty. She is again slender, and her quiet dignity is clear. By this time, she was my ex-mother-in-law, marital fortunes being what they are in these times and in this heart. I was grateful when that same daughter, re-married, as I am, emailed from afar to let me know that Edith was preparing for take-off. She had turned 89 weeks before, and her life had become a smaller and smaller thing. She hung on for another week, and last Wednesday flight confirmation arrived. Friday’s funeral was not a tragic one.

Except that for me, it partly was. This is not a farewell that I ever should have missed, but I did. My family is in Dalian, China, which is a long way from Cayuga, Canada in more ways than four, and circumstances made it hard to even consider flying back. I generally wave off talk of the sacrifice that our little family makes by living in China; things are different, sure, but there are many sweet compensations. We have it good. But among the many other things that this quiet, nurturing woman’s departure means to me — and they are legion, and these have been reflective and emotional days – I feel this particular sacrifice keenly, to not be among the family and friends and fellow believers to pay the kind of grateful tribute to her that she certainly didn’t get enough of in life. (And who does?)

My sons, three of her six pallbearing grand-kids, were there and spoke nobly. Old high school friends were there that I rarely if ever see, as were members of my own family that I’m missing especially because they were present for the honouring of a life that profoundly enabled mine. (I learned long ago that when the lovely daughter and I divorced, it didn’t mean that the families had to be. Edith never treated me any differently, was never anything but generous, if a little wistful around the eyes; I just had fewer and fewer chances to see her, and in recent years none.) My best buddy spoke for people outside the family, and shared his thoughts with me. At times, that helped me to feel close and useful, but mostly I felt a million miles away.

So this is my last shared goodbye to Edith (Mum) Main. She was a sweet and loyal soul. Edith was one of the most loving, most giving people I have known. One of her gifts was to somehow make it feel easy to accept whatever it was she had to offer, from a lift home to a meal to a lovingly inscribed book or birthday card. It was always signed, Lovingly, Edith in in a careful, elegant script that gradually got jittery with the years. Last Friday, she gave a superb collection of people the chance to get together, to remember, to bear witness to the beauty and the brevity of life, to fill their hearts full, to cry until they laughed and laugh until they cried. She was a second mother and a spiritual guide to me, still is, but especially when I was a young, questing boy becoming a man, she was a lamp. How well-loved I was, how welcomed! How warm and unbounded was the hospitality, and how gently and kindly I was taught and encouraged in understanding and embracing, as best I could, the Baha’i teachings that have so enriched me. I have missed Edith for a long time, truth to say, and now I am doing so intensively, but not without joy in remembering, and with all gratitude. I owe her much. It’s amazing to think of the effect her choices, her example and her affection have had on my life, and impossible to imagine it without them.

My own dear mother passed in 2006. I love to think of Edith and Enid (have names like this left us forever, along with their bearers?) chatting over spiritual tea. When I wrote a birthday note to my son, turning 29 on the day that he helped bury his grandmother, I said this: we all, especially you, now have a special advocate in the Greater World. I don’t completely comprehend this, nor ever expect to, but I believe it and I cherish this belief. If it is nothing else – and I maintain that it IS – it is a profoundly useful, hopeful and even creative way to think. Any artist who invokes a Muse affirms this, as do my Baha’i and Christian and otherwise spirited family and friends. Pray for them as they pray for you, advised ‘Abdu’l-Baha. And so I have, and so I will.

It’s the smallest of gifts, and even a self-interested one, but it is all I can do for Edith, who did so much for me.

Comments (4)

  1. ZP

    This is very nice, thanks Dad.

  2. Kim Naqvi

    Thanks, Jay. By an odd coincidence, I heard of Edith Main for the first time minutes before you sent your e-mail about the article through Lynn Weir. Lynn knows Mary, and her mother knew Edith a little. Thanks for the stories. It’s all the more touching because they’re all part of that generation of my parents — who are still with me, but nonethleless…

  3. Judy Connor

    Thank you Jay for this eloquent and beautifully written memoir of Aunt Edith (at least that is who she was to me) I have that beautiful photo, next to one of my Mom looking equally like a screen star and I hold them both dear as I remember the long conversations they had on the phone and the love they shared for each other and their families across the universe it seemed as we were never in the same place at the same time. I also felt loved and nurtured and welcomed by her even though I didn’t get to see her often and I was sad that I couldn’t get to the funeral to pay my last respects, but I will also pray for her as she has no doubt prayed for me over my life. So thanks again for bringing her a little more to life for me and my siblings, who didn’t know her the way nieces and nephews should know their only Aunt, but who were loved by her nonetheless.

  4. Mary Main

    Dear Jay

    Ina so kindly directed me to your blog and memorial to Mum and I am so grateful she did. It is so very beautiful and filled with love. I did not cry at the funeral although I was deeply moved by the day and all the beautiful words spoken and memories shared – and I wondered when I would cry. It felt more like I couldn’t and I didn’t know why but reading your blog has released the tears – of joy and of grief. Thank you for loving Mum and sharing that love.

    Mary

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