Eulogy for Neva Bezeau

(2007 12 07)


Yvonne Naito

Over the last few days, I’ve thought a lot about Mom, who she was and how I would describe her.  She was such a complex person and went through so many changes, so many phases!  The first thing I realized is that I remember 3 quite different “Moms” from 3 different time periods.  And I realized, that because I’m a lot younger than my siblings, I often saw a different person than they did.  I mean, when Lawrence went off to university in 1959, I was only 3.  I don’t ever remember Mom really having to look after anyone but me, and for several years it was just the two of us living together.  Anyway, I’ll talk about the three phases and I’ll start with the 1960s.


Mom was an educator.  Her life revolved around the junior and senior high schools where she taught in Lethbridge.  She spent her evenings at the kitchen table giving extra help to Grade 12 students struggling to pass exams.  All my interactions with her were educational.  As soon as I learned to read, she taught me to use a dictionary and insisted that I use it every day.  I couldn’t have been more than 7 when she encouraged me to read a powerful book called “Black Like Me”.  And the classes she signed me up for: piano, clarinet, band, choir, French, ballet, the list goes on and on.


She was a humanitarian and an activist.  She was appalled at the dropout rate among aboriginal youth so she started “Native Culture” classes during the lunch hour to attract these students.  I spent many Saturdays going to reserves with her, as she arranged for chiefs to come to the school to talk with the kids.  She was so far ahead of her time.  This was decades before the idea of native rights was mainstream.


She was a fashion icon.  She loved clothes and furs and jewellery and getting her hair done.  And she loved taking me shopping and dressing me up like a young debutante.  It must have been frustrating for her, because I was always ripping my crinolines, losing my jewellery and crying at the hairdressers because the curlers hurt my head.  She never got mad, though.


And, she was an avid supporter of the arts.  By the time I was 5 or 6 the two of us regularly attended symphony performances and plays.  We would dress up like movie stars and sit in the dark, listening to the music or watching the actors on stage.  I still clearly remember scenes from musicals like Oklahoma and South Pacific.


The second Mom I remember is from 1969 to the mid 1990s.  I didn’t see a lot of her during this time because after the first few years I lived with my brother Ken, then with my Dad and then with my husband Ted.


This Mom was a gypsy.  We moved from town to town with all our belongings in a small car.  It was packed to the roof and our poor black lab often had to sit on my lap.


This Mom was an adventurer.  In 1976 she worked and travelled across Europe, getting odd jobs to pay her way.  At the time, it was very common for young people to do this, but Mom was 63!


This Mom was a traveller.  Sometimes years would go by with hardly a word, and then I would hear that she was on the move.  She would buzz into town with a smoked turkey in her suitcase, stay a day or two, make a few peach pies and then head out for destinations unknown.  And, she’d be gone until the next time, until I’d get a phone call and hear her words “Let’s just say, I’m coming from the north.”  I guess that this Mom was a free spirit.


I got to know the third Mom when I was able to have long conversations with her.  This phase started in the mid 1990s.  The deregulation of the telecommunications industry allowed me to call her during the day when my sons were in school.  We could talk for hours and it didn’t cost much.  This is the Mom I knew until the end.


She was a philosopher.  We would spend hours discussing spiritual and moral issues.  She thought a lot about how we all change and grow as we travel the road of life.


She was a political analyst.  She loved reading books and watching TV shows about current events and discussing what she’d learned.  An hour before she passed away, she was on the phone with Arnold, telling him that she’d finished the autobiographies of Mulroney and Chretien that he’d sent her.


And this third Mom was a comedian, such a dry wit.  She said that everyday at Fernbrae, she would check the table where they display pictures of the recently deceased.  If her picture wasn’t there then it was a going to be a good day.


Anyway, that’s about it.  I guess she’s into her fourth phase now.