It may surprise you to learn that the fifth woman who shaped me was my mother-in-law.
I was truly blessed when she came into my life, and I cherish her memory.
The same year I started The Dunvegan Group, I got married. Along with being newly married, I became a full-time stepmother to two girls, ages six and eight. I went from living alone in a condo with two bathrooms for one person to a duplex with only one bathroom for four people! Having grown up in a house where eight people shared one bathroom, I quickly reverted to old survival strategies … and we began our life together.
As with all of my endeavours, I had a vision, determination, courage, technical knowledge, and practical experience; and I was sure I could do it better.
Thank goodness for my mother-in-law, Ellet. She was my greatest fan and my fiercest supporter. She made me laugh. She taught me to be patient. She picked me up when I was discouraged. She filled in some of the gaps and explained the circumstances that produced some of the baffling behaviours displayed by the girls. And she helped her granddaughters to adjust to me too.
Ellet even championed me to my own parents, who were unhappy that I had chosen to marry a divorced man. She told them that I had brought "order to the house"; her son was happy, her granddaughters were happy, her husband was happy, and she was happy. What more could any parent ask of their child?
I spent many hours with Ellet over coffee and almond croissants. She was a great listener and a wonderful storyteller. She shared the wisdom of someone whose home was destroyed twice in bombing raids during the second world war, fled her country, survived a long and arduous journey to a refugee camp carrying her infant daughter, was reunited with her husband following years of separation, emigrated to a new country to start a new life, to learn a new language, culture, and climate.
While she never suggested her life was harder than mine, clearly it had been. She was grateful to live in a country where she was safe, free to speak and do whatever she pleased, without fear; grateful for the opportunity to build a new life, to raise her children and to enjoy her grandchildren in abundance. Listening to her reminded me to be thankful for my own life!
Ellet was university educated as a pharmacist, and she had worked in the hematology lab of a well-known hospital in Toronto. She had studied homeopathy as well as traditional medicine and knew when to apply alternatives. She taught me to question the safety of various ingredients long before we were made aware publicly that some things were potentially carcinogenic (e.g., aspartame). She also pointed out where I was misinformed – for example; there is no calcium in 10% coffee cream.
Ellet taught me to hand my troubles over to the "committee of sleep." As she explained, while I was sleeping, my brain cells (the committee) would go on working on the problem so that by morning, I would have a solution. I have often followed this practice, and sure enough, the answer seems obvious in the morning!
Like my mother and my grandmother, Ellet has been gone for many years. And, like my mother and my grandmother, I miss her.