Remembering a wonderful woman … Dawn McCourt

While thinking of stories and memories of mom, I wanted to revisit the eulogy I wrote celebrating her life:


Since mom’s diagnosis and passing I have heard from so many people of what an honest, down to earth, genuine and caring person mom was. She was warm, sweet and loyal. Mom was an artisan with many crafts. I grew up knowing her to be a seamstress, as we grew older her interests expanded to include painting and more. She was a night owl who spent many an hour after the rest of us were in bed working on her art. Of course, when else could she get a few minutes to herself?


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Mom in my memories

Growing up, a forces’ kid, things never stayed the same for long. It was so for my parents too, each air force kids, and then mom becoming a mountie’s wife. Mom knew the life of change, and embraced the adventure we were on. We knew no other way, and thanks to mom, we accepted it as it was. Our constants in our lives, were our parents, and each other. My siblings and I, especially in our early years were close.

Every summer spent on the road, either traveling to a new home, or traveling for the joy of it. Living out of tents, campers, and trailers. We were each others’ closest companions for more of the time I can recall, than we were not. We helped each other make new friends everywhere we went. We were happy, friendly kids. We had the love of our parents and the confidence to do anything we set our minds to, thanks to mom and dad.


Mom’s role varied over the years from stay at home mom, to working mom, and back again, depending on where we lived and what the needs of us kids were. My sister and I never experienced daycare. We played with the neighborhood kids and went to mom and tot exercise classes together. Our first home was a country bungalow in rural Nova Scotia. Where our closest friends were our immediate neighbors, who have been like family ever since, even with all of the miles that were placed between us for most of our succeeding years. Mom kept a constant contact with those who were dearest to her.


My Nanny and Grampy, my auntie, my uncles and aunt, friends who we came to know as extended family. She wrote newsy Christmas letters and made the most of every phone call. I have vivid recollection of mom’s voice chatting animatedly and her laughter filling the room. Our travels always took us to the home of some special friends/family, and often included lasting friends joining us at campgrounds. Mom treated their friends’ children like her own, and their friends did the same with us.


Mom always belonged to a crafters’ guild of some sort, from Stitch n Bitch, to co-op craft store and art association. I always think of mom with handwork on the go. Her mediums varied like the places we called home. Needlepoint and machine sewing, painting and dried flower arrangements. When I think of mom, I think of beautiful craftsmanship and her appreciation of the life surrounding her. Mom wanted to share her skills with us, yet didn’t recognize herself as an artist until her later years.


Mom volunteered at school activities and became a leader at brownies and guides. When we started home economics studies in school, I already knew all of the basic sewing and cooking skills. I was encouraged to follow my heart in so many directions with gymnastics and skating and reading and writing. I went on long hiking camp-outs that most other parents wouldn’t have considered their children ready for. Mom gave me a long lead to explore my interests and learn new things, while still keeping me well within her watchful eye. She fostered independence and responsibility in me.


When I look at the photos I made of mom’s creations and her joys, I am struck by her appreciation for life’s beauty. When I walk into hers and dad’s home I feel embraced by her, even in her absence. The objects and creations that I photographed all come from that place. They are all things that I wanted to capture for the rest of my days in memory of mom. As a reminder of the love she showered us all with.


Memories of Mom (collage)

Memories of Mom

Finding our new normal

The grieving process has so many aspects to it. We grieve the loss of our loved one. We grieve the loss of our future as we envisioned it. We grieve the loss of our daily normal life as we knew it.

For those of us directly effected by that normal daily life it can be the most challenging, emotional, exhausting part of grief.

When my ex-husband and I split up 6 years ago this was most definitely true for me and our girlies.

When we lost my 59 year old grandmother suddenly to liver disease 25 years ago, this was certainly true for my grandfather.

Since losing my 59 year old mother after a short illness with cancer 4 weeks ago, this is absolutely true for my father.

Nothing prepares us for the grief or loss in such circumstances. It is raw. It is ever present. It comes in waves. And it overcomes us.

There are no tried and true answers. There is no remedy for grief. Time is the ultimate healer. Yet, I do try to assist this process along.

Holidays and special occasions bring with them added intensity to feelings. Some of our traditions and rituals bring great comfort with the wash of happy memories that come with them. Others bring an unanticipated painful flood of raw grief.

It’s not possible to stop the hurting, nor is it healthy to try to do so. However, I have found that creating new memories and traditions that will be associated with them have brought comfort. The things that I have found most challenging to face, I tried to change in some way. Letting someone new take it on, or doing it in a new way, and creating a joyful association with the new rituals that will continue with our new normal.

The firsts are always the toughest. This will be our first Christmas without my mom. We will all be gathered in my home, which became the new tradition after my girlies and I moved back to Nova Scotia. Every Christmas that I have them home with me, we host and the girls get to sleep in their own beds before waking up to the spoils of Santa’s mid-night visit. Christmases without my children are very different, and intentionally so.

This year I will prepare mom’s Christmas brunch on the eve. We’ve asked my grandfather to provide a soup for Christmas Eve that he hasn’t cooked for us since he remarried. Mom won’t be here to overfill the stockings with her little extras that could fill a stocking each on their own. I decided to take care of everyone’s stockings myself rather than try to recruit help when no one is in the spirit. And this year my sister, dad & I will prepare the feast without mom’s singing to keep us inspired.

There are gifts under the tree from mom. These will be emotional and special in her all-to-obvious absence. It’s also far too reminiscent of a Christmas long ago, when the three of us kids unwrapped some very special knits that mom’s mom had completed, right down to the wrappings before she became ill herself.

Yet, it will be the first Christmas in six years that dad will have all of his children under the same roof as he. The first ever that all of his children and grandchildren will be. It will be the first that we are all together with my grandfather (mom’s dad) and wife, and my uncle (mom’s brother), just like the many Christmases after we lost Nanny.

Family drawing together to guide one another through a difficult and bittersweet time. Drawing upon the children for the joyful spirit that most of us aren’t naturally inclined to this year, we’ll make it so for the girlies.

A celebration of the life of Dawn McCourt

Everyone who knew my mom knew that she was … the type of person that makes an impact on people, things and places.  As my cousin Nick wrote to mom: “Everywhere you go, people end up loving you.  That’s one heck of a personality you have.  Anyone who knows you is lucky to have met you.”

Since mom’s diagnosis and passing I have heard from so many people of what an honest, down to earth, genuine and caring person mom was. She was warm, sweet and loyal. Mom was an artisan with many crafts. I grew up knowing her to be a seamstress, as we grew older her interests expanded to include painting and more. She was a night owl who spent many an hour after the rest of us were in bed working on her art. Of course, when else could she get a few minutes to herself?

She would never call herself a great cook, although most of us would argue otherwise. Most of her “concoctions”, as she called them, were very tasty! However, she was once awarded a shellacked cold mini pizza for all of the wonderful meals provided by mom when dad and his co-worker arrived home late for dinner and were often presented with cold pizza.

Mom especially never claimed to be a baker. As many know, mom joked about making burnt offerings. Once when asked to provide for a community event she even cut the charcoal bottoms off of her biscuits and sent just the tops because there was no time to bake more! Perhaps they were destined for a Seinfeld episode. In our house we joked that we knew cookies were made by mom, by turning them over. And mom often claimed her cookies were intended for dunking in tea!

Mom made friends everywhere, and touched people in ways that only she could. Even as cancer overcame Mom’s body her beautiful, radiant spirit shone through. She was someone who found the good in every person and situation. She lived with no regrets, and appreciated everything her life had provided her. After being diagnosed and learning her prognosis, mom told us that she had lived a great life, that she is happy with everything – she had no “bucket list”, so to speak. That which she had wished for, had already come to be.

Always living up to her name, Mom was a vibrant life force with a sunny smile. We will always remember her in every new dawn, however our family all know that mom could count on her fingers the number of times she actually woke early enough to see the sunrise! Sunsets were more her thing.

Mom loved to laugh, her laugh was infectious, she laughed hard and she laughed well. She brought the healing of laughter to those around her. When mom and her friends got together it was not unusual to find them in tears, laughing so hard they could barely catch their breathe.

Mom was born in Clinton, ON in 1952. When mom & dad were teens both of their airforce families lived in Whitehorse. Mom was 14 and her best friend was the sister of dad’s best friend, Jerry. Mom had such a crush on dad that she and Janice went banging on windows while my then 16-year-old father babysat! Both families moved on to new postings and after dad joined the R.C.M.P. he was stationed in Halifax. Jerry gave him Uncle Alan’s number to catch up with the Smith family who then lived in Dartmouth. The rest is history, or so I’ve been told. However I’ve since learned a little more about how Mom became a “mountie’s wife”.

When dad was being transferred again he decided he couldn’t let mom get away. After just two short months of dating dad proposed to my then eighteen-year-old mother. The midnight mass on Christmas Eve had finished and he proposed in the pouring rain in the church parking lot of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Mom always called our family a bunch of gypsies. Two air force brats turned Mountie family, moving from place to place she always saw her life as an adventure. How many other careers paid you to see the countryside and learn so much about your nation along the way?

She loved to travel, often with family and friends joining her. Family road trips crossing the country in a van & camper or trailer, vacations to far away places likeHawaiion an anniversary, Japan to see my brother’s home, or painting workshops with friends.

Ever the diplomat, Mom chose her words carefully, yet wished to always express her thoughts, feelings and opinions to those around her. Just ask Dana’s high school boyfriends about mom’s hotseat! I assure you the only friend of mine who ever sat there did so because of his connection with my little sister’s boyfriend! 😉 Mom never wanted to use any offensive language, and had her own words to make certain references like: “tooting” and “pain in the derriere”. But we’ll always cherish memories of her greeting us with her smile and a “hi, sweet girl!”

Even when singing to her grandchildren she tried to keep things equal. My Nanny sang a song to us as babies called Dolly Dimples, each verse with a different nickname for her beloved grandchild. Mom sung the Dolly Dimples verse to Nanny’s little girl, and Lizzy Lucy to Grampy’s.

Nanny always had time for her girlies, providing her ever-flowing encouragement, just as she did for everyone she came to know. She loved having her grandchildren around her, and especially having time with them on their own. Nanny & Grampy took Breanna & Payten camping, cared for them when I needed support of my own and had an annual routine of taking them to celebrate Canada Day at the Balcam Centre. She was always so anxious to see her girls upon returning from Florida after a long winter away.

Mom was always the communicator in the family and every year she wrote a long newsy “Holiday letter” (the Christmas letter, rarely did make it into the mail on time). She often spoke for both she and dad, for which dad was always so grateful. Mom would occasionally feign the need to use the washroom just as the phone would ring at home in order to force dad to pick up and talk once in a while.

Always very determined, mom has shared with us many times, stories about her 50 mile walk in Whitehorse when she was the first girl in at 13, after a grueling walk in her army boots! Her determination to live and love life shone through even during her final days. Just as in good health mom, found joy in the simple things of companionship, love, laughter, sunrises and sunsets, and the incredible surroundings of the home she and Dad created on MacLeod’s Cove.

Mom put aside her personal comfort to provide for the needs of everyone she cared about. Even while she was sick recently she dropped everything to attend to me when a migraine hit suddenly. When I called mom we could have a twenty minute conversation (and how often was it ever just a twenty minute conversation?) and I might not get the chance to ask a single question about her – when I did, she’d tell me about dad.

When mom walked in the door of our place she never failed to notice the changes that made our new house more like home. Mom always made me feel special, loved and good. Good at what I did, good at parenting my children, good at being her daughter. My mother taught me so much about living a real, genuine life. Enjoying and appreciating what I have, and that I always had her undieing love and support. She taught me to cherish my family first and foremost.

On behalf of mom and the rest of my family I want to thank the Health unit at the Sheet Harbour hospital for their wonderful support, as well as the community of Port Dufferin and Sheet Harbour who have provided countless meals, words of support and encouragement and more during a very difficult period. The depth with which Mom has touched so many lives is evident in the number of those present today, in the cards, emails and supportive gestures offered by so many. She was loved and respected by so many more than could have ever been imagined.