Legacy Lessons from a Wanna-be Tap Dancer


My Mom passed away a year ago. One would think I would have been clear about the exact date of such a significant anniversary, but the truth is I was caught up in the stress of delivering two workshops and a keynote at a conference and hadn’t kept track of the exact date.

After-dinner musical entertainment was part of the final evening at the conference and a very talented father and daughter duo played one of the daughter’s favourite songs. Turns out it was also one of my mother’s favourite songs – Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

Needless to say, the song triggered tears, emotion, and memories.  Maybe just maybe, it was my mom making her presence felt and making sure I got the date right.

My mother’s life was long, loving, and well-lived but it’s still been hard because Wilma Adele Berswick was a woman beloved and missed by many.

She was described consistently by everyone who met her as being warm, kind, generous, and enthusiastic. We joked about her having been blessed with the “Pollyanna” gene. Even in her final days, her caretakers were amazed that she always smiled beautifully and said thank you every time they did anything for her.

She taught all of us the importance of the Golden Rule of “Doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” and that “If a job is worth doing, it’s a job worth doing well”.

As if raising five kids wasn’t enough to keep her busy, my mom was always involved as a volunteer with the related fundraising activities and events that kept many non-profit organizations afloat. This commitment to volunteering was consistent throughout her life but growing up it also meant we had a front row seat for learning that while happiness doesn’t always come with money, it is virtually guaranteed when one gives to others and to one’s community.

My mother’s definition of a “good life” or a “successful life” was doing the best for her children, and ensuring they became good citizens.  In fact, when my mother was called in by a guidance counsellor to discuss one or more of her children’s underwhelming academic achievements - not naming names here - she was assured that she need not be overly concerned in that as busy active kids, the guidance counsellor felt we would all grow up to be good caring citizens. 

Although my mother was always a glass-of-water-half-full kind of person, my father unfortunately was not. That in combination with other differing values, resulted in her making the courageous decision to leave my father after forty-seven years of marriage.

On her own for three years after that, she became independent, living in her beloved Port Dalhousie in a little cottage, taking courses, spending time with her grandchildren, taking in music and theatre, and volunteering for a number of organizations including palliative care and an organization for abused women.  She continued to learn and grow, particularly in a spiritual way, finding a full and rich new circle of friends.

Fully expecting to be on her own for the rest of her life, and quite content with that, she unexpectedly reconnected with Joe, a man she had known for years. She fell in love, they bought a home, and were together for 12 years until he suddenly passed away. He was good to her, and good for her - kind, thoughtful, respectful, and they genuinely enjoyed one another’s company. She and “Papa Joe” as the grandkids referred to him, enjoyed spending time with their wide circle of friends, travelled, and loved spending time with family. The fact that he was nine years younger than her just seemed to be the icing on her cake. 

Inherent within witnessing her finding such happiness after leaving my father was the lesson that it’s never too late to change your life. Sometimes you just need to let go of the trapeze even if you don’t know exactly where you’ll land. She landed well.

All in all, the lessons we’ve learned from my mother have been extraordinarily valuable but by far the most important is what she taught us about unconditional love.

Regardless of what has, or will happen in our lives, we always know for sure that my mother loved us and accepted us just as we were. As our youngest son put it, “She was our family’s number one fan who praised us for our successes and cheered us when we were down”.

The Covid lockdown was a challenging and isolating time for my mom. Daily phone calls from her friends and family were a lifeline and in hindsight were a blessing in that they allowed for conversations that may not have happened otherwise. 

Three questions stood out for me. One was her answer to a question about whether or not she had any regrets. It appeared she must not have had a lot of them because it took her a while to answer.  When she did reply, she said, “Well, I always wanted to take tapdancing”. Imagine that being one’s only regret! For sure a sign of a life well lived.

Another question I asked was this, “If you had the power to solve one and only one problem in the world, what would it be and why? She answered with wise words,  “Teach people to be good to themselves and to one another”.

I also asked, What would you like your children and grandchildren to remember about you? Her answer? “Know that I cared for you…”


Posted on 02-09-23


Thank you for sharing your memories of your mom. You are a model of unconditional love, so your mom did a great job in teaching you! It was wonderful to connect with you at the conference and I am so grateful to call you my friend.
With love,

•Posted by Carol Ohler  on  02/12/23  at  01:42 AM

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