Disclaimer: As part of my third year print class, I was responsible for writing one story a week. In October of 2012, my grandmother died. Instead of coming up with a story, I decided writing the obituary, and giving my grandmother the recognition she deserved was important. Writing this story was therapeutic for my grieving process. Conducting informal interviews, filled with tears and even more laughs, helped me to remember and say goodbye to the strongest woman I ever knew. RIP.
October 21, 2013
BY: NICOLA MACLEOD
Theresa Ann MacLeod was a lady of conviction; and that’s what she wrote in her own death notice.
She died on October 19 due to complications from a stomach surgery she had a few weeks before. She was 80 years old.
Theresa, or ‘Ma’, was born in Inverside, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia in 1931. She was the youngest of Dan Joe and Mary Bell MacNeil’s six children. Dan Joe worked as the underground manager in an Inverness coal mine. While giving birth to Theresa, Mary Bell suffered a stroke and remained bed ridden until her death when Theresa was 12.
Theresa went to school in Broad Cove and did her later education at the Mabou Convent. After completing school, Theresa went to teacher’s college in Truro as well as Dalhousie University and University College of Cape Breton, now Cape Breton University. She later returned to Broad Cove and taught in the one-room schoolhouse. Theresa remained in classrooms for the next 40 years.
She married a coal miner named Angus Malcolm MacLeod. In the early 1950s, the Inverness mines were closing and the two relocated to Scotchtown so Angus could work in the new mines. He did so until 1967, when a mining accident left him without several fingers. Angus then switched to a career in furniture upholstery.
The couple had five children. Frank was born in 1956 and Ann Marie in 1958. In 1963, they had Ron and less than a year later, they had Doug. The baby, Chris, was born in 1968.
The family home burnt down in August of 1977. It was rebuilt on the same spot and they moved back in before Christmas of that year.
Even after the birth of her children, Theresa continued teaching. She taught at the Scotchtown Memorial School until its closing in 1986. She taught at Saint Michael’s School and New Victoria School until her retirement.
She cared for the needs of her students, and that transferred outside the classroom. Over the years, she taught many children from the impoverished mining community. In the mornings, Theresa would anonymously knock on doors and drop off food and clothes to her students who had nothing to wear to school.
She remained a vitally active member in the New Waterford community all her life. Theresa was a brownie leader, a member of the Catholic Women’s League, Ladies Auxiliary and served on parish council.
“There would not have been a wake or funeral that she did not contribute to,” recalled daughter-in-law Jackie Doran-Macleod. “She was always the first one there with food.”
“She was so practical,” said sister in-law Marie Butler. “[She was] always thinking of others.”
That remained true until the end. On Thanksgiving weekend, Theresa told family from her hospital bed that she wanted to die on a Friday, so nobody would have to take any more time off work or school.
“Can you not die this Friday,” joked granddaughter Kathleen Fitzharris. “I’m scheduled to work.”
Theresa died two weeks later… on a Friday.
She was a strong and perseverant woman who overcame many struggles throughout her life. Her husband suffered from bi-polar depression, which caused them both to heavily drink and smoke. Family members recall that Theresa smoked two packs of Players Plain unfiltered cigarettes a day.
She quit drinking at 60 and tried several times to quit smoking until eventually quitting at 65.
In her last 20 years, Theresa had lung cancer, breast cancer, a stroke and blockages in her heart and stomach. Poor circulation in her intestines caused her bowel to die and become gangrenous. She had part of it removed, but did not recover from the surgery and died weeks later. Before her death, she made her only grandson promise that he would quit smoking so he didn’t end up like her.
Theresa loved her children and grandchildren and loved spending time at the family’s summer property in Chimney Corner. It was near the beach and about 20 minutes away from where she was born. She loved Celtic music and loved to play cards, but anyone will tell you she cheated.
“She did cheat,” laughs Jackie. “She hated to loose.”
Theresa was a stubborn woman, who often got in tussles with her doctors.
A few days after her bowel surgery, the doctor came in informed some family members that they would be removing her feeding tube that day. After he left, a sedated Theresa opened her eyes and pulled the tube out of her throat.
“That should speed things along,” she said.
Theresa was a challenging person, but it was usually towards people that challenged her.
“She was a very difficult personality,” said Jackie. “But if you respected Theresa and respected her as a person, she would respect you.”
“In the 30 years I knew her, we never spoke a mean word to each other.”
Theresa had her entire funeral arranged before she died, she even wrote her own death notice, in which she described herself as “a lady of conviction, she spoke her mind, and she was true to her word. She left a lasting impression.”
“Ma would never talk about you behind your back,” said son Doug. “If she had something to say to you, she’d say it to your face.”
Theresa was a superstitious woman, who told her grandchild myths of Cape Breton ghosts and forerunners who warned death was coming. She said she experienced many things in her life that she could not explain.
All of Theresa’s children were born at 20 minutes to or after the hour. She died at 8:20AM.
Her family often joked she had nine lives. She had been hospitalized a lot and her children had rushed off to Cape Breton to say their final goodbyes several times in past years.
She was the last remaining member of her family. Her husband died of a stroke in 1998 and her last sister Anna died in 2003.
On the day of the funeral, the family said their final goodbyes, the casket was closed, and they drove towards the church. On the way, a scraggly orange and white cat ran onto the road behind the hearse, causing the family car to stop. The cat looked at the limousine and took its time sauntering across the road before reaching the sidewalk. It turned around, sat down and watched the funeral procession go by.