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FIRST PERSON | I’ve travelled a lot. My favourite trip was not on my bucket list; it was my mom’s | CBC News

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This First Person column is written by Liisa Ladouceur, who lives in Toronto. For more information about First Person stories, see the FAQ.

I’ve always said you don’t really know someone until you travel with them. But I didn’t realize how much that was true until I took my first trip with my mom when she was 70.

It wasn’t especially grand or exotic. Just two nights and three days in New York City. But it was on my mom’s bucket list, which made it one of the best trips I ever took.

My mom had survived three cancers. For her birthday, I wanted to do something special. Time seemed urgent and precious. 

Being a travel blogger and seasoned traveller, I went into planning mode. She, being a practical, budget-conscious woman, said there was no rush. In my mom’s world, a weekend getaway was something you saved up for for years.

I’m glad I didn’t wait.

Two years and four months after our weekend in NYC, my mom suddenly died. 

One of my tasks was assembling pictures where she was happy for a memorial. In the New York trip album, I was spoiled for choice. In these pictures of us — in Times Square, on the Staten Island ferry, on a double-decker tourist bus — she is always happy.

Growing up in the 1970s in the small working-class town of Penetanguishene, Ont., I thought travel was for Rich People. 

We were not Rich People. We were a curious kid and a young single mom struggling for the basics. If I craved adventure, I had books. My mom had whatever task was in front of her. She once told me she couldn’t understand why anyone would spend money on travel before having all new appliances.

Ladouceur, left, with her mother, Marie, pose for a family portrait in the 1990s. (Submitted by Liisa Ladouceur)

I was well into my 20s before I got a passport. Soon it was filled with stamps. First, I travelled the world with my then-boyfriend. Later, with my friends or solo. I would send my mom postcards. Of the Eiffel Tower. Of the pyramids of Giza. Of the Taj Mahal. 

It never occurred to me to ask if she wanted to come along. We didn’t have the same interests, I told myself. She didn’t have all new appliances yet.

Eventually, in her 50s, my mom did take some trips of her own. She had met a man and they started to vacation. To California, Memphis and up the St. Lawrence. She had her own crew. When she told me that “the girls” were planning a trip to Las Vegas in 2011, I bought her a ticket to see Celine Dion, one of her favourite singers. It was the closest I came to helping my mom check off her bucket list.

In 2022, I was diagnosed with cancer. This was something my mom knew very well with her own experiences with cancer. 

She jumped into action, driving the two hours from Penetanguishene to Toronto for all my chemotherapy treatments. We spent many lazy afternoons during my recovery in my apartment watching daytime TV and eating ice cream. I got to learn more about her than I ever had.

A smiling woman looks off camera while sitting next to an older woman who playfully sticks her tongue out.
Ladouceur, left, and her mom’s relationship deepened after Ladouceur was diagnosed with cancer in 2022. That’s when they made plans to go to New York City. (Submitted by Liisa Ladouceur)

She told me how much she wanted to visit New York City. The dream was Times Square for New Year’s Eve. 

“When we win the lottery,” she said. It was always “when” with her, not “if.” 

But she also dreamed of seeing the Statue of Liberty and the memorial at Ground Zero. I made a silent promise that if I got better, I’d take her there. I did. And I kept my word. My best friend, who was like family to my mom and who also loves New York, joined us.

Three women wearing Santa hats pose for a selfie while sitting on a bus.
Ladouceur, right, with her mother and friend Sharon Hughes on a Christmas lights bus tour of New York City. (Liisa Ladouceur)
A woman in a red coat snaps a selfie of herself and another woman sitting on a carousel of iridescent fish.
Ladouceur, left, cherishes this photo of her mom and her on a carousel. (Liisa Ladouceur)

The city was so shiny. It was December and we took a silly double-decker bus tour of the Fifth Avenue Christmas lights. It was meant for kids, but my mom was so into it, snapping blurry photos on her iPad in a Santa hat.

For three days, I got to see the world through her eyes — where everything is amazing. She got to walk around Times Square and decide for herself that it’s actually quite nuts. She got to hail a NYC taxi to Ground Zero. And see the Statue of Liberty.

When I travel, it’s often to learn things about history, or art and culture. That’s not what made my mom happy on vacation. She wanted to escape the daily drudge. The next doctor’s appointment or test result. To have fun. So that’s what I tried to give her on this, the first trip I ever took that wasn’t at all about me.

My favourite photo from New York happened on the Seaglass Carousel at Battery Park. I’ve always loved carousels and insisted all three of us join the lineup to ride the ride. The music started and our iridescent fish started to twirl up and down, round and round.

My mom would come in and out of view and each time we would wave at each other. I managed to capture one with my phone camera. Looking at the picture now is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. It is both hello and goodbye.

But that photo is also proof that we were — we are — more alike than I ever thought. We liked a little bit of magic. And it didn’t matter where we were or what we were doing. We were just happy to be with each other.


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