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Week 6 “No Language is Neutral”

October 14th, 2012 by Colin Martin

Thanks for your posts thus far, it’s great to see your feedback on the books we’ve read thus far. Brand’s book is a different sort of creature, perhaps, than we’ve seen so far and I look forward to your thoughts and comments!

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  • Oct.19, 2012

    It has been a struggle for me to read Dionne Brand’s “No Language is Neutral”. I can’t think of an author who is more of my opposite than her. It seems we have almost nothing in common and I’ve been finding it difficult to relate to what she is trying to say. I get the feeling that she sees me (a white male) as the enemy and it makes me read her works very defensively. She seems to have to have good insight into living in the margins of society, and clearly portrays her feelings and emotions, but what is she trying to accomplish? What good or change is she trying to achieve? She seems to be angry all the time. She calls the immigration officer a “son-of-a-bitch” after lying to him, she calls the city “shards of raw glass, and debris of people” and continues with “Look I / hated something, policemen, bankers, slavetraders, / shhh…still do and even more these days.” You achieve very little by just hating something. I wish she would talk about possible solutions to these problems so something can be done about it.
    Even though I don’t like it, she is at least successful in using “language to disturb”. It’s been a while since I have felt attacked and tried to consider if I am actually the enemy.

    Justin Neufeld

    • Very often, our enemies are creations of our own imaginations; exaggerated by our experiential dealings. Brand, writing from the margins, is not necessarily wrong to think of white men as antagonists: the narrator she creates would likely experience significant antagonism from white, patriarchal institutions – even if it’s largely in the form of a passive aggression. By becoming aware of these challenges to the subject she creates in her poems, we can ask whether our own behavior contributes to those challenges. Remember that her work is fictive – she attacks no one person explicitly, but another fictive subject whose existence many of us contribute to, in society.

  • Hehe… Skipping two blog postings… Not good D:

    For “No Language is Neutral”, the first reading was very confusing. As went over class, there were many ‘defamiliarization’ and it was hard to read it smoothly and then there was many meanings and symbols put into the objects and people in the poems. I don’t still understand most of the book, for I can only imagine what she had felt. Dionne Brand is an ethnic minority, female, immigrant and to be all that in her period, I can only guess how hard her life in Canada would be. I’m also an ethnic minority (Asian), female, immigrant, and I did encounter some racial discrimination when I came to Canada, but I did not feel like what Brand describes in her book. And I was born and raised in a city, so coming to Canada was opposite experience to Brand, as I found Calgary so “farm-like” city. I also found Calgary very dry, but when I got to visit Korea, my birth-country, I felt like I was suffocating there with all the humidity and heat. Stating like this, I have so many similarities with Brand, but my sentiments on Canada and birth-country is so different from Brand despite the similar experience. I really don’t know why would our feeling be so different with those similarities. I can only guess for I’ve moved from city-to-city that my transition was easier than Brand, but I don’t know. I read “No Language is Neutral” and find so many thoughts of race, gender, nation, nature, and politics mixed together, but I can’t understand the base feelings. I can think why would she feel that way towards Canada, people in Canada, her homeland Trinidad, but I can’t understand them. The defamiliarized words and other words that the definitions are not familiar were remediable, as dictionary and sense could get the meanings. But I found Brand’s writing much more complicated. I think the “you” Brand refers to are Trinidad, other women, Phyllis and Jackie, and her ideal. Although I did not understand Brand’s feeling, but I found her referring to “you” was always friendly and longing, and with her continuously changing themes and symbols, I began to think “you” was her ideal. With her nostalgia, Trinidad was her ideal nation; with her gender experience in society, women were her ideal gender; and it was her ideal that she could always think of and long for, but was extremely difficult to be together.

    Kihyun Rah

  • I have to say that i tried to understand this poem written by Dionne Brand, but most of its parts were complicated, for the different style of English and dialect used by the author. Im not Canadian, I’m Italian, I’m here as a student, i don’t feel an immigrant as Brand depicted herself. I don’t feel discriminated either. But from what i got from Brand’s thought, is the difficulty she had to place herself, moving to Canada from Trinidad. As she writes very directly, i can image and agree that her situation wasn’t easy. Prejudice is in everyone. I cannot say i have never had prejudice towards somebody, in 2012 prejudice is still touchable, and back in the days Brand moved to Canada, back there it was very vivid, especially with ethnical minorities which she was a part of. So i don’t blame her to express her feelings and give voice to people who are been, and still are, treated as her.

    I think this passage, these two different rivers, explain well Brand’s point of view about discrimination.

    No language is neutral. I used to haunt the beach at Guaya, two rivers sentinel the country sand, not backra white but nigger brown
    sand, one river dead and teeming from waste and alligators, the other rumbling to the ocean in a tumult, the swift undertow blocking the crossing of little girls except on the tied up dress hips of big women,then, the taste of leaving was already on my tongue and cut deep into my skinny pigeon toed way, language here was strict description and teeth edging truth. … No language is neutral seared into the spine’s unravelling. Here is history too.

  • This week I will be discussing Dionne Brand’s No Language is Neutral.

    Canada throughout it’s history has been considered a land of freedom and a land where people call it home. Immigrants had endless opportunity to start a new life. I find it intriguing in No Language is Neutral that the girl from Trinidad has moved to Canada but she feels nothing but hatred for it. Being a much more industrialized country than Trinidad, the girl is not used to it, as it is nearly a polar opposite for her. When people move to Canada for the first time, they tend to try and adapt to a new way of life. The girl feels like she’s in a “concrete eternity”, which I find to be pretty depressing. Living by the ocean for her whole life she cannot seem to find the good in Canada. One thing that is certainly not neutral is people’s opinion about Canada. Immigrants who are successful would perceive Canada as being the best place on Earth. Politically speaking Canada is fairly neutral, but the girl seems to not be able to adapt to live in Canada.

    Graeme Howard

  • October 22, 2012

    This week, the focus in class was on Dionne Brand’s book No Language Is Neutral. I found it difficult to read for two reasons. The first was the dialect and the second was understanding Brand’s view on Canada.

    Perhaps during the time in which No Language Is Neutral was written, the views on Canada being ethnically diverse was something that many people did not understand. Some people have this idea that Canada is a place where racism and prejudice does not exist. Even though Canada is a nation full of immigrants, racism still does exist. I find if easier to understand Brand’s point of view when I imagine myself moving to a brand new place with different kinds of people and a different kind of environment.

    Brand is not blaming someone specifically but instead she is sharing how the society is operating from her point of view, which a lot of people may not understand. She dealt with hardships when it came to her ethnicity, sexuality and where her place was in society. She addresses the challenges she faced through her poetry.

    The first time I read No Language Is Neutral I did not understand where Brand was coming from because she was describing a Canada that was unfamiliar to me but when reading it the second time I imagined myself in her shoes. My perspective changed because I was able to understand the hardships she faced. She wasn’t attacking a group of people, she was writing what she faced and what many others were probably feeling but could not express. I think the best way to understand No Language Is Neutral is to imagine Brand talking about a place that isn’t the Canada we are all familiar with and then imagining yourself in this brand new environment where you don’t fit in.

    Alyssa Mitha

  • Dionne Brand, in the section titled Hard Against The Soul, lends a voice to the girl, the mother and the elderly woman through her passionate words and poems. George Elliot Clarke I felt represented a wider population of people, of communities, and families. Dionne with her elegant writing and talent is especially feminist and writes for, and not so much about black women. She also weaves in her own experiences throughout the book, and incorporation of history with names of political heads, activists and dissidents playing an active role in defining the book.

    The language in which the speaker directs her words is for the girls. In part I, “this is you girl” is extremely powerful in its uses of repetition. The rest of the poem has the speaker in dialogue with a woman, or many of them. The line, “I felt the unordinary romance of women who love women for the first time,” is very powerful to me. The love, realizing it for the first time, blindsided by the unordinary love and then this love is carried around everywhere. She takes the love she found back to Canada. When “this is your first love, you will never want to leave her” but eventually she did and left it behind except that the speaker still senses her. A romantic lust for home and for her old woman left behind on the Caribbean islands for the old woman is “longing to leave the prisoned glaze of men.” When reading Hard Against The Soul, I felt the speaker more talking about her motherland except I was felt like she was looking from a place very far away, such as in a studio in Toronto. She understands the subaltern, in this case the black Caribbean woman, because Dionne Brand part of that culture. With living in Canada, she left a piece of her soul and some hope behind for these women, and theirs with her.

    Ryan Fedorchuk

  • This week I will be commenting on “Phyllis” from the book No Language Is Neutral.

    This poem, more than the others in this book grabbed my attention from the very first time I read it. When I first read it I looked at only the literal meanings of the poem describing this deviant woman who was now in prison. However when we were represented with the question of “How does the first book consider race as different for women than it is for men” I started to think of this poem in a new way. Instead of this poem talking about discrimination purely against women as individuals, I started to see this poem as revealing women to be a race on their own, grouped together purely by “the skill of your womb” pg.9 (No Language Is Neutral). I believe that Dionne Brand uses the events that occurred in Phyllis Coard’s history to show that women were seen as completely separate from men. She repeats the phrase ” Phyllis, I know they treat you bad like a woman” which completely separates women from men and really shows that women, as a whole, were treated worse than men. I found a speech by Phyllis Coard’s where Phyllis says
    “We are also conscious however, that this discrimination against women, implanted in our society during nearly 400 years of slavery, colonialism and a vicious, backward dictatorship cannot be removed overnight.”
    7th paragraph located at “http://www.thegrenadarevolutiononline.com/pcoardintlwomensday.html”
    She compares discrimination against women to centuries of slavery. Slavery is usually directed towards a certain race so when she parallels the two, she shows that women are a race on to their own and they are being discriminated against as though they were a race of their own. This is really why this poem stood out for me. I love how Dionne Brand uses history in order to make her point. She doesn’t just use emotions but entangles those emotions with real life people who bravely fought for what they believed in. She also does this in a way that really makes you think not only of the events that occurred but also makes you think of the way in which she wrote the poetry in order that you may think of the events portrayed in a new way. I just really loved that in this particular poem.

  • While initially trying to read No Language is Neutral the first thing I noticed was the odd formatting. At the beginning there were poems that were odes to woman who had struggled such as “Phyllis” and “Jackie” which were under the first section called Hard against the Soul. Then in the second section the poems were separated by numbers. As a reader, when each poem has a unique title, I have an idea about what the poem may be about; in this case I found the book very difficult to understand for the lack of titles. However after the class discussions I began to develop a better understanding of the poem and its content.
    The struggle Dionne Brand endures as an immigrant coming to Canada and being racially and sexually inferior is very vivid in her poetry. For example in Phyllis she repeats “I know they treat you bad like a woman,” as though woman are a race of their own. Aside from the struggle to be equal as a female, she also has to endure the difficultly of being an immigrant and missing home, black, as well as lesbian. Being a part of so many minorities and constantly being objectified and dehumanized can easily cause someone to believe they are not as good as everyone else. Once a person falls for these lies and begin to believe it for themselves, they will allow people to do anything to them because they are no longer seen as human by society.
    The saddest part is that this wasn’t occurring in some far away third world country – it was happening right here in Canada, a place so many of us call home.

  • October 24, 2012

    I think it can often be challenging to indulge someone’s personal and passionate account of their experiences and injustices. With “No Language Is Neutral” we’re not looking at an objective text that seeks to approach its content from a logical or all encompassing perspective; instead we’re diving into one human’s unreserved emotion and impressions of her surroundings. Naturally, the majority of readers won’t identify with one hundred percent of such a focused and intense topic, in which case just objectively observing another’s life in its respective context might be the best way to obtain something from it.

    All together the book, to me, reveals a pursuit of identity. I’m not even sure how intentional the subject is about her own searching, but she is nonetheless constantly progressing towards an unmasked, real, pure self. Leaving Trinidad is the first and more rudimentary stage of her journey to seek her vision of a suitable life. In the passage “the taste of leaving was already on my tongue… here was beauty and here was nowhere,” we can see the necessity of transitioning lands in order for her life to thrive.

    Her ancestry and its history are other mediums she uses to define herself, “[begging Ben] to recall something of [her] mama, of his mama.” Inevitably, hand in hand with her relatives is her race and its history of severe discrimination, slavery and abuse that are written about in multiple areas of the sections “Return” and “No Language Is Neutral”.

    Being a woman is one of the dominant elements in the book and in the character’s life; it is described as a struggle but also a revered quality. “I know they treat you bad / like a woman” and other recalled instances of female supression have branded her development with the idea that her gender deems her a lesser being, yet the writing is saturated with an objective and personal appreciation for women.

    The final dynamic we see in the maturation of her character is her acknowledgment of being gay. “I have become myself. A woman who looks at a woman and says, here, I have found you, in this, I am blackening in my way.” In this last stanza as well as the first poem of the book Brand illustrates and encourages the importance of finding the raw, true nature of oneself, for it is a state “where you make sense… And [where] to be awake is more lovely than dreams.”

    Jane Wright

  • When I first read section I of Dionne Brand’s ‘No Language is Neutral,’ I noticed that every stanza started with the line, ‘this is you girl,’ and goes on to describe women in various ways. That, in it itself, presents us with images of women that seemed to be unseen or disregarded at the time this book was written. Throughout her poems, there are always instances where women are portrayed to be stronger even in a patriarchal society where they are so marginalized. To say that I wholly understood the poem would be wrong because I cannot relate to Brand as she talks from the margins herself. It was difficult to relate or have such strong reaction to her poems because I have only heard about this issue. I have not experienced the exact experience that is talked about here. But I can certainly empathize with what she is saying about the dominant force of the white male wherein she lived.

    An example of when Brand talks about how the African language is submerged in European linguistic standards is in the lines, “… new sound forming, / pushing toward lips made to bubble blood” and “… language / seemed to split in two, one branch fell silent, the other / argued hotly for going home.” Brand represents the divisiveness she felt in herself in those lines being that she is African, yet she is being forced to be something else. I could not imagine my own language being taken away from me with no legitimate reason other than it being deemed inferior. Thus, I could relate to her in that way. However, Brand takes it further by paralleling the influence the English language has on her identity with the colonizers’ control over their bodies.

    Throughout this book, I seem to get the feeling that Brand is trapped. She is trapped in a land where her identity, ethnicity, language and sexuality are not in the least bit accepted. However, if in the beginning she is forced into a liminal space, Brand ultimately creates a language that is her own. She does not choose either English nor her nation’s language and instead, she combines the two. This is actually seen, I think, in the first poem of the book where Brand uses both languages to, I guess, find her subjectivity.

  • The issue of women being treated as minors is a recurring theme in ‘No Language is Neutral,’ so I looked to the Bible for the story of the creation of the first man and woman. There I found that Adam was made from the dust of the earth while God created Eve from the man’s rib. Many people have argued this to mean that the woman is a subordinate, unoriginal version of the man.

    In my opinion, contrastingly, this means she’s an amplified version of a part of him that’s more tender and delicate. This is not to say, however, that she is only these things, but she has also been given her own uniqueness which makes her as strong and passionate as the man. In Genesis, she was made like him so she could be the perfect “companion,” but also with the right differences for the phrase “opposites attract” to apply.

    Theologian Matthew Henry said the woman wasn’t made out of a bone from Adam’s foot so she wouldn’t be his servant, nor was she made from his head so she wouldn’t be his master. But God made her from his side so they would have equal status. This is what Jackie and Phyllis try to establish but they are restricted to the title of “housewife” despite their efforts and success.

    I think it is feasible to say that a reason for the suppression/ disregard for women’s real abilities and power could be a result of men’s fear of being out shined by an equally powerful people.

    In book IX page 47, Brand mentions how naturally men objectify women and how she longs “to leave the prisoned gaze of men.”
    There doesn’t seem to be an easy way to fix this conditioning as linguist Dale Spender points out. Since men have always been in places of authority, they usually have power in this area but this doesn’t mean that they are superior. Her theory is that language is man- made and has therefore been made to favour man and devalue women, and so abolishing the myth of male superiority would mean the impossible task of reconstructing or removing language altogether. And the absence of language, Dionne Brand implies, might just be the way to avoid all controversy.


  • No language is neutral… no language IS neutral. Language is created by people, and people have an inborn need to categorize everything. We do this with all things; we do this all day, every day. The statement “no language is neutral” identifies this very part of the human experience. Think, do we use neutral language in our lives? do you? I know that I don’t. For me this is all about identification. You have blond hair, he has brown hair, they are redheads… and so on. My wife categorizes people by their nationality, and she is usually very specific. Except for when it comes to white people. You see, my wife is Chinese. Like Dionne Brand, my wife lives in a country where her skin colour is not that of the majority. She will often be very thorough when labeling the nationality of her friends and colleagues. This one is Chinese, that one is Vietnamese, this other girl is Black, and that guy, well hes basic white. Huh? basic white? you have to understand that to my wife all of us white people look the same. I know, isn’t that what white people usually say about Asians? This experience denotes that even in my wife’s daily life she, like all of us, uses categories. When this idea, or concept, is applied to the culture of a country (any country) the language becomes subjective and therefore loses its neutrality. the implication made by Dionne Brand is not that “language” is not neutral, it is the individuals whom of which make use of language that are not neutral. We, are not neutral; language is just a string of morphemes and syntax given meaning by human application.

  • Brand reminds us that poetry is a powerful tool that can be used to explore the idea of a subaltern. This device can librate people because both poor or rich can be heard through poetry. Therefore, Brand use Mammy’s character to speak for her. Brand uses a photogarph as a means to reflect on Mammy Prater’s character, saying “she waited until it suited her to take this photograph and to put those eyes in it”(14). Mammy Prater was subjected to hard labour because she was a slave and thus was treated as subhuman. She can not speak her mind on political issues because she is not recongnized in the society. Moreover, the poet uses the pasage of 115 years to suggest the time it taken for this oppressed black women to express herself. Also, Brand uses Mammy’s voice to express what she has gone through by saying “she waited, not always silently, not always patiently, for this self potrait(15) which indicates Mammy parater values freedom.

    Josiah Ajibike.

  • No Language is Neutral

    No Language is truly neutral. When I read the book, all the thoughts that come to my mind is about gender and power. We all know that Dionne Brand is a feminist writer, an immigrant and a woman. We also know that in the past years women are often out casted in the society where everyone thinks that men have control over. And that is what Dionne Brand is here for, to break this stereotype. We live in the modern world now and each years that passed, women are becoming more and more active in the society. Dionne Brand and her book promote gender equality and I believe that power equality comes along. Women should be treated equal and valuable in the society, not only because the power of their womb but also because they can also do whatever man can do. As we can notice every job possible there will be at least one woman that will represent the rest. God created men and women equally and this means that we should look each other fair, as bible says, “we are all created in he image and likeness of God.”

  • For me No Language is Neutral is very hard to read, I am often left confused and have to read and re-read and then read again some of the poems to take away any deep meaning from them. I also find it hard to connect to much of what brand goes through as I am almost her opposite. I am a male born in Canada, and I may not be white but I am not really a visible minority I guess. As well I’ve always considered Canada to be quite welcoming and not very racist or discriminatory, although this is from my point of view and not hers.

    Later on in the readings I got to thinking that perhaps no language is neutral could also apply to countries as many countries have their own “official” languages. Is having official languages perhaps discriminatory? Is it maybe even borderline offensive that Canada, a land of almost unending multiculturalism, should only have two “official languages? Perhaps it is.

    Brand enters Canada at a different time then me. Throughout the readings I find that to be my excuse for Canada. I say to myself ya that was racist or prejudiced but that doesn’t happen now, that was a different time…. Canada isn’t like that any more. I know however that this is wrong. I cannot experience things from her perspective and likely never will as I am not foreign or a subaltern, but through the book I can at least understand her and change some of my views. Racism still exists in Canada, and sadly that most likely won’t change. Ignoring that it happens however is maybe just as bad.

  • Woman, to Brand, is a status that is forced upon females. Throughout No Language Is Neutral, she creates characters who are constantly antagonized for being women and in this, they are condensed into a deprived sense of self; a woman defined by a patriarchal society. 

    In “Phyllis”, Brand openly states the view of how a woman is inherently treated: “I know they treat you bad / like a woman”. She sees this poor treatment as a paradigm people ascribe to based purely on “biology and not science”, which is to say they base their actions solely on the physical aspects rather than the humanistic aspects: knowledge, reason, personality, etc. This also implies men are exempt to the poor treatment, as it is women alone being treated bad.

    On page 24, the forced status of woman is pressed upon the subject by others. Brand suggests there is a pure form of woman in that they are human, but soon become irrevocably changed into a repressed form of woman by everyone in the society, including women themselves who “[spit] woman / at her”.

    In such a way, Brand caused me to reflect on the lack of voice woman are given, even today. The arbitrary treatment of them has been greatly reduced in Canada yet it still lingers in subtle ways, many we see on a daily basis without a realization. It stems from a comparison between man and woman. As long as women compare themselves to men, there will be a conflict. Brand seems to suggest that women will be liberated once they internalize what it means to be “woman”, rather than externalizing the definition to others – especially men.

  • Dionne Brand expresses the troubles and hardships that many immigrants feel when moving to another country. The character in the poem moves from Trinidad to Canada and begins to feel regret and distaste towards her new homeland. She feels like she does not belong and is feeling rejected and like an outsider. She is unable to communicate with those around her since they don’t speak the same language and it seems to enslave her and make her feel even more like an outsider. Most people move to Canada from different countries to have a better life, but the differences between the languages created a barrier. Hence the title, \No Language Is Neutral\.

    Aingela Carlos

  • No Language is Neutral

    No Language is truly neutral. When I read the book, all the thoughts that come to my mind is about gender and power. We all know that Dionne Brand is a feminist writer, an immigrant and a woman. We also know that in the past years women are often out casted in the society where everyone thinks that men have control over. And that is what Dionne Brand is here for, to break this stereotype. We live in the modern world now and each years that passed, women are becoming more and more active in the society. Dionne Brand and her book promote gender equality and I believe that power equality comes along. Women should be treated equal and valuable in the society, not only because the power of their womb but also because they can also do whatever man can do. As we can notice every job possible there will be at least one woman that will represent the rest. God created men and women equally and this means that we should look each other fair, as bible says, “we are all created in he image and likeness of God.”


  • In a way, I can almost relate to Dionne Brand and her connection to the nature of her home country. My home town was surrounded by forest and lakes, it was a small town in Ontario where it was mostly quiet and serene. I felt a connection whenever I was on the shores of Lake Superior. When she referred Toronto to a concrete jungle, I knew exactly how she felt. Whenever I had to go to Toronto, it felt cold and hard like concrete. There were no trees, no water, nothing to hold on to. Therefore in that way, I enjoyed reading her poems and learning about her experiences.

    I loved how she could take a photograph, that of Mammy Prater on page 14, and describe it through the emotions on the old woman’s face. As i read this passage, I could see the image in my mind as if I was the one taking the picture. Brand has a way with words that bring up emotions and feelings. I felt connected to my own heritage as I read her words. Although at times it was hard to decipher what was going on in her poems, as you read between the lines, it becomes more clear and easier to connect with.

  • I will be reflecting on “Amelia still” in Dionne Brand’s book “No Language Is Neutral”, which was runner up for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry in 1990.

    In the poem “Amelia still”, within the chapter “Return”, representing the return of slavery through the oppression of women, discusses the hard life Dionne Brand’s grandmother experienced. It analyzes Dionne Brand’s grandmother, Amelia, who has passed away at the poem’s beginning. She was the lifeblood of the household but was not seen as such until her death. “I…saw the drabness of the street/and felt that no one lived in the house” reflects that the house has lost a fundamental part of its identity. This idea runs parallel to commonalities in the average household at the time, because women were expected to run the household without complaint. The persona that the author creates establishes Amelia as a women on a journey to find herself before her death. This is illustrated when she “ran all the way out of the hell of us/tied to her breasts and sweeping her brain/for answers”. This paints the notion that mothers give all their time to the family and receive nothing tangible in return. By bringing to light the fact that mothers are taken for granted, Brand notes that this is a cycle to be repeated. The poem is told from the author’s childhood memories of her grandmother in the time leading up to her death, followed by the tone after. When Amelia “must have gone hunting for her heart” it entails her realization that she has always put the well-being of others before herself and never really discovered herself as a woman. By “[Hurrying] to the Ortoire river…pitch[ing] stones over water…in peace” she finds herself and her identity as woman and not just a wife and mother. Throughout the poem, Brand’s grandmother is rushed and is evidently in a hurry to discover true self before her death arrives. By “go[ing] hunting for her heart” she finds her meaning in life behind caring for others and being a mother. I believe that Dionne Brand demonstrated that being a mother is evidentially the most difficult job one can have. As a result, Amelia, Brand’s grandmother, felt unappreciated and did not know her true purpose in life other than caring for others and being that mother figure she always was.

    William Maunsell