My birthday has come and gone this year, but I just came across this post on Facebook that my little brother (I have three older brothers – all just as amazing) posted as a tribute to me on my 54th in March.
I want to cherish this writing, so have chosen to publish it here. It’s not everyday we can hear a loved ones speak about you. Often that is reserved for our funeral. I particularly like to do similar on family birthdays, to let people know how we feel about them, and to let them know that we are aware and understand the strides they are making or are attempting to make in life.
Nollind wrote, “My sister Robbin Whachell turns 54 today. While conventional minds might say she is entering the latter part of an already full life (and maybe needs to slow down a bit), it’s evident to me that she is just getting started with a whole new life in a whole new world unfolding before her.
In a simple word, Robbin is a pioneer, just like her parents before her. Perhaps unbeknownst to many, she has been peripherally settling and cultivating a new home in the wilds of a new world for many years, while sustaining herself and her family at the same time within the conventional old world. As such, she is a living bridge between what has been and what will be, giving others a wonderful glimpse at the future emerging in our present today.
Seeking more personal meaning beyond the limited identity and confines of the traditional work world, Robbin branched out within her social life, enabling her to spread her wings and achieve a heightened vision to help the communities that she cared about the most. While some might say this was time wasted due to a lack of monetary compensation, she saw and felt something greater within it, something priceless that stretched far beyond economic value to a deeper, social value.
While I’m sure Robbin herself still feels like she has many miles to go on her transformational journey, it is without a doubt that each day her purpose is becoming stronger with clarity. Yes, the wilds of this new world are a chaotic, confusing, and uncertain place but each day her purpose, as her internal compass, helps her slowly map this new world and her new identity, giving them both a deeper sense of meaning and empowerment to her life.
In closing, I just want to refer to a couple of quotes by Marina Gorbis from her book The Nature of the Future. These quotes epitomize what Robbin is becoming and already is. She is a pioneer, a leader, living and leading by example. She is an advocate of a better world by building and living a better world out of her own life. She is a teacher, showing others the time and patience required to weave a better, integrated life whose social fabric can contain the complexities and uncertainties of the future to come.
Happy Birthday Robbin!
“In the past we’ve been advised to leave the personal and social at the door when we go to work. But the new work is all about the social and personal. It draws on the power of personal connections and the diversity of personal tastes, talents, and quirks.”
“What the pioneers of socialstructing are doing looks less like management and more like community organizing. Yes, good old-fashioned community organizing, but with a new set of tools and motivations. And their efforts are more akin to social movements than to managed organizations. Much of the motivation for building and contributing to socialstructs comes from a sense of urgency and greater purpose. This drive has often grown out of a particular vulnerability or personal experience of founders, making them into powerful advocates for their causes.”
Written by Robbin Whachell (Left to right photos above: vintage Victoire McDoom (Vincent’s mother); Vincent McDoom at Labo Ethnik 2014 wearing Lyn Bristol; and vintage Victoire McDoom)
St. Lucian born Parisian fashion celebrity, Vincent Mc Doom, has just been through one of the toughest times of his life! Two family tragedies hit within 24 hours, and he had to choose between leaving a Paris fashion event he was responsible for, or return to St. Lucia to attend his mother’s funeral. Adding to the painful double loss, his brother was also seriously ill.
The famous actor, fashion icon, and Top Model judge last spoke to his mother on May 11th for Mother’s Day. “I called to wish her a happy Mother’s Day as I do every year, and tell her that I love her,” he said. It was during that phone call that his mother, Victoire McDoom told her son that she had not been feeling well. She passed the phone on to his sister, Cyrina, whom she’d been residing with.
McDoom’s sister told him she was going to be taking their mother in to the Victoria Hospital that day as her breathing problems were becoming more frequent after her strokes. The news was unsettling but Cyrina promised to keep him up-to-date on her progress.
On May 12th McDoom received a disturbing phone call from his sister-in-law Pearl Lambert advising that his younger brother Donavan was in Victoria Hospital in St. Lucia. He had suffered a major stroke and had been admitted the day before on his 43rd birthday. McDoom was shocked with the news.
“I had two family in the hospital. Mom was sent home early with medications, but my brother Donavan needed a brain scan so he remained,” said McDoom.
“On the 13th of May, and with the help of some very prominent friends in St Lucia and the French Embassy, my brother Donavan was flown to Martinique for treatment, and the much required testing he needed. I have to wonder if he would have passed away had remained at Victoria Hospital?”
During all of this McDoom was busy preparing for a major Paris fashion event he was both artistic and casting director for called Labo Ethnik. “I felt better knowing my brother was in intensive care at the Martinique facility, but it was very hard having two family members in serious condition,” he said. “I wanted to stop all my activities and head to the Caribbean immediately.”
With Labo Ethnik only a week away, and with international designers and models he himself had cast for the event converging in Paris, and a heavy schedule in place for fittings and rehearsals, a decision had to be made. “I just didn’t have anyone competent enough to replace me,” McDoom said. “So I remained in Paris committing to my contract.”
It was on May 16th that McDoom’s niece Sue-Ellen, who also lives in Paris, called to tell him to contact his sister Cyrina for she had received a text message from his nephew Dwayne that things were not looking good for his mother.
“I called my sister Cyrina and was only on the phone seconds before she told me she was rushing our mother to the Victoria Hospital again. At the hospital, my mother Victoire McDoom, the wonderful, non-judgmental, very understanding, super-encouraging, with the sweetest disposition was confirmed dead. She was 72. I felt lost, and empty, and the tears would not come for I still could not believe it.”
Vincent and his sister Cyrina would not speak until later that night. When they did, she had more news. “When it rains it pours… ” he said. Cyrina told Vincent that their uncle Desmond had passed away just a few hours before their mother.
“That news was too much to handle, so I drowned myself in a very hectic work schedule preparing for the Labo Ethnik show that was less than a week away. The presence of the models I had to train and my workload kept me going. Life took over and I did not have the time to even think since I was constantly going physically and mentally for the show. I was just like the Energizer bunny, always on the move,” said McDoom.
As the family started planning for the funeral, Vincent had to make a call about attending. “I probably made one of the most unselfish decisions of my life, I decided not to attend after speaking to my sister Cyrina and my father Justin Elcock. I wanted my mother to go in peace and honor. I did not want my arrival and presence in St. Lucia to upstage her memorial celebration. Being I am a celebrity on the island, I did not want her funeral to become a circus with press and photographers.”
“My family understood and I offered to help with costs and decided I would later hold an intimate mass for my mom in Paris and again in St Lucia upon my next visit. That is all I could have done given the circumstances.”
The funeral for Victoire McDoom took place without Vincent in St. Lucia on May 30th. Vincent wrote on his Facebook page that morning, “I can’t see through the tears yet I am forced to continue, but that feeling of emptiness surrounds me especially today…. To my siblings Cornelious, Anthony, Cyrina, Cymee, Marz, and Madonna Mcdoom May The Lord give you guys the strength as the family gathers today for mothers send off… ”
When asked about the legacy his mother has left he said, “My mother gave all five of us her good looks, her sincerity, her humor, and her love for life. She taught us to respect others, and to not be judgmental. She taught us to be ourselves no matter who or what we were up against… She gave me my strength of character and taught me to be honest and fare. She was my light, she was my rock.”
Vincent McDoom was only 19 years old when he left St. Lucia and his beloved mother to make his way into the European fashion scene. He had received a scholarship to study in Paris. His training went on to include internships with Paco Rabanne, Guy Laroche, Guillemin, Angelo Talazzi, and André Walker. For a brief period he worked as an assistant to Marc Jacobs.
“She was very supportive of the life that I had chosen for myself. She encouraged me to leave the Caribbean and go in search of my dreams. She was my number one fan. Mom would often say to me, ‘I am proud of you my son. You became your own man, and in your own way, and now you are respected for it… You are made in God’s likeness, so honor him always.'”
Vincent McDoom recalls one of his fondest memories of his mother, “On one of my visits home to St. Lucia I was caring a signature Louis Vuitton bag, the Keepall, and she liked it instantly and ask me for it. I gave it to her without thinking twice, as she’s my mother, and I have more than one Louis Vuitton. For her it was normal, for me it was natural. When I returned the following year it was raining quite heavily. When I got to her home something caught my eye, and I saw her Louis Vuitton on the ground in the rain. I continued in and greeted my mother, then asked her what the bag was doing outside in the rain. She replied quite innocently saying, ‘Oh no, my cha coal bag (coal bag) is getting wet, please get it out of the rain.’ Yes, my mother was using her Louis Vuitton as a ‘coal bag’ to keep her fire going, and I thought wow, that was so very chic! She had no idea of the price nor the value of that bag and I looked at her and smiled and told her its history. I promised my mother that I would ask my friend Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton’s artistic director at the time to design a ‘cha coal bag’ especially for her.”
With the Labo Ethnik 2014 successfully behind him, and the funeral now over, Vincent McDoom is still in mourning, as the loss of a mother is something one never gets over. The tears found their way out and Vincent has openly expressed his gratitude for the outpouring of support he has received family, friends and fans on his social media pages. He found great comfort during Labo Ethnik with the company of St. Lucian designer and friend, Lyn Bristol, writing, “Safe trip back to St. Lucia Lyn. You will be missed and thank you for all you gave to me, especially at this particular moment in my life… Our late night chats and your hugs eased the pain of mother’s passing. For that I am eternally grateful.”
And to the Labo Ethnik models he wrote, “I want to thank all of my fabulous and considerate models who worked with me on the recent edition of the #Laboethnik. For all the kind condolence messages they have been sending to me, especially today (May 30th).”
Vincent is looking forward to his return to St. Lucia later this year to reconnect with his family, and honour his mother. “My latest movie roll in Kickback is in homage of my mother Victoire McDoom, and so will be my next big event for St Lucia later this year, which I will name after her.”
“If I could speak to my mother one last time I would thank her for giving me life and remind her how exceptional she was, like all mothers are to their sons… I would also tell her that she was and will always be my idol, and I think of her with every passing hour.”
“The memory of Victoire McDoom will live on… I will see to that.”
We become attached and have the ability to love all beings, whether they be human, or animal. When I moved my daughter Tohni in last year, she came with two rats. I’d forgotten that they were part of her life. I adapted quickly, and although I never got up the nerve to hold them or let them sit on my shoulders or in my pockets like my kids did, I became fond of them very easily. There’s a reason they use rats in the lab… they are smart. These cute little roomies I’d taken in were attentive and entertaining, even from their cages. They so demanded attention.
Rats have a short lifespan, and I’d taken my daughter and her rats to the vet a couple times. She then moved out, and after they left I felt an empty space in my life… I’d wake up in the morning and head to my office after breakfast, and felt that emptiness of not seeing their cage and seeing them greet me with their little noses peaking out as they’d move as close to me in their cage as they could. I’d come home and unlock the door, then the reminder that they were no longer on the other side of the door would hit me.
Vet visits are costly for rats, as they fall in the ‘exotic’ vet category, so prices are higher as you can’t just go to a regular vet. That last visit was the hardest. Swagga was dying we had to realise. My daughter had been lucky to get a much longer lifespan from Swagga as far as rat-years go but he had developed a tumour on his lower body.
On February 11th Tohni asked us to pick her up from her home across town. She’d asked a colleague to fill her shift at work, and she came to be with family and hold Swagga as he went through his dying process. Not easy… A short while after she arrived I drove her over to her sisters just blocks away. She held Swagga in a warm towel, and I got teary. I felt her pain, and I felt the pain of that little rat, as his tumour was now an open sore, and blood was dripping from it’s eyes. He smelled of death, and my bold little daughter loved him up so, and hardly let him go from her arms, despite the harsh odour.
My eldest daughter, the pet queen, had a rat that died the year before. Tohni had hoped that they would know what to do, as you can feel so helpless when someone is in so much suffering, animal or human.
Swagga made it through that night, and the next to our surprise. We consulted the vet after that first overnight, and they suggested we put him down. Driving Tohni to their office that final morning was rushed and heartbreaking. To see my daughter, so much like myself in the mother role, had me in tears. Tohni let hers flow when we got in the car, and the photo of her holding him almost breaks my heart as I see her as the little girl, that has always wanted to save the world.
We cried at the animal hospital, and luckily the wait was not long. Tohni told me she wanted to go in with Swaggs on her own, as I sat in the waiting area.
After it was done, she carried him home quietly and when we got there she wrote this on her Facebook page,
“His body is now at peace and he will be with me for eternity. My sweet, but not always the sweetest Swagga. Was always a G, and always da boss. But he loved a good snuggle and was secretly a lil baby : )
He lived a good full life born with brother Georgie in Surrey in August 2011, adopted by me and an ex that September. They were the cutest… So much energy and balls bigger than their heads.
White rats are known to have poorer eyesight than darker coloured rats and he would sway back and forth trying to scope the scene. That was how he got his name ‘Swagga.’ The gangstaness kinda just happened, it was a suitable name.
“He loved eating and was quite a lil chubster, hiding his food all over the place so Georgie wouldn’t find it. He loved almonds. He was a great rat friend and life won’t be the same without him… Especially for Georgie who was with him since birth and I’m sure is already very worried about his whereabouts.
“He got a tumor 2 months ago and it grew rapidly… Before I knew it, it had taken over his lower body. I took him to the vet and surgery was not an option… I brought him home and did everything I could to keep him clean an happy and cozy. Checking on him, holding him, giving him water… Thinking he would pass on his own. He didn’t… He kept holding on. This morning I took him to the vet to put him at rest. He lay in my arms and fell asleep… I kept telling him I loved him as I pet his teeny head. His little heart stopped at 9:43am February 13th 2014.
I am burying him near Coquitlam river, which will be the hardest part. I love you Swagga.”
Tohni, her sister and her sister’s fiance held a little funeral for Swagga in a beautiful spot along the river. They burned sage, dug a good hole, and played flute music as she said her goodbyes.
Swagga the rat was buried with an almond, a crystal, a yellow tulip, a branch of a fur tree in a little box lined with yellow chiffon and love.
“I encourage any of you that may have unresolved issues with your parents, to discuss, resolve them and/or forgive, now before later...”
My father passed away at 87 years old on March 11th, 2013. I’d seen him twice this year before a visit just one week prior to his death. He was doing so well those first two times, that the last time I saw him, was when it finally sunk in that my father was actually going to die. Until then, I naively never felt it possible.
I’d always felt blessed that all of my loved ones were alive around me, while so many families deal with sudden deaths, accidents and sickness. The whole idea of death and dying waited until now to visit my psyche.
My father lived a full and rich life. I have no regrets regarding our relationship, and have no thoughts or words left unsaid to my father, as we had a relationship that seemed even-keeled throughout my entire life.
On his last birthday I had the pleasure of reading this poem (see link at bottom) to him as he laughed and listened, and I am so glad I had that opportunity, as I also read it at his funeral, and I am glad it wasn’t only the latter.
This my first experience in grieving death and it is still very fresh. I’ve grieved lost love, and I have to say they are nothing alike. Lost love ranks up there with personally dying, whereas the grieve I am feeling now, comes in waves. There was the initial shock, sadness, and heart-wrenched outpouring of sorrow, that led to moments of disbelief, and denial, which were hit by the next unexpected wave of sorrow.
The funeral, or memorial, is such an important process to go through. My older sister reminded me that the funeral is not only for the deceased, but also for the living. It helps up to personally come to terms with the loss; to realize, and release, the attachment to that person.
Losing a parent is like losing a part of your identity. Another benefit of putting together a funeral is, that in the process and delivery, you revisit that identity. I know for certain that our family’s identity was strengthened through my father’s passage. What a gift he gave us.
With my 50th birthday approaching this month, I’d asked my eldest brother to convert our old home movies to DVD so we could show them at my party. How perfect that in doing so, they were ready for my father’s funeral and dad even saw a few clips on his last day on earth. We watched hours of old movies covering Wachell life from the 50s and 60s leading up to the days before the funeral, and the montage you see here (see link at base) was produced from those films by my nephew Davyde.
Our family and step-family came together to support one another and to grieve together as a family; and of course to share our sentiments and honour the man that touched our lives individually, and collectively, in so many ways. With seven children, and a divorce and second marriage, his life created a thread-work of stories and connections, and yes, even disconnections. We were able to share many stories, not only about my father, but about times gone by.
With the death of a loved one you end up having to honour the place you end at, even if there were things left unresolved. I witnessed this with some of my siblings. I am content to know that I am at peace with each of my parents, but I realised that it’s ‘my decision’ to have that peace that really counts. Forgiveness truly is a gift one gives oneself. I encourage any of you that may have unresolved issues with your parents, to discuss, resolve them and/or forgive, now before later. And if you have not told a loved one that you love them, do not wait another day to do so. Life is so very very precious.