Wednesday, February 04, 2009

A tribute to an amazing woman

My Grandma passed away Saturday night at 10:45. I was stroking her arm when she stopped breathing. What a terrifying and beautiful experience. I'll write about it sometime. Right now I'm too tired.

I was at the hospital from noon till 11 PM Saturday, at mom's planning the funeral Sunday, teaching College in Steinbach Monday afternoon, pick up T. then back to Steinbach Monday evening for the viewing, back to Steinbach Tuesday to do the same service again, drive to Boissevain and stay for night so we could bury her beside Grandpa and then do the same service a third time. It's good to be home.

Here is the tribute I gave. It was supposed to be for the viewing but I ended up doing it at all three services.

Memories of my Grandma

For 35 years my grandma was a presence in my life. She was there for all the big moments: the family birthdays, Christmases, graduations, weddings, and shopping trips to Grand Forks. But mostly she was there for the every day moments: the pea-shelling, TV watching, chicken wing and tater moments that don’t stand out and imprint themselves on your mind.

So I don't have a lot of story-like memories of Grandma to share because all our times together were so ordinary.

I remember little things like the “I’ve just spent 3 hours in the back seat of the car with my brothers and we’re finally at Grandmas and I’m gonna burst feeling” I got walking into her farmhouse at Christmas. Playing under her ornate wood dining table. Being afraid of falling down the laundry chute. Sitting in my scratchy new nightgown at her island in Brandon watching her make coffee. Following Grandma in her silly straw hat through the flax and canola flowers, protesting that “my dad doesn’t weed his field by hand.”

I remember riding overnight in the backseat with Grandma on the way to visit my aunts in Alberta. She folded my blanket under and wrapped it around my neck because she said that's how her own children had wanted to be tucked in. I still sleep that way.

Grandma and Grandpa stayed over for weeks at a time when my parents went on vacation. When I was little she’d always French-braid my hair for school because my mom doesn’t braid. Once she stayed over when I was a teenager. Grandma sat on my bed and listened patiently to my stories about the cute boys at school. And instead of telling me I was too young for boys or when she was a girl she didn’t talk about that, she leaned in close like she was about to tell me a secret and said, “Your Grandpa and I aren’t very affectionate in public but we love each other so much.”

Especially since she moved to Niverville 10 years ago, whenever my mom and I made plans at her house we both knew that meant Grandma had be there too. And if she couldn’t, then T. and I would take the kids to her condo to ask her to retell stories about her childhood and my mom’s childhood and how a little Aunt Sharon cut her own hair.

I will treasure the past few months of visiting her in the hospital. Sitting with my mom and her mom, who for most of my life have both been too busy creating masterpieces of garden flowers or baking flours to sit much at all, was a gift. I felt connected, a third link on a beautiful chain of varied-coloured gems. I'd already left the hospital but was called back in time to cheer her over the finish line and sing Happy Birthday to her in her new life. I was stroking her arm when her breath stopped. Since then I’ve found it hard to breathe.

I've had months to prepare for that moment as I've watched her go from sitting up in bed cracking jokes about my cousin Erica’s ugly toque, to squeezing my hand and smiling from her pillow as I told her stories about my week, to opening her eyes just long enough to whisper ‘I love you’ and then fall back to sleep.

One by one over the past 12 years I've said goodbye to each of my grandparents with a final kiss on the cheek and a tear-stained tribute. Now I feel like the last of the 4 walls sheltering my inner life has been knocked down, exposing me to the harsh wind. My grandparents were all deeply spiritual, fiercely loving (and hopelessly flawed) men and women that surrounded me with prayers, ice cream cones, birthday money, loud whistling, and hugs.

And for better or worse, Grandma gave me some of her sense of humour, work ethic, left-handedness, coffee-addiction, anxiety, love of books, hair that won’t go grey (I’m hoping), stubbornness, and servant heart.

I’ll miss having a place to go when the Niverville fair gets rained out. My husband Tony looked so cute in Grandma’s fuzzy bathrobe waiting for his clothes to dry.

No one sounds as happy to hear my voice on the phone as she did. And she’s the only person who can get this non-touchy-feely grandchild to hug at the end of every visit and say ‘I love you’ at the end of every phone call.

I’ll hold in my heart the way she believed in me and in my children. Even though she loved to remind me that I was a “little handful” (a mud magnet in white leotards), and even after listening to stories of my kids’ mischief, she always had this stubborn confidence that with love and prayer we would turn out just fine. She called K. her “special boy” and loved it when G. climbed on her bed. Her eyes sparkled every time she saw them.

But mostly I’ll remember the way she was always there. I may not have long, unique, or fascinating stories to tell about her, but I have moments, and the feeling I was very loved.

And the beauty of the ordinary.

In one of my favorite novels, The Martyr's Song, a dying man slips between our world and the spiritual kingdom, where he hears Jesus and all the children in heaven singing this song:

Sing, O child of Zion; Shout, O child of mine;
Rejoice with all your heart and soul and mind.
Every tear you cried dried in the palm of my hand;
Every lonely hour was by my side.
Every loved one lost, every river crossed,
Every moment, every hour was pointing to this day,
Longing for this day...You are finally home