Stylocycle’s Blog

Eulogy — delivered today. Shared here with distant relations.
April 24, 2010, 11:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Gramma — Today I will speak of my Gramma, but others here with us today will call you Elsie, Aunt, Ma, friend, … regardless of the name by which we conjure you, all of us will really call you Beloved, though sometimes we had other terms of endearment:

Mum and I had a pet-name for Gramma that she didn’t always appreciate. I can’t remember how it began or when, but sometimes Gramma would get that very exacting way about her, a way that wanted things just so: things like ironed sheets on all the beds, a jacket pulled down at the back – no matter how arranged, there was always one more tug an outfit would benefit from – socks ordered in just such a way, hedges and flowers that were either disciplined into performance or made to disappear in the next season like ball-players whose promise had exceeded performance. And so the call would come, “The Sargeant major would like the lilac bush to be distressed. You are going to have to bring Trevor down to shock the roots with the big shovel; otherwise, it’s getting removed at the end of the season.” Now Gramma was not especially fond of this nikname, and felt it failed to capture the subtleties of her character, but there it was anyway – and the truth of it is that I miss the Sargeant Major very much because folded into that no-nonsense, pull yourself together and get on with things attitude was a gentleness that put the flesh on that backbone. When I get to wanting to wallow in how much I miss her, I hear Gramma saying, “Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare do that to me. I won’t have you sloughing of your responsibilities on my account…” and so I pick up my books, or my other work, and I get on with it… but I also feel the silky inside of her palm on my cheek, or smoothing down my hair and saying to me, “There, there honey; you know you will be fine.”

Beyond even these recent endearments, I carry with me the combination of precisely cut sandwiches, split into three triangles that were always so interesting to look at and so much more manageable than the chunky squares that everyone else had packed in their lunches for summer camp. As a very little girl with very little hands and a very little mouth I was always so grateful for the way Gramma turned out a lunch that was sized just. so. right. And it might seem an odd that I would see it as an embellishment, but the waxed paper that she wrapped the sandwiches in, precisely creased and folded over like origami seals made each lunch seem a little more special to me than the other children’s lunches, like each one was a gift.

On days when I’m having a bit of the blues, I’ll still make a sandwich and cut it just so, and wrap it in waxed paper just so that I can unwrap it as though it were a gift. Those of you who know me well will know that I have inherited the penchant for ironed sheets, and will happily iron every piece material not held in place with upholstery tacks. To others these may seem peculiar quirks but to me they speak of daily little kindnesses to the ways we nurture our bodies and our souls. It is a habit that keeps me ever mindful of the way she would tuck me into bed, or wrap me in a giant towel to warm my ever-shivery self. It’s not just a matter of ‘house-keeping’, but also of carrying on the heart of the first home that I ever knew, and of the great, safe closeness at its core. It is orderly, yes, but it is also very gentle, and that captures the complex character that was my Gramma, your great-gramma, your Aunt Elsie, your friend, your ma.

Not everyone gets to have a great-grandmother until they themselves are almost grown. Nicholas, you were adored by Gramma in a manner that paralleled a mother’s love. Well into your early childhood, to your delight, Gramma would walk up in full step, swoop down and scoop you up in one motion, just as though you were a baseball. I rarely saw her so excited as when you picked up golf clubs and demonstrated a natural swing… and she was always so proud to take you out to the driving range to instruct you in the finer points of a controlled and artful swing. Gramma admired your natural grace, and your love of sport… she would remind you, if she were here, that you have to remember to play for the love of the game, not for the limelight. Play every day, she would say, as though you had the opportunity to play the perfect game, but do it for the love of the game, not for the attention. Gramma was very, very good at all the things she did, but the one thing she wasn’t seeking was the glory. And yet there is a suitcase full of news clippings of her successes to show that the glory came to her anyway. These are lessons in life that I try to keep as much as I can. I confess that I prefer to be noticed than not, but it is also a great thing that even if my colleagues and peers paid no attention, that Gramma did notice my accomplishments. I believe that our best way to honour her memory is to keep playing, aiming every day for our best game, even if no one else notices, and we may all be aware that her soul would be proud of our efforts.

Gramma’s complexities and strengths were broader even than this rough portrait can capture. Mum has recently reminded me of how fearless Gramma was in her life. When we get to the social gathering today to celebrate Gramma’s life, I hope you will take some time to read about her .500 batting average with the Brantford Burtols, about the spectacular fearlessness with which she played the game. Shortly after I received her suitcase of clippings in the fall, I asked her about some of those injuries incurred from that fierce athleticism, and she remarked that in the big picture she didn’t recall the injuries at all, only the saves, the slides, the bases stolen, and the acrobatics that thrilled the crowds that went to see the ladies – and Elsie in particular – play. That fearlessness did not dissipate in her later years. It was Gramma who insisted on venturing into Hell’s Gate at Devil’s Canyon. Indeed, it was Gramma who cajoled my grandfather to go with her over the Capilano suspension bridge, the one that sways so precariously over the deep Capilano canyon in North Vancouver. It was Gramma who excitedly clambered up the sloped lawn of my new house when we were still in escrow, and peered in all the windows and inspected the back deck, heedless of the local neighbourhood watch. My own fearless boy has cajoled me onto that Capilano bridge and let me tell you – it was definitely my son and not me who inherited the fearless gene. Gramma took that joy and fearlessness about life with her on more pragmatic journeys through a major shoulder surgery and two hip replacements over the last decade of her life. It wasn’t long after the shoulder surgery in her late 70’s to repair a rotator cuff severely and repeatedly injured over decades of sport that mum called me one evening to say that Gramma had gone out early that morning to play golf and hadn’t yet returned home. It wasn’t yet dreadfully late in the day, but when Gramma still wasn’t home a few hours later mum called to ask me if we ought to be sending out some kind of search. The rescue mission was called off shortly after when Gramma arrived home – past sundown – exhilarated and impatient with our worries: she had so enjoyed her 18 holes on the course that she had gone on to play the front 9 one more time for a 27 hole day. That was the last day that Gramma really played, but boy did she ever finish swinging.

I recall her great satisfaction with each of her hip replacements. Before each surgery she assured her surgeons that she was well aware of her advanced years, and she told them just as she had told us that she might not have the best cardiac health for those surgeries, but that she was prepared to take the risk of dying on the table so that she could have a more active life, and after her surgeries she approached her rehab as though she just might run cross country in the ladies’ senior division. “Look at what I can do now!” she would announce to Trevor, Nicholas and me when we’d come through the door each visit during her recuperation. In her last months in the hospital she was pushing herself in an endurance test by taking off her oxygen supply for longer and longer periods each day. Gramma was determined to really give it her best shot to recover from a devastating heart-attack, was proud that her doctors had pronounced her survival a mystery, and when it became clear to her that full recovery with all her independence in place was not in the cards, she was the one who told the hospital to move her to the palliative ward. Gramma lived her life on her terms and died on her terms too.

Lessons from Gramma – in the last year of her life, I had occasion twice to spend several days with Gramma. In each case, Gramma said that she needed help around the house, and longed for a little company, and so I went… it was good for me to get away from a heavy workload for a few days on each occasion, and to get away from a house filled with sadness after the sudden death of our wee kitten who left us all too soon. Gramma said that she needed my help, but what she really knew was that I needed her help. She said that she needed me to do some care-taking for her, but what she really did was open her lap to receive my great sobs of exhaustion, exasperation and sadness… and she did it in a manner that allowed me to save face.

Gramma, Elsie, ma, Great-Gramma, friend, sister, cousin, regardless of who she was to you, every one of you will share my emptiness, that sense of loss, that person who taught us to be brave and allowed us to be weak… We will miss her every day, each in our own way, in surprising moments (no one, for example, told me Gramma had spoiled Sam beyond hope; his recidivism rate for interruption of human peace and quiet is really appalling you know). Today, however, let us not miss her. Let us move through our memories to celebration of an extraordinary woman who lived an extraordinary life.


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