It's been a really surprising couple of weeks. A week and a half ago I got a text from my uncle Glen late in the evening to say that my Nan had had a heart attack, but she was doing okay. I anticipated sending flowers to the hospital and then speaking with Nan in a few days. The next morning I got another message saying that things were not good, and my aunt Sharon and I made the decision to leave work and go to Belleville because we didn't know how things would progress.
We got to the hospital in time to see Nan and have her recognize that we were both there. It was surreal. As the day went on, we came to understand the impact of the repercussions of everything happening in her body that led to the heart attack and everything that happened as a result. She didn't make it through the night.
I'm so thankful that I got to say goodbye - but it was all truly shocking as everything unfolded so quickly.
As I've talked about before, grief brings up a lot of old feelings for me and I found it especially hard since it was my mom's mom. I'm so thankful for the incredible support I received from family and friends as I went through the motions of life in the days that followed. I was also really grateful for the love that surrounded Nan in the hospital on the day she died.
We had a celebration of life for her last week, which was attended by much of our family and friends. I spoke at the event, and I wanted to share my eulogy here as another way to honour Nan's memory and share my feelings about what her life taught me.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Ashley. Thelma was my grandmother by relation, but to me, she was always my Nan. I was never allowed to call her grandma or grandmother or granny (because those made her sound old) – so Nan she was.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say about Nan today and how I wanted to express my feelings to celebrate her life. I’ve reflected on many memories that we shared over the years – from times at Tobe’s bingo hall, swimming in the backyard pool, getting my butt kicked at crib until I figured out how to beat her, having lunch at Zellers, eating lemon meringue pie to my hearts content, that time my mom warned her about my 3-year-old brother Cory putting her in a headlock, that time that 3 year-old Cory succeeded at putting Nan in a headlock she couldn’t get out of, that time I almost got married, Christmases, birthdays, graduations, shows– the list really goes on and on.
I’m the oldest daughter of her daughter Debbie, who died in 1998. Over the last week I’ve felt so many of the same feelings that I felt following my mom’s death – shock, disbelief, sadness and grief. But that’s not what I want to talk about.
Today I want to talk about love.
Because in the last week, I’ve realized that love is one of the greatest gifts that Nan gave me.
Our family is unique – to say the least. But underneath it all, there’s a lot of love. And when I think back on the family reunions, the Christmases, the summers spent in the backyard – that love is a constant.
I remember waking up on Christmas morning in Belleville at the crack of dawn, and Nan being the first one to get up with me. This was always to the dismay of my mom who was NOT a morning person, even on the best of days. Nan’s spunk, excitement, and twinkle was always present and those mornings were filled with love – even if it was 6am, still dark out and we were the only ones crazy enough to be awake.
Nan taught me how to cook and bake all sorts of treats, which probably helped to cultivate my love for food. We would make up silly songs and put on cooking shows as we danced around the kitchen. We would laugh and be silly as we baked up a storm, with everything we made being infused with love (which obviously made it more delicious)
When I try to explain Nan to people, I tell them a story about when I was in college and visiting Belleville. I was sleeping and she came to wake me first thing in the morning. At my bedside, she said “Ashley, I’ve been thinking about it all night, you’re such a beautiful girl with a beautiful smile, and it’s just a couple of teeth – I want to get you braces” Still half asleep I said thank you, and a few weeks later I was in the orthodontists chair. Nan was known for speaking her mind, but she did it with love underneath it all. I smile bigger because of it.
As I got older, Nan was always very curious about the people that I dated and I realized that it was because she equated happiness with love – and didn’t want me to be without it. In the last couple of years, she would always ask me if I was “still going with Corbin” and when I said that I was, she would tell me how happy she was that I had found him. Because she held love in such high regard and truly wanted that for the people who were important to her.
What really inspired this reflection was the time we spent at the hospital last week - because there was so much love surrounding her in the room when she died. Love from my uncle Glen, my aunt Sharon, Martin’s children, friends, the ICU staff, people sending good wishes and prayers, but most of all Martin.
Seeing the two of them share their last moments together was one of the most beautiful and heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen. Watching Nan look over and make sure that he was ok. Hearing Martin say that he was going to hold on for as long as he could.
That is love.
It's been said that grief is the last act of love we have to give to those we have loved. Where there is deep grief, there was love.
Nan’s life and her death has made me think closely about what we leave behind when we leave this world – and Nan has left behind many memories, experiences, very special people and most of all, love.