Originally uploaded by n_and_a.
I would not have gotten a chance to know my grandmother as well as I did had two important things not happened. First, I moved to Vancouver. Growing up, I did not really have the opportunity to know my maternal grandparents well as they lived in Thunder Bay, Ontario, which is a good 24 hour drive from London, where we lived. My grandparents retired in Victoria, B.C. so when I moved to Vancouver, I was suddenly very close to them. A mere couple of months after I moved to Vancouver, my grandfather died of cancer. Ironically, this second sad, yet fortitious, event, gave my grandmother and me a much better chance to get to know each other.
Over the next five years, I spent a lot of time at the Kensington, the retirement home where my grandmother lived in Victoria. My Grandmother and I discovered that we had similar temperments and we were content to just talk and read books all day long. I learned a lot about my grandmother’s life in those years as she would tell me stories about growing up in Walkerton and Tara, Ontario. She would show me all of the family photos and tell me who was who and as much as she could remember about all of the various relatives.
Those were good years in retrospect. My grandmother’s health was relatively stable and mentally she was pretty much as she always had been. She did the cryptic crossword puzzle every day and she played bridge several times a week at the Kensington.
I was very, very sad when I had to tell my grandmother that Andreas and I were moving to Edmonton. I knew that we would see less of each other after our move. Still, we were able to make a trip to Victoria when I was five months pregnant with Kai and Grandma got to help me sort out the baby clothes which had been given to us by friends in Vancouver.
And in February of last year, we had a great conversation on the day that we found out that we were having a boy. She was so thrilled that Andreas and I were having a baby. Even though she made it clear that it would be preferrable if we were married!
The day after that phone call, my grandmother fell and had a stroke or had a stroke and fell. This was the beginning of a slow, painful, humiliating decline. As she was alone in Victoria with no support, the family made the difficult decision to move Grandma to London to be closer to my mother. What followed was an extremely difficult time for both my mother and my grandmother. Blind, deaf and immobilized, my grandmother was a shadow of her former self.
Still, she was aware enough in August to be thrilled to meet Kai. We had a very tearful farewell as I left. She told me that she was so, so happy for me that I had had Kai and that I found Andreas. It meant a lot to her that I had a family now.
I saw her again in February of this year, but she was no longer there really. She knew me, but didn’t remember who Kai was. It was difficult to communicate with her as she had had another stroke. We knew and we hoped that she wouldn’t be subjected to this living death for very long.
For my grandmother’s 90th birthday, I put together a book of memories for her with these photos. I met Andreas while I was working on this project and ironically we discovered that he had done a very similar thing for his grandmother too. I have been meaning to post these photos online forever so that everyone in the family would have a chance to look at them. Last night, I drank a glass of wine and cried a bit as I went through them and posted the photos here. In the end, this was a very therapeutic project as the photos reminded me what a long, full, and happy life my grandmother led. It was a life well-lived.
EPH with her memory book
Originally uploaded by n_and_a.
My grandmother was a quiet, humble and strong person. She accepted what life gave her and just went on. She didn’t complain, and she didn’t succomb to the bitterness of old age. She was so happy being a mother and a wife that a stranger once told her that she must be the “happiest woman in Westdale” as she walked with her four children through the neighbourhood. My brother-in-law Shonty said that my grandmother was the prototype of the good-natured women found in my family. I hope that I can live up to her example. Goodbye, my dear grandmother. You will be missed.