Mamie and Papie

Grand-mère is the formal French term for grandmother. It can be spelled with or without the hyphen. Grand-maman is slightly less formal, and there are several informal terms, including gra-mere, mémère, mémé and mamé. Mamie is also used by modern French families. Mamie is the endearment we gave to my great grandmother, Mathilde (Sugar) Arsenault.

Grand-père is the formal French term for grandfather. Grand-papa is slightly less formal, and there are several other informal terms, including pépère and papy or papi. Arrière-grand-père is the French term for great-grandfather. We knew my great grandfather, Gabriel Gallant, as Papie.

It’s Sunday.  And finally, the temperatures are warming.  I attended Mass this morning and participated in the Rite of Sending, as I have decided to sponsor a beautiful young woman in her decision to be confirmed in the Catholic faith and to partake in the most Holy Eucharist, this year at Easter Vigil.  Later, we will gather at the Cathedral where Bishop William will receive the elect.  It is a beautiful and important rite.

Honestly, life has been tremendously difficult these past days, weeks, months and even years, but through all of everything, I continue to be a person of hope.  There have been some exceptional moments that have risen out of the struggle and for those moments and experiences, I am forever-grateful.  Blessings come in the shape of love, through friends, family and kind strangers…this love expressed through food, visits and messages.  It’s surprising how simple love is.

In your journey, you may find it a very difficult thing to reconcile….to reconcile with anything…memories, people, events.  I think it’s almost more natural to slip toward bitterness, abandonment and rage…a downward slope is always easier, right?  It takes some resilience, determination, strength and will to climb.

Every morning, I climb.  I don’t think this was always the case.  I have no cause to be stuck in the mire. My life, like your own, is a sparkle… it begins and it ends in a blink. There isn’t time or ability to shoulder the weight of bitterness and resentment. Nor is there time or ability to hang out with those who want to be angry, unloving or surly. Move toward love. Surround yourself with love.

One of the blessings of these recent days has been a re-connection with a maternal auntie and uncle. Through this re-connection,  we have together, been able to work at building a common narrative and to put to rest parts of our common past. I feel that my mother’s loving heart has provided the way for this to happen.

My uncle went through an album of his and this morning, I was sent a photograph of my Mamie and Papie… my great grandparents. I had never seen this image before. I’m not embarrassed to say that I sat in front of my monitor and wept. I was so taken by the connection I felt to Prince Edward Island and my mother’s family. I hope that if you are family and reading this, that you will save this image to your own archives and treasure it.

I have such specific memories about these two. They are very sensory memories and those of my child self. Smell of wood fire. Potato pancakes. Crispy pork fried. Tobacco. Sound of kitchen voices. Clinking milk bottles. Do I remember Papie patting beats on his legs? Place… upstairs attic bedroom. Floor vents. Light. Mamie returning home from bingo. Collecting up metal placeholder chips in morning. Earl. Great Aunties. Stories. Laughter. Salt water. Ocean. Seaweed. Family. Furnishings. Wood stove. Mamie. Knees. Hugs. Being held. Feeling loved. Mom’s happiness. People calling this magical place, ‘the island’.

I’m grateful that this afternoon finds me so grounded in the memory of my mother.  I love you, Mom.

 

Five Years Later

Mom Painting

I have lived the past five years without my mother in the physical-her-voice-over-the-phone-physical way.  The night I received the phone call that my mother passed away, I crumbled to my knees.  Mom was my closest friend.  There was NO WAY this could be!  Today, the reality of it is still absurd.

Every event in my life, whether small OR significant…every milestone is a reminder.  Grief never leaves, but ‘softens on the edges’.  For those of my readers who have not yet suffered loss, we ‘don’t get over it’ ever!  In timely fashion, CBC radio produced an amazing program on the subject early this week? end of last week.  Just a sec.  I’ll go find the link.

When my grandson was born, I got a bit of a sucker punch in the gut, some time after the elation and after I drove home from hospital for some much-needed sleep.  Hot tears hit my pillow because in my mind the most heaven-filled experience of my lifetime has been the birth of Steven, so what might that have meant to my mother?  I hurt a lot with the inability to share this precious boy with my mother.

Mom and James 1990 5

Mom with my own son, March 1990.

So, there are always going to be those moments.

What can I do, moving forward?  Well, one of the gifts that my mother gave me in moving into the everlasting is that she gave me the relationship I now have with my Dad.  Let’s face it, Moms and daughters can talk A LOT.  As women they become well-bonded through their experiences and their enjoyment in conversation.  Since Mom gave me my friendship with my father, I am so grateful.  I love that man so much!  We have persisted with our 5:00 pm Skype conversations that began to happen daily when Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, although clearly, our timing is a bit more flexible.  My Dad and I talk about absolutely EVERYTHING and this wasn’t always the case.  I thank Mom for this.  I’m very grateful. Moving forward, I can continue to honour my experiences with my Dad.

P1010153

What else?  Honestly, I am very concerned with the growing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.  It is a hideous disease and it is also very cruel to families and caregivers.  While not the only debilitating disease that is slamming the world population, it deliberately robs individuals of talents, abilities and knowing.

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As various forms of dementia wreak havoc on aging populations (and this is a bit of a stereotype), we need to explore a number of aspects…health care, supports for caregivers, a more generous perception of personal support workers (paid BETTER and valued for their important work), and financial support for the sake of clinical research.

Finally,  I am interested in spiritual connection.  My mother really valued her relationship with her Saviour.  During my nature walk this morning I was thinking about how human beings are plugged into their devices, around the clock.  My Mom would want people to unplug from those and to plug in to real-time conversations instead.   She would want us to plug in to experiences and to explore the inner workings of our hearts and minds,  no matter our leaning or our ceremony or our practice.  As I contemplate this,  I will take time today to consider my spirit and tend to it.

Let us be gentle with ourselves on our personal journeys of grief.  Time moves on, even though we fight against it.  Today, on the anniversary of my mother’s birthday, I am going to spend time in the garden.  I’m taking my dog walking into beautiful landscapes.  I’m going to try to live an honourable life.  I am going to remember the times of laughter shared with a beautiful woman, my Mom.

1957 Mom and Dad New Years

 

The Week in Review: The Loss of My Mother

 

Mom and Kath

Tuesday marked the third anniversary of the loss of my mother.  It’s one of the many difficult dates on the calendar, where Mom is concerned.  She wouldn’t wish for us to carry this much pain and heart ache, but grief is just like that.  It ebbs and flows and sometimes feels like it drowns us.  No one person can be blamed for how they grieve or what they do about it…their struggle to smother it or ignore it or constantly process it…it all has to be okay.  By embracing the journey, one never truly sees the world in the same way, but one can see the world and be in the world and carry on.

So…I put on a pair of Mom’s socks in the morning.  I brought her socks home with me three years ago when I headed out from Dad’s on my Trans Canada drive west.  In my mind I suppose I thought that at some point the socks would wear out, but, I’ve been lucky that way.

I said the rosary out loud before leaving for school.  Thoughts of Mom had inspired that.

Grief is exhausting.  I remember that I felt tired on Tuesday.  I went over in my head what  I was doing before and during and after receiving the news about my mother’s passing.  I played the one voice recording from a telephone call Mom had made years ago…one I had never erased.  I wanted to hear Mom’s voice.

I had a cry,  a couple of cries, privately.  I was so grateful to be painting during the day, with grade ones.  They painted kites and were so very excited and into it that life captured me…a wind carried me…and I felt lighter also.

I Skyped with Dad.  I always look forward to that.

I went to the pond and took a photograph of a bush.

I will always miss my mother.  The thing is, I was so very blessed to be her daughter that every day I know that I lucked out.  I am grateful that I carry so much of her in me.  I like it that sometimes when I laugh, I hear her laugh.  I love and never take for granted, my family.

Images Harnass Love So That We Remember

Gramma and Grand Daughter

Album:  ‘I’m a Mountain’, ( 2006 )

When the days close on the memories that you’ve acquired
And your body cannot hold your soul inspired
You are here and not alone
Everybody has come home
There’s a bed made up upstairs
If you get tired

All the heaviness around you will get light
And your worry lifted up into the night
Left with nothing but pure love
Left with all you are made of
Can I stay around awhile
Is that all right?

Oh lives don’t end
Goin’ out to be brought back again
Our lives don’t end