The snow is falling outside. Falling and falling. And falling a bit more. The streets lights have come on and the cats are trying to climb onto my lap as Ingrid Michaelson sings out “without you” from my laptop. I was searching old files on my computer for my yoga cards. I am ticking things off my to-do list. I was clicking through old posters and weird unreadable documents when I came upon the words I wrote last May: a eulogy for my grandmother. A goodbye to my memere. Sitting on the couch in the quiet of my childless house I began to read my words. Ingrid continued to sing and I could see myself standing at the funeral parlour reading these words:
There are moments when I slow down and really pay attention. Often I’m rushing around and I’m way too busy. Two nights ago I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom with my daughter. And the moment pulled my breath in. I felt how beautiful it was to be watching her brush her teeth. And I wanted to remember, forever, what she is like at almost ten.
I remember sitting in Dairy Queen with my mother and grandmother, maybe 17 years ago. And I had one of those moments. It’s like the air changes. And everything slowed. I looked at memere’s hands, with all her beautiful wrinkles; her fingers were interlaced and I wanted to remember their shape, and softness, and abilities. I wanted to remember her forever.
My grandmother, Emily Ogilvie, or memere, was an extra ordinary woman. She was brave and strong. She grew up in rural Manitoba and left home at 13 to start working. I could never really get my head around that. I had such a different life than hers. So I asked her to tell me her story over and over. And she did. Her life captivated and inspired me. Her strength and determination awe me. Although there are no photos of this I can see her standing near a train with holes in her shoes holding a small paper bag with her few possessions. I could listen to her all day tell me about pirogies, or her mother’s huge garden, about the hole in the dirt floor where they kept the potatoes. I could listen to her stories about living in Toronto (she loved it there) or of the house (she did not like) on the highway in Penetang, or of working and not having much and raising three children. I did not mind repetition.
She thought of her young self as shy, naive, and stupid. That’s how she described herself. But when I hear her stories about moving to Toronto at 18 I could only see the brave and the strong and determined young woman who wanted to change her life. She did not want to be a poor farmer like her parents. So she worked and worked and worked. During the war she became a welder. This made her a bad ass in my mind. But my memere was humble. To her she did what she had to do. She met my grandfather at the ship yards. I loved getting her to tell me about how he threw rivets down at her to get her attention. I cannot express the sorrow I feel at not being able to hear these stories anymore. It really was one of my favourite things to do. To listen to her.
Memere worked hard all her life. She raised three children while worked full time at demanding factory jobs. She always had a garden. She would grow strawberries, lots of strawberries to sell to make a little extra money. I can see her at Pillsbury with angel food cake powdering her hair. I think that might be another picture that only exists in my mind.
As many of you probably know she was an extremely generous person. She gave of her time, or her baking, of her love. When I was younger, after her and my grandfather, pepere, had retired they would come over to our house and help out. Seriously! Every Thursday, or something like that, they would do laundry and tidy, and who knows what other things they got up to. I don’t even know all they did. But they came to help my parents.
She was just like that.
After my grandfather died, 28 years ago, she began volunteering at the hospital, at the soup kitchen, baking like crazy for the church. I think she is well known for her tea buiscuits, her tarts and date squares, as well as the large trays of Christmas cookies that she would gift every December. She was also a big knitter. But after my grandfather died she became a sock, sweater and afghan factory. I have a drawer full of her socks and I cherish them. I came to her house one day with knee high socks (not hers) with a hole in the heel. From then on she made me knee high socks. That’s just how she was. Extra generous. Extra thoughtful. Extremely loving. My mother has taken on the sock knitting tradition and I think it’s high time that I learn how to turn a heel.
Memere was incredibly independent. She lived alone until she died last week at 97. 97. Her mind was sharp. I would joke with her that mind was shaper than mine. I think it’s true. She also had an incredible amount of energy. And a wonderful will. Over the last number of years she felt bored. She wasn’t able to do all that she used to. If she could I know she would have come to my house and scrubbed all scrubbable surfaces. But she was slowing down. And that was hard for her.
I would say that her biggest fault was being a worry wart. Sometimes her way of loving us was to worry herself silly. She would say that she just couldn’t help it. She worried about her children and her grandchildren. She worried about her friends. She worried when Caitlin almost missed her plane. Or if my mother was having a headache. She worried my uncle David was doing something crazy. Sometimes she worried herself into a right tizzy. But what I think is awesome is that she didn’t keep that to herself. I know a lot about my family through memere’s worries. But I’m gonna keep some of that a secret.
My grandmother has been preparing me for her death for years now. But I still wasn’t ready.
She gave me some beautiful bowls when I moved into my house. Over the last 20 years she kept asking me I wanted when she died. I’ll put your name on it. And I would be like what??? But that’s what she wanted. She wanted to put masking tape with my name in Sharpie on the items I wanted. She was incredibly selfless and thoughtful. So she has been cleaning and clearing her house for the last 20 years. I am not kidding. She did not want to leave a mess. She wanted her house to be as easy as possible for my mother.
Over the last number of years I talked to my memere weekly. She was not only great at sharing, but also great at listening. She was not jugedmental. She loved to know what was going on in my world. She was a wonderful friend. And sometimes I don’t know what I will do without her. She was 97 years old. She lived a full life. In her almost 100 years of life she experienced great sorrows and sickness and loss. She lost both her daughter and her husband. She lost many friends. She survived and thrived after breast cancer and back surgery.
After all life offered her; all the beauty, all the difficulty she he continued to live her with generosity and light right until the very end.
Emily Ogilvie was my grandmother. Simply by being herself she taught me how to be brave, and strong, and fierce. She showed me how to be generous and humble. And most of all she taught me how to love.
Those are the words I just read to myself. The words I read to her family and friends last May at the celebration of her life. Reading these words brought new tears and with these fresh tears came sobs and with the sobs came moans. My memere would have been 98 this past December. I miss her just as much today as I did the day she died.
Today I did things that she would have been proud of. Today I went out in the world and I helped like she showed me how to. Today I cried and cried and cried because I miss her laugh. I miss her stories. And I miss her love.
After the tears slowed I decided that I wanted to tell you. To show you some photos. To say this was my grandmother. She is gone. And I am sad. I am blessed to have such a great bad ass grandmother. So I say to you: Go out there and be bad ass. Knit someone a pair of socks. Bake someone some cookies. Share. Give. Love.