The day before yesterday was my grandmother's funeral. I'm in Montreal, and for the next two months, my mission here will be to vacate the apartment.
This is the eulogy I wrote for my Grandmother. However, I forgot it at home, and then spoke from the heart. The improvised was a bit disorganized but authentic.
Dear friends and family,
We are gathered here today to celebrate the life of my grandmother Christine. Many of you know that I came from Mexico to take care of her during almost six months, just over a year ago, through a series of circumstances which I can only call fate. At the time Grandma Christine didn't know me as a grown man, and I didn't know her as a golden aged woman. I had no experience being a caregiver. I was in for a ride.
I'm writing this from her apartment in Montreal, having arrived last night from Mexico, and a barrage of memories are coming through. As salacious as it could be, the purpose of these words is not to recount what happened during these six months--I could go on speaking for hours--and I know Grandma Christine would disapprove my indiscretion. But it's also difficult to exemplify her character without referencing some events that we lived together. Grandma, I hope not to disappoint you.
In the first two weeks that I came to Montreal I was staying at the apartment while Christine was at a residence. I was to help her move back into the apartment, and I would visit her almost every day so that we would grow comfortable with each other. I would take her downstairs to smoke, and we would find other residents smoking there too. Pretty soon we synchronized our smoking schedule with theirs, and Christine begun making new friends.
The night before she left, we bid farewell to her new friends. They were all very pleasant and I was moved by their affection, despite their brief friendship. As we were turning around to leave, I overheard one of the ladies say "isn't she a nice lady?" and the other replied "Oh yes she is". I asked Christine "Did you catch that grandma?" to which she dryly replied "They don't know me". Grandma Christine's humor was something to behold, she could crack out a joke out of thin air, never at the expense of others, but often self deprecating in a fun don't-take-me seriously way.
Another thing that struck me about Grandma Christine was her amazing luck. It was discrete, and could go unnoticed if you weren't paying attention. For example, the first couple of times we had to go to a doctor's appointment, I would stress out trying to get the cab at precisely the right time so that it wouldn't leave before we got downstairs. I would try to hurry grandma, but she would take none of that, her pace was her pace. Inevitably, the taxi would just be arriving as we were coming out of the door. After a couple of these events I just relaxed and relied on her luck. She always seemed to be at the right place, at the right time.
But I don't write everything off to luck. Clearly there is also an element of strategy in "getting lucky". When visiting doctors she did her part, chose her outfit the night before, got out of bed early despite hating it, diligently made sure she carried all her documents, money and so on. John and Christine's numerous trophies from card playing tournaments are testament to this observation. Luck is the universe's effort to make you successful, but you must also do your part, you won't be carried through life through luck alone.
This brings me to Christine's conscientiousness and tidiness. She was throughly diligent in her order and preparations. This would manifest in all aspects of life: getting into bed was an almost two hour ritual of creams, hygiene and medication. We would spend many evenings going through documents in the den, filing things that were useful and tearing up the things that weren't. I recall one time Grandma was complaining to the social worker that her house was a horrible mess. The social worker looked around and asked what mess she meant. "Well, this mess of course". The social worker looked around, blinking as if she was experiencing a different reality, "well Ms. MacKay, you should see my mess", she answered.
One of the stories that Grandma Christine loved recounting was when she was beat up by a kid from her neighborhood when she was a child. There was a strong anti-german sentiment at the time, and she took an unwarranted beating from a bigot. A tall, elegantly dressed black man picked her up and walked her home, giving her words of consolation. This event left a deep impression on her, and I think this is the seed of her amazing capacity to see past skin color and creed and meet the person for who he or she truly is. Despite her firm religious convictions, she never made derisive comments about other faiths or sexual preferences. I feel tempted to say she was a modern woman in this regard, but I would rather say that she understood the perennial wisdom that we are all one family, we are all brothers and sister.
Another remarkable quality of grandma Christine was her affection for children. Visits to the hospital would leave her tired and irritable, but when she saw a child there, her eyes would light up and she would scurry through her purse to find a piece of candy or a small token of affection. Some of us here may know Christine from our childhood, and we remember not only the gifts but the attention she would give us, she asked us questions and would listen attentively to everything we had to say. Very few people give importance to the opinions and feelings of children despite being crucial for their development as healthy adults.
Lastly, something that stroke me very early on my acquaintance with Christine is the degree to which she was surrounded by amazing people. These are individuals who would give without expecting anything in return, like a tree gives fruit to whoever is hungry. People who were willing to do a long meticulous job not only to please Christine's perfectionist disposition but to take part in her appreciation for beauty and order. People who would ignore their professional clock to go into a space of timelessness with her. People who would send heartfelt letters of appreciation and call her on the phone even if she couldn't answer or was indisposed to talk. These amazing people are here today, in presence or in thought, thank you for coming to celebrate grandma's life.
There's a lot of emotional movements going on, I will write about them in the upcoming days.