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In which someone I loved lay dying

My Granny (my Mum’s Mum) died on April 9th. She has suffered with health problems most of her adult life and therefore, it was difficult for us to gauge when she was truly ill unto death. She was diagnosed with emphysema 2 years ago though and began to become very ill. She was on oxygen constantly and on her usual cache of meds. But it was a big surprise on the Wednesday when we received a phone call to get out to Edmonton quickly because she only had 1-5 days left to live. We were stunned.

We all made it in time to say our good byes. Mandy, Adam, Brian and their dog, Jake (a blind, toothless and deaf 16-year-old miniature schnauzer that my sister adores who farted the whole way to Edmonton) and I all drove the 12 hours through the mountains to Edmonton on the Thursday. We made it in time to spend the weekend with the entire family and say our good byes. It was a very emotional weekend and she passed away on Palm Sunday morning. In all honesty, in addition to saying my own good-byes, I just wanted to be there for my Mum. My heart was so heavy for her as she’s very close to her Mum. I can’t imagine losing your parents, no matter how old you are. There will be many days to come when she thinks “I’ll just call Mum about that!” and then it will hit her and she’ll miss her so much more all over again.

We came back to Vancouver on Sunday and I flew out to Regina for the funeral on the following Wednesday night. Brian, Mandy and Adam couldn’t make it. If they had to choose between being able to say good bye in person or attending the funeral, I’m glad they decided to come to Edmonton and say good bye to her.

I did the eulogy for the family at the service; my dad performed the service. It was beautiful and really honoured her. She was incredibly complex and lead a complex life so it’s always difficult to sum it all up. She had a rough childhood growing up in a mining town in northern Alberta, a difficult marriage for many years married to an alcoholic and trying to raise her 4 kids in poverty, then her health problems but life looked up for her. She and my grandpa kicked booze and enjoyed their last years together immensely (he died in 1990 after 40 years of marriage). Then just five years later, she reconnected with her childhood best friend, Owen. They became born-again Christians together (my parents lead them to the Lord). They got married and have been married for 10 years now. She was wildly in love with him and he adored her. They were so happy for those years. In just 73 years, she did a lot of living. But she was amazing, beautiful, gracious and strong. Not an ounce of bitterness in her.

Watching her with Owen in those last days was beautiful but sad. She wouldn’t settle down to sleep unless Owen was in bed with her, so he would crawl into her hospital bed and hold her until she slept. She’d whisper into her oxygen mask that she loved him; he never left her side. I don’t know what Owen is going to do now. He looked so lost without her. He loved to take care of her.

I am so saddened by the loss of her. She was an amazing woman and such a friend to us. So much more than just a “grandmother”. I can hardly believe that she’s gone.

I’ve attached the eulogy I wrote for her.

Eulogy – Sarah – granddaughter

Thank you for being here. For those of you that don’t know me or recognize me, I am Sarah, Lorna’s third grandchild. It is my great honour to deliver the eulogy for this exceptional woman on behalf of our family.

I confess that it was with mixed feelings that I embarked on this. I spent much time thinking and praying because how do you sum up a life in just a few words? It’s a complex journey through childhood, marriage, motherhood (particularly when you have four little ones under 6 by the time you’re 23 like my Gran did!), the loss of her husband of 40 years, her reconnection with Owen, grand motherhood and her faith.

From my understanding, eulogies can serve many different purposes. They can be a litany of a life, they can be personal remembrances or tributes but to me, the greatest role of this moment is to celebrate the spirit, character and rich life of a greatly beloved woman.

Since my Gran passed away on Sunday, I have realised that we each have a different portrait of her in our hearts. She was such a hip Gran, always wearing her blue jeans and a little fleece vest. She was clever, she was witty, she was one of the few people that knew how to be a good friend and how to love unconditionally. She was luminous.

A very special moment in my life came just 5 years ago. I was visiting my parents and my Mum had just received a stack of pictures from her Mum. You may have noticed over the years that my sister, Amanda, looks exactly like my Mum even down to her mannerisms and facial expressions. But me? I look like neither one of my parents – well except the red hair from my dad. My entire life, I’d searched faces for some resemblance but nothing really stood out to me. So on this day, as we looked through the photographs, I pulled out a photo of my Granny at 16 and it was me! My husband looked at it and said, “When did you do one of those old time photos?” Her expression, even her walk, her fingers and fingernails, her nose and her chin and even the prematurely grey hair– it was all me! All of a sudden I realised that I look almost exactly like my Gran. Turns out every else knew it but me! Even my other granny looked at me oddly when I told her of my discovery and said, “Well, of course, you look like her.” Gran loved that story and would always kid around saying “Well, now we know how BEAUTIFUL you’ll be when you’re 70!” Because in case you didn’t know, we MacLeods (even those of us that are just half MacLeods) are not only beautiful but we’re very clever. And if you don’t believe us, just ask us.

This week has been a time of story telling. The stories from her childhood friends, the stories from her friends through the years of raising her kids, from her dear friends in the cities and towns all over Alberta and Saskatchewan, from her Powell family, from her husband, Owen. The stories from her kids and her in-laws (some of which are not appropriate to share right now!), the stories from her grandchildren and their spouses and now even her great-grandchildren have their own to add. We all knew her in different circumstances. There are memories in our hearts that are just ours alone.

In a way, a life is rather like a mosaic. It is very rarely a measured, planned and ordered painting. Rather God gathers all of these pieces, these fragments, our gifts, our talents, these memories and experiences and assembles them into a beautiful work of art that cries out of the greatness of His plans and purposes for each of us. All of the countless moments in her life have combined and intersected now to show us her true spirit and life.

On the evening that she passed away, my Mum, Auntie, Uncle Allan and our “Grandpa O” were all back at the condo. As they sat inside, they realised a group of ladies were gathering outside in the front yard. The ladies from the complex where they lived were having their own memorial. In the darkness of the fading day, they lit tea lights and arranged them along the fence. My family came outside to hug them and watch. They read Scripture then from a friendship book and told stories of my Gran. They wanted to communicate their love and respect for her, how deeply they were going to miss her. Her friend, Sally, hugged the kids and promised that they would never forget Lorna. These are the types of reactions we have begun to see across all walks of her life.

Granny had an uncanny ability to make you feel like you were the most important person in the world and that you were loved beyond measure, beyond “what you did”, just unconditionally. She allowed us to be ourselves, embracing our idiosyncrasies as our uniqueness’s, celebrating our successes and weeping along with us at our failures, loving our friends and family like they were her own. She never held anything back from her family or from her friends. She was genuine and truehearted, brave, courageous and unflinching. She had greater strength than I think any of us realised.

There aren’t many that can love so freely. My Gran loved hard and for the moment, never leaving anything until tomorrow to say or do. She fully embraced her life and the people that were in it.

Last weekend, we all arrived in Edmonton to say our good byes. It was an emotional weekend and yet I learned so much, not only about my Granny, but about her family.

In these types of situations, let’s be frank, it can be messy. It can be hard on families and sometimes can bring out the worst in us as we grieve. But this was a healing time for all of us. It was the greatest testimony to her lifelong passion for her family that all of her kids and Owen and sisters and grandkids gathered together in love and unity to say good-bye. It was a spiritual time for all of us as we realised that we, such a diverse group of people with different lives, were all tightly bound together because of her unifying love for each of us. Having that weekend with our family opened my eyes to the greatness of her soul. Not only did she whisper over and over her love for each of us. But her need to lift her weak arms and wrap them around us when we came into the room. Her need to kiss us even though her oxygen mask was on. When she’d wake up and see me, she’d reach out with her hands for my belly, so excited about the baby coming. I saw her hug and weep over her “out-laws” as much as her children. She had early on made the decision that these wonderful people who had married into her family were her family and she loved them like her own.

On one day, I was able to sit quietly in the corner of her hospital room for an hour and just watch my Auntie and my Mum each holding a hand, talking quietly, smoothing her hair, adjusting her oxygen mask, occasionally crying quietly together. During that hour, the presence of God was very thick in that room to me. It was as if I could see, feel and hear the nearness of heaven, the breath of Jesus near to her. And I saw with my heart that she was being quietly gathered into their arms. It was like the passage of Scripture that speaks of how we are ever surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. I sensed that cloud of witnesses in her room that afternoon. I knew then that she was not being “called home with a trumpet” but rather that her Lord and Saviour was gathering her into his arms, gently, like she was his greatest treasure, his beloved. I knew that day that it would not be the day she was going home.

As Saturday passed into Sunday, I had a vivid dream of her, rising up, laughing, and embracing. We all know what an infectious laugh she had. I saw her beautiful and alive. And when I woke up I knew that today would be the day. Two hours later, she went home.

Isn’t home a beautiful word? We are after all but pilgrims here in this life. The ache that is present in all of our hearts is because we were meant for more than just this world. We were meant to have the kindness, gentleness, peace and love and goodness that Granny experienced in her life because of her faith. We were meant to feel, at the end of our life, our long journey with all of its bumps and turns and stumbles and victories that we were at the end of a long road and at the end of that road is home. Like how you felt as a child, at the end of a long winter evening outside, when dusk was falling and the lights were winking out against the darkness and you saw your own home light, knew that inside were people that loved you. She went home like that, joyfully and peacefully. And it is the greatest comfort that we do not grieve without hope. We grieve knowing we will see her again, that we will share those stories and memories together, that we will have another chance to hold her. And we have the comfort of a beautiful life remembered.

I wondered over those days in Edmonton, what it would feel like to lay in a bed and know that you were dying. To know that your life is now done. No more chances to change. No more “I’ll do that later/tomorrow/in a few years”. No putting off reconciliations or forgiveness. It is what it is and you can’t change it. As you have lived your life is now is how it remains. Would we be satisfied? Would we have peace with the legacy we were leaving?

It was amazing to me was that she truly was.

It was the greatest example to all of us that there was no unfinished business. She lived at peace in her life. There was no need for mending fences quickly, no last minute confessions or hurried repentance for past sins, no regrets for things done or left undone. She was fully satisfied and fully at peace, eager to go home to heaven. God lifted up her head and her journey ended in joy.

So this is the way that I know her – she loved deeply and was deeply loved in return.

What greater thing could we say about a life?

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death, eulogy, family

One Response to In which someone I loved lay dying

  1. Sarah September 3, 2009 at 4:53 pm #

    Comments (5)

    Your post made me cry……I'm so sorry for your loss….and what an honor to give the Euology.

    Shen….(((Sarah)))

    4/18/2006 2:13 PM ShenWVgirl (message) block delete reply

    Oh, Sarah, wow. Thank for sharing these precious memories of your Gran with us, I was so touched reading about her. When you talked about her and Own and how she couldn't settle down until he was with her in the bed, it reminded me of The Notebook. God be with you.
    4/18/2006 2:14 PM agapetos7 (message) block delete reply

    Wow! What wonderful memories you have to treasure in your heart and share with you child!! It sounds like she touched many lives. I cried too–some fresh memories for me as well (see Feb 14 post). How true that we do not grieve without hope!! And home is a wonderful place to look forward to…..
    4/18/2006 5:12 PM newlifesong (message) block delete reply

    Sarah,

    YOur post about your gramma was marvelous, my gramma died last August and I have basically been in denial (what a lovely river that is to float down NOT) anyhooo your eulogy made me realize alot of the reasons I have been in denial, and one of them was her funeral was soo ummmm impersonal for me… I was very upset because the man preaching it kept calling my gramma Mom but she was not his mom, he was her pastor, and it seemed a very personal thing to me and bothered me alot and after about the 4th time he said "mom" during the service I just closed down emotionally concerning my gramma, your post re-opened all that "stuff" for me…it will be hard, but I am a big girl (40, I should say so)and will get thru this healthily….thanks for sharing

    ~Cindy~

    4/18/2006 11:05 PM cndloven (message) block delete reply

    I'm sorry for your loss. I still miss my grandmother and she died in 1981. They leave such deep footprints on our hearts, don't they?! I'm asking the God of all comfort to do his work in your heart. Thanks for sharing your memories with us….she was a very special lady. Q.'
    4/19/2006 7:45 PM QMTJ (message) block delete reply

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