THE DEATH OF A MATRIARCH: CELEBRATING THE LIFE AND THE LESSONS I LEARNED FROM MY GRANDMOTHER

I am writing this on winter solstice, the darkest day of the year, and it seems fitting. Things do feel very dark right now. I just lost one of the most influential people in my life, my 97 year old Grandmother. She was one of the most remarkable I people I have ever met. I always admired her poise, her kindness, her wisdom, and her razor sharp memory! I want to share with you some of my fondest memories and the biggest lessons I have learned from her over the years. Can you imagine, 97 years?! It is hard to comprehend everything you would experience, see, and learn, over the course of almost a century!


On this darkest day of the year I am reminded that from here on out the days will begin to get longer again, our days will creep slowly out of the darkness and back into the light. And just as the Earth rotates on its axis, and around the sun, everything is a cycle.

The Earth, the Moon, the seasons, and even life is not linear, it is a circle. And reminding myself of that brings me some comfort.


My Grandmother's beginnings


My Grandmother was originally from England. She came over to Canada on a 6 week trip for cricket. She travelled across Canada playing cricket and site seeing. She said she instantly fell in love with this country. She had always felt like an outcast or that she didn’t belong growing up in England, but as soon as she came here she felt at home. She felt so accepted, like she could finally be herself, the person she was meant to be. Before she was due to go home World War 2 broke out (in 1939). Her parents decided she should not attempt to go home due to safety reasons. So she stayed in Canada. She started working at a bank and soon met my Grandfather. They met when she was 17 years old and they were together right up until when he died in 2007 (which was the same year I graduated from Veterinary School).


Myself, my children, and my Grandmother at my graduation from Veterinary School in 2007.

How getting stranded during the war changed everything


I feel very grateful that she got stranded here during the war, because otherwise I probably would not exist! She also said it was the biggest blessing of her life, because she got to stay in the country she loved. And from that point on, her life turned out so much better than she had ever imagined it would be.


She often spoke of her pride in her family, and her joy at being part of a multicultural family. Growing up she never imagined she would have that opportunity. I always knew she was proud of me. She was one of the first people who I remember really encouraging me to be proud of my heritage. She bought me my very first dream catcher as a child, and it is still hanging in my bedroom today. Her support and pride, especially given her British heritage, meant the world to me.



How I will remember my Grandmother


She had the kindest heart of anyone I knew. She loved to read and had a memory like a steel vault. The family often referred to her as a walking encyclopedia. She never forgot a person's name or stories about their life, it was simply amazing. She loved all people and all creatures as well. Our love for animals was definitely something we shared. Everything in her life was decorated with animals, her clothes, her house, even her credit cards. I remember going for lunch with her once and when the bill came she said not to worry about it, that the wolf would take care of it (her Visa was a special WWF edition with a gorgeous wolf picture on it). Although she loved all animals, her favourite was the owl. Every time I see an owl I think of her, and in a way they she embodied some of their traits. Owls represent magic and ancient knowledge. They are looked at as symbols of femininity, renewal, and wisdom. In my mind that is what a true matriarch is, and this is exactly what she was to our family.



Her connection with animals


The day she died I was reminded of the deep connection she had with animals on two separate occasions. The first happened when the funeral home arrived to take her. I left her house at that point to run home and collect some things. My grandmother lives near a lake and as I started home a large bald eagle soared across the lake coming from the direction of her house and flew straight towards me, flying just above my car.

I instantly knew it was a sign from her, she was leaving us, but she was safe and she was at peace.

The second occurrence was with her beloved cat. She adopted Falicia Seabiscuit (quite the name I know!) shortly after my grandfather died. The cat was my Grandmother’s sole companion and she absolutely adored her. Their bond was very strong. A month or so before she died we found out that Falicia had mouth cancer. She had difficulty eating and was losing weight. We had discussed many times when was the right time to euthanize her, but she seemed to hang on and managed to continue to eat despite her affected mouth. She hung on longer than I thought she would be able to, and I am so very grateful for that. She stayed the entire night with my Grandmother the night she died. She didn’t budge from her bed the entire next day as well until my Grandmother was taken away. I euthanized Falicia a few hours later, on the same bed. I told her how much I appreciated her being there for my Grandma right up until the end, and what an amazing companion and support she had been.



Her humility


I asked my Grandmother a week before she died what her biggest life lessons were. And she simply replied, “Well I am not sure if I learned any! I sort of just went with the flow!” And it is true in a way, she never dwelled much on things that were out of her control, and never carried a high level of stress. However I do believe this is actually a very important lesson, and one that many of us struggle to learn! Just as a child or an animal does not dwell much on their current situation, neither did she. She just kept going and moving forward. Often if we think too hard about the difficult situation we are in, it can get overwhelming and even paralyzing. But if we put our heads down, focus on the task at hand, and simply put one foot in front of the other until we are past it, we realize what once seemed impossible, has been done.



Life lessons I have learned from my Grandma


Looking back on my Grandmother’s life, one of the biggest lessons I have learned from her is the power of gratitude. She was almost always happy. I never saw her stressed, other than with occasional physical ailments. In the 38 years I knew her I never remember her raising her voice once, or even getting mad. She was always pleased and content with what she had. Despite having money, she lived very humbly. She gave away more money than she ever spent on herself. She truly was the most generous person I have ever known, and she was happy to do it. I think learning the art of gratitude can be life changing. You can take a life of stress or worry to a life of contentment and bliss, with this powerful mindset shift. If you are always looking through a lens of gratitude, life is good.


And this is what I will try to take forward with me. I will strive to live my life with an attitude of gratitude. To focus on the blessings, not the struggles. To approach others with kindness, compassion, and love. To choose to see the best in others and when I am not shown the same in return, to reach within and find forgiveness. Because life is really what we make of it, not what happens to us. And there is so much beauty and so many blessings around us each and every day if we make the effort to look for them.


I love you Grandma and thank you so much for everything you have done for me and my entire family! May you soar high above us on the wings of whichever bird you choose, and look down on the many lives you have created and help shape, with pride. 💕


For all those missing a loved one this holiday my heart goes out to you.

"Grief is the last act of love we have to give those we loved. Where there is deep grief, there was great love."

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