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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Celebration of Life

Solomon caught in the act of tickling his little sister
I have delayed in posting this a year, to give emotions time to settle and give us the benefit of hindsight.  Though it is not the sort of happy family outing I normally blog about, it was an important trip that I want us to remember.  From this point on, all references to time are actually from a year ago.

In mid October, we made another trip to Canada.  Our dear GG Lois, Charles' grandmother, passed away.  We knew it was coming, as did she.  We very much enjoyed our visit back in May.  We skyped in mid September, and that was the last time we saw her.  But the memories are rich and deep.  When the kids ask their dad to tell a story about his childhood, Charles often tells about gathering the potato beetles in his grandmother's garden.  The story of Barry and Tim accidentally digging up the strawberry patch is legendary (and indeed was part of the letter Tim wrote that was read during the church service).  There are many good recent memories as well.  Nearly the entire family got together two summers ago in Minnesota.  There have been Christmas and Thanksgiving gatherings in Oklahoma, and many other
family reunions, large and small.

We stayed in Fargo with Charles' mom, dad, brother and sister and met up again in Manitoba.  Here we are coming into the Pembina valley.  After arriving we gathered with aunts, uncles and cousins.  Lois was often someone to greet and help newcomers.  The Castelains, a Belgian chocolatiering family sent their regrets, as well as chocolates.  She befriended a farming family that up and moved their farm from South America to Canada.  I'm sure there are many, many more I do not know about.  She also had friends in the Hudderite community.  

The hospitality room at the assisted living facility where GG Lois had lived was our home away from home during the weekend.  Most of us were in hotel in the next town over, so it was nice to have a quiet place for immediate family to go in between larger gatherings.  

There were many family diners over the course of the weekend, with an ever increasing group, all courtesy of GG Lois.  The restaurant in town handled all the meals, seating us in a private dining room (pictured below).  The accomodated food allergies beautifully.  Aside from our two gluten-sensitive girls, there are a couple of true cealiacs in the family.  Our final dinner Saturday was for 50. We had turkey, stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, glazed carrots, many salads, plus dessert.  Kathy announced 'dinner is on Mum, it is her final gift to you.'  It was as it turned out, Canadian Thanksgiving that Monday.  

The three elderly people in foreground are Lois' tow sisters, Jean and Joan, and her brother-in-law Glen.  

This was the first funeral my children attended, and while it was sad, it was also very good.  It was good to be with family, it was good to remember together, it was good mark a loved one's passing.  We live so far away we had only been able to see GG Lois once every couple of years.  Without taking the time out to be there and experience a formal ending I feel it may have been very easy for the younger ones especially to slip into imagining her still at home, still just a nine hour drive away.  We all struggle with what death means, but for young children simply understanding the finality of it is a challenge.  Considering we all must die, the death of a long lived, accomplished, much loved family member or friend is probably the gentlest introduction to our own mortality.  Not that we get to choose these things.   Nonetheless I am grateful for the very graceful way GG Lois was able approach the end of her life.   

Since we had spent so much time in the car driving up, we needed to make an effort to explain to the kids that driving to the cemetary was not time to use the ipad, play video games or listen to books on CD.  I remember Charles saying that we had driven up here to remember GG Lois and go to her funeral and that now that was what it was time to do.  It was time to remember GG Lois.  Kathy had given us several laminated obituaries the night before as keepsakes for the kids.  I handed three back and read the fourth aloud, finishing just as we parked at the cemetary.  

Though it had been pouring rain on Friday, and cloudy all Saturday morning, the sun broke through just a bit before the burial.  The day was beautiful but cold.  The minister encouraged us to get as close as we could, gathering in a tight circle.  So we could hear, and for warmth, he said.  Roberta got us all up to the top of the circle, along with the rest of the close family.  The coffin was a warm honey colored wood with a huge bunch of flowers on top.  The grave was dressed with astroturf silver bars and winches.  There was not a spec of dirt within three feet of it.  Ariadne squirmed a bit as I tried to figure out if she should face the burial or away, be in my arms or standing on her own two feet.  In the end I held her, for fear of her getting too near the grave.  Nova stood near Grandma Roberta.  As I think of it now I recall how much she looks like Grandma Roberta, who in turn looks like her mother, Lois.  I noticed for the first time looking at the family photos taken at the McKitrick family get together taken two summers ago (of course I am leaving out Charles, who also bears a resemblence).  The minister spoke of how Lois would no longer know cold or pain or light, about how she was being called home.  Kathy took a three red roses from one of the floral arrangements and gave one to each of her siblings, leaving her own with her husband Peter.  She then took two white roses from the same arrangement and put them on the joint headstone of her parents.

It is amazing what you learn about a person at their funeral.  The order of service for Lois's memorial service proclaimed it a 'Celebration of Life' and it truly was.  While I knew that she had taught English and French I did not know the extent to which she went to further her studies.  To finish high school she completed a year of correspondence learning and a year spent away from home at school, from there she continued on to college.  This was at a time when even finishing high school was not necessarily expected or required.   

The service began with poetry, then moved to an open letter written by Tim (and in fact read by Lois before her death--he joked that she corrected his spelling).  He told of her early life and her commitment to education and reminisced about having her as a mother and the care she took of others and her accomplishments and personality.  There was much singing in the service, and I am glad to say Solomon joined me in singing along.  It was nice to have him near, holding the words, and my order of service when Ariadne was keeping my hands busy.  The minister spoike of heaven and Lois being reunited with her husband Allan there.  He likened it two early settlers moving to Saskatchawan, saying that you simply had to trust that their lives went on there, as there was no reliable means of communication.  He did end, however, noting that Lois would always be there, should we need her, though we could no longer see or touch her.  Aria and I caught the last half from the quit room.  

After the service was over some drove and others walked a few blocks to the kinsmen hall.  Only the week before we had been warm enough for summer clothes, even in Canada.  I got the stroller out in hopes that Ariadne would fall asleep on the walk over--no such luck.  There were people everywhere.  Long tables filled the hall.  Plates of open faced egg salad and ham sandwiches, and many kinds of cookies, carafes of coffee and pitchers of water filled a middle table designated for family and a buffet of the same was available for friends and neighbors.

The girls at at large community reception for GG Lois

Aunt Marianne and Ariadne (Ariadne's dress was knit by GG Lois for Roberta over fifty years ago). 
As all the planned activities wrapped up, the immediate family went back to the Hospitality room in small groups to twos and threes until all 19 of us ended up there.   Nova made a point of learning all the cousin's names.  She had trouble with Tom. We gave her T for a hint. We all heard her say 'Sally!' (She claims it was Tsallin).  Lehaina and Les were also a challenge--given the hint of L, she tried 'Lenny' both times.  Laughter ensued.  She continued to go through the names until she got them all right, making a joke of it by dwelling on her own family member's names as well, like it is an accomplishment to remember Ariadne and Solomon.

We talked and played games.  Chris, Leslie's husband taught Nova how to make a loon call, and taught Charlotte how to shuffle cards.  Solomon and Ariadne played a little chase game, but for the most part, the kids were calm and we ended up staying the whole evening.  Roberta, Kathy, and Tim open up a pile of condolence cards and read through the guest book--200 signatures (I can tell you there were a lot more people than that there--for example, none of our kids signed the book).  Finally it is back to our hotel and time for bed.

Cousine Victoria and Charlotte having a little fun on the way back to the hospitality room. 

Charles, Leslie, Chris, Lehaina, and Tom

Back to Jane's for dinner with 50.  Lots of visiting overall.  We have turkey, stuffling, gravey, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, glazed carrots, many salads, plus dessert.  Kathy announces--dinner is on Mum, it is her final gift to you.  Monday is Canadian Thanksgiving.  

Ariadne really latched on to Grandpa Berry during the week end.   At nearly every meal, she wanted to sit with him.  

Grandma Roberta, Great Aunt Kathy and Great Uncle Tim reading condolence letters and sharing memories.
On the way home, Charles and I talked about life, death, and future plans.  For both of us, the biggest takeaway was to live our lives well now.  The big swooping windmills came into view and we knew the border wasn't far off.  At duty free we got the last of our Canadian chocolate bars and some crown royal and maple leaf candy for our friends who have been pet sitting.  After a mild grilling at the border we were off.  

Home nine hours later, all in all a very good trip.    

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