Wednesday, March 16, 2011


She might be gone by now, I do not know.
I do not know when you will read this, or if my parents will actually fulfill their promise and text me after they have shed their tears no matter what hour of night it is. I am typing this out slowly, carefully, so that I am not mistaken for Meursault, whose existential crisis was mistaken for apathy. 
"Mother died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the Home says: Your mother passed away. Funeral tomorrow. Deep sympathy. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday."
I have never sympathized with Meursault. I have never favoured a blasé approach to death, and especially not to life. But suddenly, at least I understand a little bit. I am filled with love and wonder and waiting for the sense of loss, which feels almost worse than the actual sense of loss, but in the meantime I have press releases to write and e-mails to reply to and meals to eat and exercise to keep me strong so I must  not cry too hard. She could be in an intense amount of pain and questioning what will happen to her. Of course, we do not know, for we have given her all the relief science can give and that has made her mute. Or, of course, her mind could have mused its last thought a minute ago and now there is only silence where such a treasure was once found.
She might be gone by now, I do not know.


I would like to assign a numeric value created by some equation that is too complicated for me to figure out on my own but might multiply the number of minutes spent with someone by the number of surges in thought of someone's brain so I could tell you how much of my life Gramma has effected. Although she will never know it, it is surely at least 70%, which is remarkable for someone who has never lived with me. I was not a good grandchild. I did not see her every weekend, and since I turned 14 I have not even seen her every month. When she lost her memory, there was a great divide. She was a shell in my eyes, and it did not seem worth the pain to read to her when I was no different than someone who worked in her unit, and did not scare her with their offensive unfamiliarity. Still, sometimes when she was calm and having better days, I read to her, as she read to me when I was much smaller. For hours and hours she would turn her tongue as I listened attentively and did headstands, the energetic child that I was. From The Velveteen Rabbit to everything written by Mordecai Richler ever, she also appeared one day, fresh from Heathrow Airport, with one of the first copies of Harry Potter tucked into her arm.
My mother had given her specific instructions for something else I wanted for my birthday. Another book that I do not even remember now. My pre-teen self accepted the novel gingerly, but never letting on a mild disappointment. And hour later, I was begging Gramma to keep reading, to finish the fifth chapter, then the sixth.
Gramma always knew.

The university I went to is small, liberal, and feminist, as well as the place where Gramma earned her doctorate. The Marimekko poppy pattern that I am now obsessed with was strewn all over her upstairs guest room. Mary, the name that many of you originally knew me by, is... was... her name.* There are rumours about her and Christopher Plummer... all I know for sure is that they chatted for a while at a dinner party. A very long while. She was always good at catching peoples' attention. She danced in the front row of a jazz bands' concert, and it did not surprise anyone when she went on to marry the trumpeter. Once she had her sights set on him and her laid eyes on her... well, you know. She was political long after the age that it was 'acceptable' for women to be political at, whatever that is. With white hair she ran for the NDP and forever instilled the bias that work should be rewarded fairly, and the system of government we have does not guarantee that. Now, I will criticize the NDP when they are not the party my grandmother would have ran for. She knew what was worth fighting for.

The prints and art on her walls exposed me to Andy Warhol at age five. The journals she bought me every year are the reason this blog is on the internet. I am an activist because she brought new refugees to the country to dinner, and let a couple and their family from Kosovo stay at her house when they first came to Canada, until they figured out a place to stay. She also did this with Japanese dancers while they performed, and Brazilian writers as they were passing through Halifax. There was always someone new in the bedroom that had been my grandfather's drawing room until his death. Although countless souls stayed in there after, it was not until she packed up her house that she took the architectural sketches of boats to build down from the walls.

Although she lost her memory and most of her ability to communicate when I was coming of age, it was then that she truly impacted me the most. No matter where I went, I would mention my last name and people would ask... "Oh my. You must be related to Mary!" Artists, politicians, restaurant owners, musicians, gallery attendants, park managers; they all knew her. And once they knew who I was, it was as if they knew me. Instead of writing me letters telling me how to live my life, my grandmother gave me a unique last name that introduced me to all the right people who helped me flourish after she could no longer speak with any clarity. 

One of the last times I went to see her, I brought the Roald Dalh Anthology, one of my favourite presents she ever gave me, and read to her the lesser known epic works of magic that Mr. Dalh had penned. The Minpins, The Twits, old favourites came out of my mouth until my throat went dry; the same way she had read to me. She was not strewn across the couch doing acrobatics, but the familiarity of the scene and the reversal of the roles shook me for a long time. What kept me from bursting into a sad, cold sweat was the way she kept looking up at L as she grabbed onto his hand while I read. As he was not in my life until after the Alzheimers' set in, we were not sure how she would react to him. The woman who once threw entire dinner parties for near complete strangers now could hardly handle an unfamiliar face... and so many of them were unfamiliar. So even though she called me Catharine three times that night (her mother's name), it was okay, because she clasped onto L's hand repeatedly and blinked and smiled, the only way she could say, "He is good!"

Never underestimate the power of a life. Never underestimate the power of a death.
At almost twenty one, I have been granted the luxury of never having someone I was truly close to die. I have been to funerals of distant relatives and estranged cousins, a million times removed. I have known a tragic number of teenagers who had ended their life. My grandfather passed before I was even born. I did not think death was a new concept to me. But when my mother sent me a text message, "Can you come have dinner tonight?" I almost said no. This sudden, startling request was unusual for an evening where she knew I was busy with work and papers and things that do not matter to me now. 
By the time I understood the request, I was in the car to go see her. I was completely unprepared, even though I had expected her death since I was fourteen. I was wearing one of her old scarves, and was carrying a huge bag proudly displaying the Marimekko print once scattered across her old house, purchased with a little money she had set aside for me, that Dad let me have when I flew to Toronto for a few days. I remember standing there with Lesley in a trendy little shop and telling her, "Isn't this funny! I have to snatch this up. It's perfect. She'll definitely recognize the pattern when she sees it." 
She did not recognize the pattern. Or, maybe she did, and she just could not react at the time.
I did not even think of these items as sentimental. They were things I wore every day. When my aunt touched the rich red and gold scarf and sighed, "This is so lovely, this was hers, wasn't it?" I went wide eyed and croaked out a quiet yes. I had almost forgotten its origins. What my aunt thought was a tribute to the perfect grandmother I was there to say goodbye to was actually a testament to just how much she had impacted my life.

I cannot describe the sinking, slipping sensation when I touched her arm, because I could not hug her in her position. I had no epic final words. What I write now is everything I wish I could have said at the time, and might try to whisper again if there is a moment that I am allowed to see her before she leaves. If she has not left already.

She might be gone by now, I do not know.

I am not supposed to tell you any of this. This is supposed to be kept quiet; my solemn father does not want to deal with countless phone calls from all the horrified well wishers that she would get during his last minutes with her. I do not think you know me, and I know you do not know her, but I wish you had. 

Mary loved raspberry chocolate chip ice cream (purchased from the Greek convenience store down the road), living in an impeccably well kept old house that was too big for her on a gorgeous street (the neighbours said it was too 'different' when she painted it purple), countless shades of lipstick, the handmade jewelry she received when she send a micro loan to a womens' organization in Uganda, art everywhere, books anywhere, things that were local, and things that were from very far away.

When she stopped being able to create new memories, I was going through a rebellious faze where I had black hair and too much eyeliner on my face. I hope she does not remember me this way, if she does remember me. It is unlikely at this point. But my instance to believe in something tells me that she sees me now, and will see me later, and now how she improved me, and know how she shaped me.**

I know that she will always be with me one way...

... or another.

... or another.
... or another.
Update: Mary went peacefully this morning. RIP. Thank you so much everyone.


To donate to women in third world countries and help develop their small business like Mary did, click here.
To see one of Mary's favourite paintings, click here.
To read about the party that Mary gave years of her life to supporting, click here.
To donate to help find a cure for one of the most tragic diseases to see someone suffer through, click here.
To donate to Japan (and every other part of the world) as Mary would, click here. She once housed three Japanese dancers when they came to Halifax to perform. She always wanted to go back and visit them. Yoko, Ora, and Sana, wherever you are, I hope you are safe. 


*Worth noting: My other grandmother is named the same. No wonder I was named Mary. It is now my middle name to avoid confusion.
**HAHAHA. Yes, when I was 14 I really did think I was cool.
***Posting will return to normal as of today.


Paloma said...

Thank you for your bravery, your strength, and love. There is no doubt that you are the best granddaughter that you could be and as much as she impacted you (70%) know that you had the same effect on her.

Meursalt is my favorite character from any book. Ever. In it's ability to stop you in your tracks from the force of pure emotion (or lack thereof), death can seem so nonsensical, after all.


bobb said...

A beautifully written, intensely moving post.

Allie said...

I wish I could think of some words to console you, just know you're in my thoughts. Sending you positive energy.

Erin said...

Wow, this is a beautiful post and she sounds like a truly amazing person. I don't know what to say except that I'm sorry and that from the little I know of both of you, I find it incredibly easy to believe that you two are related. This post made me cry! It's a beautiful tribute to her memory. xxxxxxxx (hugs for you)

(Hard G) Gillian said...

My grandmother was also named Mary. Love to you both.

Anonymous said...

in all honesty, darling, this post made me cry... and now that i should definitely say something, my mind just can't find the words to. *hugs*

la petite coquine said...

Sending you all my love, darling. I know it's hard to say goodbye to her, but she'll always be with you.

From Suns To Moons said...

I love Camus, but he was trying too hard to seem cool and detached. Like Jean-Paul and Simone pretending not to be jealous in their open relationship. Baloney! Anyway, what I'm trying to say (in a very backwards way) is that I'm sorry for your loss.

Nicole✗✗ said...

That was absolutely beautiful it almost brought me to tears!! I'm so sorry for your loss. Mary sounded like such a powerful and moving woman. I truly wish I could have known her. This story alone moved me so I can imagine the impact she made on you firsthand. My condolences to you and your family.

Green Tea at Midnight (Jessica) said...

Sending you virtual hugs, even though I just met you! I'm so sorry for your loss. I just lost my grandfather in October and I know how devastating it can be. I wish you and your family the best.

chelsea said...

I'm so sorry, hon.

Rebecca Jane said...

This is so beautifully written, touching, and moving. A lovely way to remember a lovely woman.

So sorry for your loss my dear! My thoughts and prayers are with you

my, oh my! said...

Your grandmother was a wonderful, inspirational, and incredible human being.
My thoughts and prayers are with you.

tess said...

Dear Mary,

I am sorry to hear about your grandmother. She sounds like one of the most inspiring individuals ever and I only wish I knew someone so proactive in her community, well loved, and was lucky enough to have my life changed by her. Even if you weren't the best grandaughter as you claim, the impact she had on you will change the world to come for years. She has given you a great vitality and drive that she'll always be proud of. You are the amazing woman with wit, gumption, grace, style, passion, and honesty because of her it sounds. This post was truly moving. I will keep your family in my thoughts. Don't rush back into posting if you need to.


ps sorry I've missed reading your blogs, essays and laptop failure have kept me away from your thought provoking posts. This will not do. I promise I'm back to regular reading.