My grandmother was a devout and obedient French Catholic. Being extremely poor and little educated, my grandparents never made decisions the church might disapprove of without consulting with the parish priest first. On one memorable occasion, a question they had about birth control resulted in the priest furiously threatening to excommunicate them, but not before he would publicly tell the entire parish at the next Sunday mass what sinners they were if they didn’t change their wicked ways (they meekly complied).
When my father asked my grandfather for his daughter’s hand in marriage, my grandparents were torn and anguished. On the one hand, they liked him (and would come to love him) greatly. And my mother clearly adored him. On the other hand, he was a heathen Protestant. And English-speaking, to boot. With great consternation, they again approached the parish priest to ask for his blessing.
Despite the fact that the red-faced, angry priest thundered on and on about the eternal damnation not just of their souls but of the souls of every member of the family and any ensuing offspring (that would be me and my sister); despite the fact that my grandfather had to bribe my grandmother to attend the ‘heathen wedding’ of her daughter in a ‘heathen’ – and English!!! – church; despite the fact that my mother, fed up with the entire business, converted to the St. James and St. John United Church, my parents got married anyway.
All of this must have weighed heavily on my grandmother, because when the time came – a great many decades later – for her to die, she took no heed of her body’s signals and just stubbornly kept living. In her late nineties, she could no longer hear; could no longer see and she was completely bedridden. The last time I went to visit her she looked more like a little bird than a woman: the strong, capable hands that had tended gardens, picked fiddleheads and wild berries, made meals, hand-washed clothes on a scrub board, comforted children and grandchildren were as shrunken as the rest of her and you could not tell where her cuticles stopped and her fingernails began. I was appalled. I couldn’t understand why a body so clearly ready to meet its Maker just wouldn’t let go. When I asked, Mom told me that Grammy was terrified to die; terrified that she had not been a ‘good enough’ Catholic; terrified of the damnation the priest had threatened her and Grampy with all those years earlier. Despite a body that was clearly ready to retire, she was grimly holding on for dear life.
I learned to speak French later in life and Grammy always had as difficult a time with my Québec accent as I did with her French-Acadian accent. In her final days, being so deaf, it was impossible for us to communicate, but I asked my Mom to relay a message when she went to see her the following week. “Mom, tell her Léonide is waiting for her. Tell her it’s okay for her to go to him.” Léonide was Mom’s brother who had died in childhood, and I had been having a strong ‘feeling’ (for want of a better word, and because I really do not understand it myself) that he was waiting for Grammy; that he wanted his Maman to come and join him.
My Mom – who stopped believing in a great many things during (and perhaps even before) the Great Wedding Debacle – gave me a confused and skeptical look but nonetheless promised – after much begging – to tell Grammy what I had said. When Mom did relay my message, she told me that Grammy’s sightless eyes lit up as she asked, disbelieving, “He’s waiting for me?” Mom told her yes, and repeated my message. She later told me Grammy passed away a few hours later. My mother never did believe that her brother was waiting for Grammy. Mom had long ago decided that ‘dead is dead’ and people cease to exist when their hearts stop beating: no comforting afterlife, but no eternal hellfire either. But Mom did admit that ‘lying to Grammy’ seemed to have given her the comfort she needed to finally let go.
The funeral – as all funerals are – was sad and filled with her remaining children and grandchildren (coming from three different provinces). We held one another and shed tears as we remembered what a long and arduous life she had led; how very hard she had worked.
I made the long trip back home from the funeral only to get a phone call almost as soon as I walked through the door. It was my mother, crying so hard I could barely make out the words. She finally had to hand the phone over to my sister who was very excited and clearly dumbfounded.
When Grammy and Grampy had left their home to move into a senior citizen’s home nearly thirty years before, Mom had taken a slip from Grammy’s rosebush and transported it home. While the rosebush grew well each and every summer for three decades, it had never flowered; not even once. As soon as they pulled into the driveway after leaving the funeral, something prompted my mother to walk around the house, to go and look at Grammy’s rosebush.
For the first time in almost thirty years, it was in full bloom…
Patti Moore Wilson © wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com