We buried my grandmother yesterday. She passed away late last week and I’ve been trying to figure out how to explain what I was feeling at the time. She was 92 and a true matriarch, leaving behind 6 children, 17 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. We called her Memere (MEH-may), which is French (or French Canadian, in her case) for “Grandma.” Her husband, our Pepere, passed away just over two years ago and she had sorely missed him. She was sort of waiting to go for a long time, but a couple of weeks ago she stopped eating anything but ice cream. Memere loved ice cream! I hope that when it’s time for me to go that I leave behind a loving family and many good memories and that my last meal is something as decadent as a bowl of ice cream.
My relationship with Memere was somewhat complex. She became my grandmother when my mom remarried when I was 7 or 8 years old. Although she always treated me the same way she treated my sisters (her biological grandchildren), we were missing some important early history that most kids have with their grandparents and I always felt one step removed. Still, she was the closest thing I had to that vision I hold of a traditional grandmother. She cooked for us and always had a variety of cookies, chocolates and other treats on hand. I remember her laughing a lot and how quickly she gave out hugs and praise to the grandkids. I know that she also had a strong opinion and a sharp tongue available, but as a child I don’t remember seeing that side so much as the warm and loving grandmother. Despite the complexities of our relationship, I loved her very much and knew that she loved me as well.
By the time she passed away, I feel like I had said most of my goodbyes. Over the years her health had deteriorated. She had lost most of her eyesight and was suffering from Parkinson’s disease. For a long time, my grandparents had refused to move to a nursing home and my grandmother suffered from a lack of proper care. My grandfather had lost his short-term memory – and most of his appetite – and she wasn’t getting the nutrition or health care that she really needed. By the time they did move into the home, we thought she only had a matter of weeks to live. In the end, she rallied and lived on for several more years. But, as a result of nearly losing her, I always left her side with closure that I may not see her again. It made it almost more difficult to visit because I felt like I was already at peace with her moving on. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.
Her wake and funeral were emotional for everyone in the family, but we also knew that she had lived a full life and was more than ready to move on. As a result, I think we were also able to truly enjoy each other’s company and I thought it was nice to spend time with my cousins who I rarely see. The family has grown so large that it’s nearly impossible to coordinate a get together. All of the children were there and most of the grandchildren (I believe we were only missing 2 out of 17). I’m sure that if she was looking down, she was happy to see her family come together.
On an aside, I was asked to do a reading at the funeral. My mom had given me the passage in advance, but I only took a moment to skim it and make sure there was nothing I couldn’t pronounce. Normally I would have memorized most of it, but I just couldn’t quite get it together to do that this time. Anyway, as I was reading I was trying to decipher the meaning, so I could give proper inflection where needed. And then I got to a phrase that said,”As I live, says the Lord, eveny knee shall bend before me.” Huh? Eveny knee. So I read it as it was written, pronouncing it “even-ee knee.” Of course, the moment I said it, I knew that it was supposed to be “every knee” and thought that perhaps one of my grandparents might have played some final joke on my behalf. I corrected myself, but then had to fight against a wave of giggles that would have been highly inappropriate during a funeral mass.
I could probably go on forever about my grandparents and the things they lived through and the lessons they passed on to successive generations. Instead, I’m just going to keep those stories in my heart and send my love to Memere Jeanne Matte and Pepere Raymond Matte. Rest in peace.