The day after Chris lost his job, we got the call that my grandmother was likely not going to last the night.
My grandma has been lost in a fog of dementia for several years now. Just over a year ago, she moved to an extended care facility. Since then, a part of me has been waiting for this call. Yet despite how prepared I thought I was, I wasn't prepared at all. I don't know how to process the grief at losing something I haven't really had for some time. It turns out that despite the fact I 'lost' my grandma a long time ago, I'm still not ready to let her go.
My husband never saw my grandma as she used to be, and my daughter won't even remember her. My grandma hasn't been able to remember who I am for quite some time. But I remember. Oh yes, I remember.
I remember her kitchen. She welcomed us there as often as she could and taught us with infinite patience and laughter how to make delicious wonders out of the most mundane ingredients. She hosted these gigantic dinner parties at the drop of a hat, and never seemed to break a sweat as she somehow produced enough food to fill a full-sized billiards table, which was always covered with matching tablecloths for the event. I remember her pride and excitement as she would annouce, "Tonight, we have THREE desserts .... 'rayyyy!" She was a fun and gracious hostess and did it all with a smile on her face.
I remember her piano. It was she who inspired my dad to become a musician, and nothing made her happier than having him play piano at her parties. Everyone would gather around the piano and sing with gusto, with heart, with joy. She loved music and she loved the spontaneous participation that came from an impromptu song. She sang and danced and smiled, and her joy was infectious.
I remember her cabin. My grandfather bought her a float cabin on Powell Lake as a Mother's Day present about thirty years ago. She'd been raised on the prairies and didn't swim, but she loved to stand on the shore, wading into the cool water up to her waist, cherishing the natural beauty all around her. Before long the cabin was just another venue for her to host amazing parties and produce delicious feasts, despite its tiny and ill-equipped kitchen. It brought her so much joy to be surrounded by friends and family at this somehow luxurious and yet primitive vacation spot.
I remember what we had in common. We were both September babies, we both adored sweets and despised spiders. We both enjoyed crafts. I was always pretty sure I was her favourite - she was always so happy to see me.
I remember her love for my grandfather. The obituary tells the truth: there is no other way to describe their love than as a storybook romance. They were married for sixty-one years, and their love and devotion was evident in their every word and action towards each other. I remember my grandfather showing me the park bench on Lost Lagoon where they'd sat and "made cow eyes at each other". Naturally, to a 10-year-old this was disgusting, and I'm sure I made the obligatory grunts of "GroooooOOOOOOoooosss!", but even then - I knew there was something magical about that love, about finding the one person who made your soul rejoice.
I remember that she was important. She was a bank manager, and though I didn't know it at the time, it was probably a pretty big deal to be a bank manager and a woman back in the 1970s. I remember that she knew lots of things about money and that people could rely on her for good advice and a friendly smile.
I remember her loss. I was barely six years old when my uncle - my grandma's youngest son, still a teenager - died in a bizarre accident. I remember the policeman coming to her door. I remember, to my shame, that I had no grasp of what was happening, and that I continued to nag her to find me the SCISSORS, Gramma, so I can cut out my paper doll. I remember that she found me the scissors. This was the only time I remember seeing her without her smile.
I remember her generosity. I remember her patience. I remember her kindness. I remember her inspiration. I remember her faith. I remember her strength. I remember her wisdom. I remember her laugh. I remember her hugs. I remember her smile.
Tomorrow, I'm travelling with my family to Powell River for my grandmother's memorial service, and on Saturday I will summon every ounce of strength and stamina to sing "Smile" for the people who have been touched by her life. I've never wanted so badly to do well at something, and yet been so sure that I will not be able to manage it. It's likely that I shouldn't worry - as my sister points out, Grandma will be too busy catching up with her son, her mom, and her best friend Barb, not to mention watching a full-colour slideshow of everything she's missed in the past several years; she'll never notice my warbly voice.
And I am quite certain she'll be smiling.
Rena Marguery Campbell “Princess”
September 3, 1929 – December 3, 2010
Rena went to her heavenly home just after midnight on December 3rd 2010. She is survived by her husband and best friend of 61 years, George. Rena also leaves to mourn, her two sons Ron (Maureen), and Doug (Evelyn); grandchildren Laura (Chris), Sara (Dave), Duncan (Theresa), Amanda (Joe), and Kaleigh, as well as great-grandchildren Andrew, Scott, Gwen and Abby. Rena is also survived by her two younger sisters, Donna, and Greta (Dave) and their respective families. She was predeceased by her youngest son Gordon in 1981.
Rena was born in Cabri Saskatchewan, and lived on the family farm in Shackleton, before moving to Vancouver with her parents and siblings in 1946. It was in Vancouver that she met, and fell in love with her husband George, and in 1962 they moved to Powell River, where she resided happily until her passing. Rena was the first female bank manager of the Bank of Montreal, Townsite branch, Powell River, and was well loved and respected by her staff and her customers. Rena had a smile for everyone, and always sought the good in people. She and George shared what can only be described as a storybook romance, their entire married life, and spent countless happy hours together traveling, entertaining, or relaxing at their cabin on the lake. She loved all her family unconditionally, and was a fabulous mother and grandma. The world will be a little lonelier without her smile.
A celebration of Rena’s life will be held Saturday, December 11, 2010 at 2:00 pm at Faith Lutheran Church, corner of Ontario and Alberni. Memorial donations to Powell River General Hospital, 5000 Joyce Ave, Powell River, B.C. V8A 5R3.