Families can be, and often are assembled in unusual ways.
I grew up in a home where four family members had three different last names. Now, one marriage, two kids and several twists of fate later, our extended family includes three complete sets of grandparents, and until recently, an honorary great grandmother.
Our relationship with Marie, or Great Grandma Graham, was as wonderful as it was convoluted: after my husband’s mom passed away, his dad re-married a widow, who remained very close to the mother of her deceased husband, her former mother-in-law.
Grandma Graham, as the kids knew her, “adopted” us, and we adopted her. She was friendly and kind and had a seemingly endless supply of energy.
At 85, her memory remained sharp, and she was way more organized than I can ever hope to be. Her schedule was what most would consider busy for a person her age as she was always dashing off to volunteer, most recently at a hospital, her church and seniors homes.
Marie endured kindhearted teasing about her overstocked pantry, some said, in anticipation of another depression. She also continuously purchased gifts that were kept in boxes labeled with each child’s name that she “great grand mothered,” most of whom, like mine, were not actually her own.
She was an important and predictable part of my kids’ lives; nine year old Elena enjoyed when Grandma Graham would help her with or watch her do crafts, and 12-year-old Nick enjoyed the pieces of history, like food stamps from 1945, she would unexpectedly produce and provide interesting explanations for.
A little under a year ago, Marie was diagnosed with acute leukemia. She briefly remained in the house where she had lived for 54 years but soon was unable to take care of herself. She reluctantly became a resident at a seniors’ home herself. Sadly, she wasn’t entirely happy there, but it wasn’t, of course, the place she went to that made her unhappy, but rather all that she left behind.
When the news of her death came, it was not a surprise to any of us. Elena stated immediately that she would be attending the funeral, but Nick was a little less certain since he had a sports commitment after school that day he felt he shouldn’t miss. If necessary, we would have insisted he come, but after grappling a bit, he made the decision himself.
Although they wouldn’t likely be able to articulate why, in small ways, both my kids made clear how they felt about Grandma Graham as they prepared for her funeral, the first either had attended.
Elena asked me to find out Grandma Graham’s favourite colour, and took great care to select what she felt was her most suitable purple outfit.
I had to shop for Nick, and given his distaste for dress clothes, I was surprised when he immediately approved of what I bought. He dug out a pair dress shoes from his hand-me-down box, and asked his dad to borrow a tie, both additions to his outfit I had considered but was reluctant to suggest.
As we sat at the funeral, listening to a wonderful tribute to Grandma Graham’s life, I marveled at how this woman had come to be a part of our lives. Directly in front of us “sat” her two-year-old great granddaughter – the daughter of my husband’s step-sister – providing comic relief while sweetly and contentedly going about her business as best she could in a church pew. My kids quietly amused, and were amused by little Amelia…a mutually beneficial arrangement that I believe Grandma Graham herself would have suggested.