Family, Life & Living, Memories

all souls and the grandfather i never knew

420909 Grandpa and Gran
My grandfather Edward Eustace and my grandmother Mary Margaret Kell Eustace circa 1942

Flashback November 5, 2015: To mark all saints and all souls days 2015, I went to a remembrance celebration at the Unitarian Universalist church in the village. I told Mom about it as I did her nails the next day.

“I went to a nice church service yesterday Mom,” I began.

“You did?” It was more of a confirmation than a question. “That was nice eh?”

“Yeah,” I said. “It was all about remembering people who had passed on. People who had died. It was kind of like a funeral, except for a whole lot of people, not just one.”

“Oh geez,” she said. Death can be a little disconcerting. Talk of funerals may not be so cheery.

“Yeah, but it was nice.”

“Was it somebody th th th th th th th th th th…that I knew?” she said, and then, before I had time to answer, her intuitive clairvoyance kicked in: “No I didn’t know them. I don’t think I knew them.”

“You’re right, Mom,” I said. “I didn’t know any of them. None of them. But that didn’t matter. People talked about the people who were important to them. They talked about fathers, husbands, mothers, grandmothers.” I held her right hand in mine, and applied bright pink polish to her nails as I described what had gone on. “Some talked about strangers. Some talked about children. One lady told the story of a young friend who had been killed with her husband and two children in a car accident. They were so young she said. Everyone who spoke told the stories of different people they loved and appreciated.”

“Oh dear.” Mom sounded a little worried

“I was going to get up and talk about Gran.” At the mention of Gran, she quickly grew more calm.

“Oh that was nice eh?” She said.

“But in the end I didn’t. I’m not sure why I didn’t, but I didn’t,” I mused. “I thought about her though.” I looked up from Mom’s hands and into her eyes as I spoke.

“Poor gran, usually they had them all… They had them… All… Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da…” The cook came in with the tea trolley.

“I’ll fix our tea in a minute, Stacy,” I said to the cook.

“You’re in mid-paint,” she chuckled.

“I am.” I smiled back. I had brought a couple of boxes of apples the day before; Stacy had used them to make apple crisp and applesauce. She’d saved a little of the sauce for me in Mason jar. Mom and I used to make jam, basil beans and dill pickles together in late summer; we preserved them in Mason jars.

“The only thing I put in with the apples is a bit of water, some sugar, and some cinnamon–so the applesauce is pretty clean,” she said.

“Thanks,” I said.

I turned back to the manicure and my storytelling as Stacy left the drawing room. “I remember the way Gran always used to say ‘Oh hi Sue!’ whenever I called, as if she were surprised to hear my voice. We used to have these long conversations about life and death and all of that and I remember her telling me that her husband–your father–never saw her naked.”

“Oh dear. Oh dear. That was awful. Poor soul.” I laughed, but I could see Mom was little uncomfortable, maybe at the thought of her mother being naked.

“I wondered how she ever got pregnant,” I said with a grin and tease in my voice. Mom looked at me. She must have died a thousand deaths when she told me about “the birds and the bees.”

“Oh I don’t know, she had la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la la…” Then as clear, sharp and bright as the North Star she said, “She loved my Dad! She just loved my Dad.”

“Yeah she did,” I agreed. Grandpa had died when I was less than two. But I’d heard so many stories for such a long time that I knew she spoke the truth even though I had no recollection of seeing my grandparents together.

“So so so so so so he was he was a ka ka ka — he was her darling.”

“Yeah he was.” Something cracked inside me.

“So he wanted that one very much so,” she said.

“Yeah, he did,” I whispered.

“He liked her. Oh yeah. Very much so. But then he went to ga ga ga ga he got very close to her.”

“Yes. Yes he did. That was nice eh Mom?”

“Yeah. That was nice.” I fell quiet for a moment or two. My tears dropped between her fingers as I tried to paint her nails in a blur.

“So he always looked at her best. Best of some,” Mom said.

“Yup,” I squeaked out. “It was good that they found each other eh Mom?”


“I feel a bit sad Mom.”

“For Gran you mean?”

“No, Gran’s okay now.”

“Gran’s okay now is right.”

“She’s with your father.”

“Yeah she’s with Daddy now. He would la la la la la la look look look look well with her.” He would look after her is what she meant.

“Yes he would Mom.”

I choked a little, and then blew gently on her fingertips to help them dry.


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Death & Dying, Family, Life & Living, Love

the kind of daughter i am is the kind i will never regret being

Gran, great great gran and Alec cropped
This post is dedicated to my great great grandmother (middle), my grandmother (left; October 31, 1902 – April 19, 1990) and my mother (September 27, 1928, – August 17, 2016). My grandmother’s younger brother Alec is also pictured here. The photograph was taken on the family farm in Nova Scotia, Canada, circa 1912.

I was born of an amazing woman who was born of an amazing woman who was born of another. They were all mothers and daughters. I too am a daughter, and in a twist of fate I became the childless mother to the woman who bore me.

My grandmother left her home in Nova Scotia in her early twenties to study nursing in Montreal, Quebec. It’s an overnight train journey, even now. She met my grandfather, an electrician, in Montreal; they married and had four children. Over the years she went back to Nova Scotia occasionally; it was a long way to go. Her brother Alec stayed on the family farm.

L-R back: my aunt Jean, grandfather Ed, grandmother "Kell." Front: Eddy boy, my Mom Patti, aunt Lee.
L-R back: my aunt Jean, grandfather Ed, grandmother “Kell.” Front: Eddy boy, my Mom Patti, aunt Lee.

My mother was the second-oldest child (that’s her front and center in the pic at left). She was born and raised in Montreal with her two sisters and “Eddy boy” (bottom left) the baby of the family. At 23, my mother made the 13-hour flight to Vancouver to marry her fiancé Don. They had two children: me in 1956, my brother in 1958.

When I was six, my father was transferred “back east” and my parents returned to Quebec with my brother and me in tow. Just as my grandmother and mother had done, I left home in my early twenties. Like them I headed west: Gran abandoned the Maritimes for Montreal, Mom flew to Vancouver, I chose Calgary. I settled and married there.

My husband and I moved to the United Arab Emirates in 1993 and returned each summer for extended holidays with our respective families in New Brunswick and Quebec. After we separated in 2005, I travelled back and forth from the Middle East to live with Mom for about two months in the summer and one month in the winter until 2011 when I left Dubai to come back to live with and care for her full time. I was able and still am able to be with Mom so much because I am divorced, childless by choice, and semi-retired. I chose to do it because of Mom’s Alzheimer’s and the fact that she lived alone in a big house.

Susan & Patti walking summer 2009People have told me for years that I am a “good daughter.” I think they say it as a compliment, or perhaps to encourage me. “But what does it really mean?” I’ve asked myself time and again. Does giving up my life as I knew it to care for my mom make me a good daughter? If I hadn’t done so, would that have made me a “bad daughter?” Was I bad daughter for moving away from home in the first place? Were my grandmother and mother “bad” for doing the same ? Or were we all good daughters for being pioneers in our own ways?

I’ve thought about these and similar questions a lot, and I’ve come to some unequivocal conclusions. I feel good, not guilty, about my life choices, which were not enabled in any way by anyone but me. I feel good, not guilty, about my relationship with my mother and about all the things I did or did not do for her while she was alive. Now that she’s gone. I have no regrets.

I never felt I owed my mother some kind of debt of gratitude. I didn’t feel any need to “give back” to her while she was alive. If I owed her anything at all, the debt was repaid in full by me being the person I am. I loved her even though I often felt she did not love me in the way I wanted. During our Alzheimer’s journey, I saw her more clearly than I ever had, and I loved her unconditionally.

I came back to Canada to care for my mom because it was the right thing to do. She needed care, it wasn’t being provided in the way I thought it should be, so I returned. I advocated for what is best for her until her last breath because it was the right thing to do. It’s often harder to do the right thing than it is to make other choices. I strongly believe in living by my values and doing what I know to be right.

Mom playing guitar June 2014

I wanted Mom to have as much joy and happiness as she could as she neared the end of her life. I helped her to live as I believed she would have wanted for as long as possible: engaged with the world and the people around her.

I held her hand as she went through the process of living with and dying from dementia of the Alzheimer’s type. Together we navigated uncharted territory. The time we spent together during the last chapter of her life was joyful; it was it was also challenging. It lasted about ten years, and then it was over in an hour.

I don’t believe being a good daughter–or son for that matter–depends on where one resides: a few miles down the road, or on the other side of the world, it makes no difference. It’s the nature of the relationship that counts. It has to do with heart, soul and connection. I believe it has to do with being a good person not a good child. It can take a multitude of shapes and mean many different things over the course of a lifetime and beyond. Mostly it has to do with love.

My goodness as a daughter was/is mine to create and celebrate. Any failings are mine to own. That’s the kind of daughter I was, I am, and I will always be.

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